Critical Currents: A call for reason

Stop the fighting and set the stage for a workable arrangement between Israel and all its neighbors.

naomi chazan 88 (photo credit: )
naomi chazan 88
(photo credit: )
The second Lebanese war is following a sadly predictable pattern of escalation which could have been averted, and can still be halted. For over two weeks the military logic of attack and retaliation has guided events, threatening to engulf the region in a massive conflict with severe global consequences. It can still be replaced by an alternative, civilian mode of reasoning which can stop the fighting and set the stage for a workable arrangement between Israel and all its neighbors. Israel's right to defend itself against attacks on its sovereign territory is not open to question. What is debatable is the wisdom of the means being used. A strategy based solely on military might is not only proving to be ineffective (first in Gaza and now in Lebanon), it is also eroding Israel's moral backing and compromising the chances of establishing a stable regional order. The origins of the current crisis lie in Gaza. The stepped-up Israeli attempts to halt the Kassam attacks on the Negev unleashed widespread disorder. Hizbullah exploited this political vacuum to promote its own lethal agenda. But while the ongoing fighting in Lebanon and Gaza are linked, the situations are hardly comparable: Lebanon is a sovereign state; the Palestinian Authority is definitely not. It is doubtful, ultimately, that the one can be contained without addressing the other. The eyes of the world are riveted today on Lebanon. The aims of Israel's military operation there, nevertheless, are still unclear. The initial purpose of returning the two kidnapped Israeli soldiers quickly gave way, following the rain of missiles on Israeli population concentrations, to a call for full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559 and the redeployment of the Lebanese army along the border with Israel. Then, as the scope of the extremist arsenal became evident, the objectives have shifted to total destruction of the Hizbullah infrastructure. There is little correlation between these expanding goals and the results to date, which are devastating and counterproductive. THE KEY victims of the spiraling violence are civilians. Well over 300 Lebanese have been killed, thousands injured. Over 500,000 have become refugees. One third of Israel is effectively paralyzed. Dozens have died, many more are traumatized, and scores have abandoned their homes. In Gaza and the West Bank the humanitarian situation is out of control. The destruction of the Lebanese infrastructure, so painstakingly rehabilitated in recent years, is self-defeating. So, too, is the bombing of Beirut and other cities. The already limited capacity of the Lebanese state has been further curtailed. How it can be expected to assert its authority under these circumstances remains a mystery. The standing of Hizbullah in Lebanon - much as of Hamas in Gaza - has not substantially diminished in the process. To the contrary, moderates in Lebanon (as in the Palestinian territories) are being silenced by air strikes, artillery fire and collective punishment. Popular sympathy for those extremists responsible for the present crisis is, ironically, growing. Israel's deterrent capability has been called into question, and the specter of sinking into yet another Lebanese quagmire looms large, and the enmity it encounters increases. The support Israel received when it was so brutally attacked is fading in the wake of the humanitarian byproducts of its response. There is clearly no military solution to this predicament. Since it is evident that a diplomatic effort is inevitable, it is prudent to put it in place without any further delay. THE FIRST challenge is to stop the fighting immediately. This can be achieved through the declaration of a truce supervised by Lebanese and international troops along the international border. The present flurry of activity around the creation of such a force must be urgently concluded. The return of prisoners should accompany the cease-fire. Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev must be returned safely. Israel should free the arrested elected Palestinian officials. Discussions on the exchange of additional prisoners can continue once these vital steps are completed. The second challenge is that of reconstruction. The rehabilitation of the infrastructure in Lebanon and Gaza must become a top priority of the international community. The expeditious return to daily life is crucial for the fortification of the state, the isolation of militant extremists and the establishment of a semblance of order. The third challenge is to link the cessation of hostilities to a political process. This implies refocusing attention on the core issue of the Arab-Israel conundrum: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Without confronting the root causes of the situation, there will be no respite in the future. The regionalization of conflict contains opportunities as well as all-too-tangible and tragic dangers. Israelis, Palestinians and Lebanese cannot afford a return to the status quo ante. The task of achieving a just two-state solution backed by strong international guarantees is therefore even more pressing. The revival of the road map is the first step in exploring a more comprehensive process based on the Arab League initiative (including both Syria and Lebanon). The experience of the past few weeks drives home, once again, the need for an agreed settlement reached through negotiations. Only such an accord can isolate, and ultimately defeat, the Hizbullah militants and their pernicious worldview.