Diplomacy Is the Only Way
Diplomacy Is the Only Way
Eastern Mediterranean Gas: Accelerating Peace? (Online event, 5 June 2023)
Eastern Mediterranean Gas: Accelerating Peace? (Online event, 5 June 2023)
Op-Ed / Middle East & North Africa 3 minutes

Diplomacy Is the Only Way

Every day a full ceasefire in Lebanon is delayed is one of colossal costs for the civilian population of Lebanon, for the country's fragile democracy and for the dwindling credibility of both Israel and the United States. Public opinion is radicalising throughout the Muslim world, and regional tensions rapidly growing.

There is no better argument than the Qana catastrophe for an immediate ceasefire. With each passing day the situation has become worse, and another week of bombing can only compound the disaster.

The Bush administration has assumed until now that time is on Israel's side: as the military campaign unfolds, Hezbollah will decline. But there has been no sign of any knockout blow to date, and little confidence now in Israel's capacity to deliver one.

The war has increased what it sought to decrease - Hezbollah's domestic influence, militancy among the Lebanese and the appeal of extremism to the wider Arab-Islamic world - and weakened what it specifically sought to bolster, the authority of Lebanese Prime Minister Fauod Siniora.

Washington and Tel Aviv must confront once and for all the reality that this war cannot be won militarily, even stretching to the limit and beyond the constraints imposed by international humanitarian law. The only way out is diplomatic and political. It must begin with an immediate cessation of hostilities, followed by a prisoner exchange and, under appropriate conditions, the dispatch of an international monitoring force to South Lebanon.

Given Lebanon's history and its fragile political-sectarian balance, any such force has to be agreed to by all parties, Hezbollah included, authorised by the United Nations Security Council, and be structured as a confidence builder, not an enforcer. The desire of Israel and the US to have a force with full disarmament powers is very understandable, but if it is viewed as threatening Hezbollah or taking sides in the confessional battles, Lebanon will be plunged into an even worse new round of civil strife.

But, the US says, stopping violence is not enough unless we deal with "root causes". Indeed. Yet this posits a dubious zero-sum choice: either we tend to those causes now, while violence flares, or we never will. On the contrary, there is no reason why the administration, applying its considerable power, could not mobilise international energy to address these underlying problems: no reason, of course, other than that it has shown no such appetite for diplomacy in the six years preceding the crisis.

The administration singles out as the root cause that matters Hezbollah's existence as an autonomous armed militia and concludes that to knock it out is the answer. Hezbollah's capability is obviously a very large part of the problem. But a root cause? The root cause? Can this really be the US view of the crisis engulfing the region?

To find root causes one has to dig deeper. There are reasons why Hezbollah has risen and prospered and why it has been so difficult to disarm. These relate to the disadvantaged status of Lebanon's large Shiite constituency and to the fact that many among it view the Islamist movement as their principal asset in an otherwise inequitable political system.

To aggressively go after Hezbollah without simultaneously addressing Shiite grievances could push the fragile nation to the breaking point. Hezbollah's clout also can be attributed to still-unresolved Israeli-Lebanese matters, including the contested Shebaa Farms, which the Islamist movement readily invokes as justification for retaining its arms. And Hezbollah's fate is closely intertwined with regional issues, including Syria and Iran's role, and the failure to activate a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.

A serious effort to safeguard Israel's security without jeopardising regional or Lebanese stability is possible, but only if the US is prepared to engage in vigorous diplomacy. Immediately after a ceasefire has been secured, Washington and its European and Arab partners should focus on ending the conditions that produced this deadly conflagration. This means addressing outstanding intra-Lebanese and Israeli-Lebanese issues, engaging Syria and Iran in a broad discussion of regional matters and, above all, reinvigorating the long-dormant Arab-Israeli peace process.

Deal with root causes? By all means, as we and others have been arguing for years. But the right ones, and all of them, and in a way that doesn't postpone the most urgent priority of all: stopping the present killing.

An earlier version of this commentary appeared in Slate.


Former President & CEO
Former President & CEO

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