August 10, 2006
Myths block Middle East peace hopes
Long-standing conflicts between peoples often
create their own myths - over grievances, appropriate uses of force, and likely
paths to peace. Nowhere is this truer than in the Middle East.
With Israel and Hezbollah engaged in escalating conflict, leaders, experts and
media the world over assume predictable, if not helpful, positions on the
causes, consequences and likely solutions. But the path to real peace lies in
clear-eyed thinking, not mythology. Only by discarding shibboleths will the
world grapple effectively with the bloodshed of that region.
Thus, we should discard four myths that cloud thinking about the Middle East and
Myth 1: The path to peace lies in an Israeli-Palestinian resolution. Many think
so, including President Carter. That's why he and others call for restarting the
Middle East peace process. A resolution on that conflict, they say, would defuse
the fighting in southern Lebanon.
But such a resolution presumes that two states, Israel and Palestine, eventually
will live side by side in peace. The problem is that key players in today's war
do not share that vision.
Hezbollah and Hamas, the terrorist groups that ignited today's flames, and Iran
(their key state sponsor) are committed to Israel's destruction. As Hezbollah's
leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said recently, "There is no solution to this conflict
in this region except with the disappearance of Israel."
His only hope for a Palestinian state is one that replaces the Jewish state.
Myth 2: Peace is always better than war. It's tempting to think so. But
premature peace can prompt a worse war down the road - especially a peace that
strengthens its true enemies.
In this case, a cease-fire that leaves Hezbollah to rule over southern Lebanon,
outside the control of that nation's government, would only precipitate more
bloodshed. Emboldened that it withstood Israel's onslaught, Hezbollah would
restock its shelves with weapons from Iran and plan its next attack, as would
its emboldened partners in terrorism, Hamas and Islamic Palestinian Jihad.
More ominously, Iran would feel emboldened. Watching European leaders pressure
the United States to contain Israel, Iran's leaders would believe more strongly
that the West has no stomach for confrontation. Iran not only would provide more
funds, more training, and more support to its terrorist clients, it also would
push ahead on its quest to develop nuclear weapons.
Myth 3: Talk is always better than silence. Rather than let Israel forcefully
confront Hezbollah and Hamas, critics say, the United States should reach out to
Iran and Syria, who hold great sway over them.
The hope for talk is rooted in "rational actor" theory - that all people are
reasonable and open to persuasion. But the leaders of Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran and
their like-minded disciples are fanatical, not rational. They seek
confrontation, not compromise - victory, not accommodation.
A talk with these fanatics would be worse than useless. It would implicitly put
certain issues, such as Israel's existence, on the agenda for discussion. Should
President Franklin D. Roosevelt have "talked" to a Hitler while he murdered Jews
and conquered Europe? It also could ease the growing pressure on Iran to scrap
its nuclear program by subsuming that issue in "talk" as well.
Myth 4: Israel is using "disproportionate" force to defend itself. That's true
if you see no moral distinction between terrorists who target innocent men,
women and children and a state that accidentally kills innocents as it targets
terrorists. Or if you see no distinction between terrorists who hide behind
civilians and a state that warns civilians to depart before dropping bombs.
When attacked by clear-sighted enemies, nations respond with overwhelming force
to eliminate the threat. The United States did that after Pearl Harbor, as did
Allied forces against the Nazis.
Indeed, some leaders who urge Israeli restraint have made clear they would
practice no restraint themselves. French President Jacques Chirac threatened to
use nuclear weapons on any state that directed a terrorist attack on France.
What's good for France should be good for Israel.
The myths of the Middle East are enticing. But they will only set back efforts
to reach a lasting peace in that troubled region. The only way to make progress
is to face realities on the ground.
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Haas is a visiting senior fellow at Georgetown University's Government Affairs