In Washington: Lebanon is different

Hizbullah thugs must be defeated. But Israelis and Palestinians are destined to share one land.

It was the late Yitzhak Rabin's worst nightmare. Israel is under attack from terrorists based in Lebanon, with Syria and Iran backing the aggression. On top of that, it remains in a state of war with the Palestinians. This is precisely the situation Rabin strived mightily to prevent by embarking on the diplomatic process with the Palestinians. In 1993, when Rabin recognized the PLO and began a process designed to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace within five years, he was motivated by the understanding that Israel's survival was no longer threatened by its immediate neighbors. The treaty with Egypt was holding. The border with Jordan was calm and a peace treaty probably within reach. The Syrians seemed open to a cold peace in exchange for the Golan. And the Palestinians had no significant military capacity although the five-year-old intifada demonstrated that the occupation was unsustainable. Accordingly, Rabin's primary concern was Israel's increasing vulnerability to attack - conventional and ultimately nuclear, biological or chemical - from Iraq or Iran and particularly from Islamic militants allied with the latter, specifically Hizbullah. Achieving peace with the Palestinians was the key part of Rabin's strategy for neutralizing those threats. Once Israelis and Palestinians were at peace the outside extremists would lose their pretext for holy war against Israel. With a circle of quiet - including Palestine - surrounding Israel, the IDF would be free to focus on how best to defend itself from attacks from beyond the circle. Instead of being bogged down in Gaza and Nablus, Israel could deter the lethal threat from beyond the borders of Israel and Palestine. Needless to say, events did not proceed as planned. Rabin was assassinated, the Oslo process collapsed in 2000, a second intifada began, Israel left Gaza unilaterally in 2005, Hamas won the Palestinian elections, and the attacks from Palestinian-controlled Gaza intensified. Since June, Israelis and Palestinians have essentially been at war. Israelis are terrorized by Kassam rockets launched from Gaza while a humanitarian disaster has been inflicted on the Palestinians. And then, as Rabin foresaw, radical elements from outside seized the opportunity to launch their own attack on Israel, with rockets now falling on Nahariya and Haifa. The attacks on northern Israel are not about the Palestinians. Nor are they the result of any legitimate grievance Hizbullah may have with Israel. There are no such grievances. Neither Hizbullah nor Lebanon has outstanding claims against Israel. Overall this situation is clear cut. This is not one of those disputes where each side has a point of view and a solution can be found in the middle. No, the solution here - on which the international community is in agreement - can be found in United Nations Resolution 1559, which calls on Lebanon to disband the independent militias and fully control southern Lebanon. That means destroying Hizbullah as an independent operator. Israel's actions in Lebanon are designed both to destroy Hizbullah and to send a message to Lebanon that it must rid itself of Hizbullah's militias or face ruin. The sad part, of course, is that nobody believes that the fragile government in Lebanon is capable of doing that. Nevertheless, the path to a solution is clear. The United States and the international community need to advance a new United Nations resolution which would re-state the demand that Hizbullah disarm, release Israeli hostages, and that both sides establish a full cease-fire. In the meantime, Israel has the obligation to defend its own people against this nihilistic and pointless violence while, as President Bush pointed out, not taking actions which would destroy Lebanon's survival as a fledgling democracy. The world cannot simply look away, nor can it fall into the old pattern of blaming Israel for defending its own people. If it does and this newest chapter of the Arab-Israeli conflict is allowed to spin further out of control, we could be looking at a major Middle East war which not only would endanger our Mideast allies, obviously Israel prime among them, but could destroy US interests throughout the region. The winner would be Iran, that most reckless of regimes. BUT DON'T confuse the Lebanon situation with Gaza. Palestinian attacks on Israel are indefensible, especially now that Israel is out of Gaza, but there is a political context there. The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank/Gaza and have alternately used both violence and diplomacy as a means of achieving it. The Israelis, now that they have given up on the Greater Israel fantasy, want security. Israel says it will not negotiate with Hamas nor has it expressed interest in the so-called Prisoners' Letter, which indicates that virtually all the Palestinian groups are coming around to a form of acceptance of Israel. But neither Israel nor the United States can afford to simply lump Palestinians of every stripe together and deem them all unacceptable partners. President Mahmoud Abbas is not Yasser Arafat and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is not Hamas's Damascus-based terror chief Khaled Mashaal. Israel and the US should be exploiting the differences between Palestinian factions, helping to create new alignments of relative moderates rather than relegating all Palestinian nationalists to the category of terrorists and thereby virtually forcing all Palestinians into radical unity. That is not necessary with Hizbullah. They are simply thugs who have to be defeated or rendered harmless. But Israelis and Palestinians are destined to share one land. Their fates are intertwined. The US, which was the primary author of UN Resolution 242 and almost 40 years later the road map, certainly has the standing and the know-how to help Palestinians achieve their state and Israel achieve security. These two are not mutually exclusive but rather mutually reinforcing. Neither people can achieve its goals while at war with the other. But first the violence has to stop. If it doesn't, the noisy but relatively harmless Kassams will soon be replaced by missiles which reach farther and inflict far more damage. And today's humanitarian crisis in Gaza will descend into a sub-Saharan Africa-like scene of starvation and disease, as threatening to Israel's security as it will be horrific for the Palestinian people. There is simply no excuse for the US to stand on the sidelines. Our fundamental interests are at stake - including the security of 135,000 American soldiers whose lives will become even more precarious if the entire region descends into chaos. That means helping both Israelis and Palestinians achieve a cease-fire and the resumption of efforts, unilateral and bilateral, to establish a modus vivendi, if not peace. American passivity has to end. This has been a terrible week, but without resolute action by America we are going to see much worse. The US must stand with Israel in this dangerous moment. But that requires leadership to resolve the situation responsible for it.