The Middle East map has been unfolded

September 19, 2006 9:37 | by Jim Addington

A major result of the recent (unfinished?) war between Israel and Lebanon has been to open up a discussion of the region's future. We are told by the veteran American journalist Seymour Hersh that the war was planned as far back as May this year by the Israeli government and the Pentagon. That appears to dispose of Israel's claim that the capture of two Israeli soldiers by Hizbollah represented an unprovoked attack on Israel that justified its murderous reply and enormous destruction. It was used as a trigger.

Questions should be asked about the procedure adopted by the UN Security Council when dealing with Israel's application under Article 51 (the right to self-defence). A few days after the fighting started a resolution calling for a cease-fire collected 10 votes (enough to carry it). It was then vetoed by the US with Britain abstaining. It took another month before a resolution was passed calling for a 'cessation' of fighting. In Britain, when Parliament returns and we have a government once more, questions should be asked why the UK and the US were allowed to delay discussions for a resolution when they were involved in supplying high-tech weapons to one side in the conflict.

A new international campaign has been launched to persuade the UN General Assembly to call for a 'Uniting for Peace' resolution by a number of peace organisations under a strategy originally devised by the US government. They are led by the Transnational Foundation for Peace (TTF) and are asking for wide support for their action and have written to the President of the General Assembly, Mr Jan Eliasson, asking for a debate dealing with concerns over the recent UN 'conflict cessation' resolution. They are also proposing a wide-ranging regional study which includes all interested parties. Further information is available on their website

This should remind us that the future of the Middle East is a matter for its communities and not for the West or the EU. But it is worth looking at the options for a real improvement in the fortunes of the Palestinians. Under cover of the war next door they also suffered from heavy attacks. There has been a new feature in the 'arrest' of the Speaker and members of the Palestinian parliament on alleged the grounds that they are members of a terrorist organisation. Nothing has been heard of them since their arrest or of hundreds of Palestinians scooped up an Israeli 'dragnet' over some years. We are now told that the promise to leave the West Bank, made by the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in his election campaign, has been quietly dropped.

While this could represent a heavy setback to Palestinian hopes, it may also show the weakening of the Israeli government's position following the conflict. It is widely accepted that if Hizbollah won the war, the United States lost it together with its Middle East satellite. The repercussions of what we all hope was a short war may offer a chance to make many reforms in the region.

Thus the 'cessation of violence' agreement in the latest UN Security Council resolution ought to be a prelude to the re-opening of the 'two-state' solution including a return by Israel to the 1967 borders. This, although by no means acceptable to Hamas, could bring the chance peace to that part of the region, peace that the people of Israel also crave. But this must also include the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces, the abandonment of the illegal settlements and the destruction of the containing wall condemned by the World Court.

The first reaction to this statement may well be disbelief because it will be said "surely the Israelis would never give up land they have gained by conquest, or dispossess their settlers". But such a reaction would be to fail, as Israeli governments have done for nearly sixty years, to fully understand the dangers they face.

The many states represented by the Arab League will surely continue to support the Palestinian claim for sovereignty and independence. The ability of a growing number of states or organisations such as Hizbollah and Hamas to buy or produce lethal rockets with increasing range and destructive power must be recognised. To write this off as 'terrorism' is to ignore the motives behind their actions which are principally aimed to rescue the Palestinians and restore a proper balance in the region. As more people are now recognising, the cure for 'terrorism' is to discuss, to negotiate and to change government policies. This growing capability also makes a mockery of attempts during the cold war to build weapons' systems designed to deter major states. It should make those now pursuing the 'war on terror' think again.

It is significant that a pertinent message got through to Tony Blair before he went on holiday. Several times he referred to the need to respect the aspirations of the Palestinians, including one occasion on which he said their cause should be pursued "week in, week out". How long will it take to sink in that the same logic must be applied in all actions that are designed to reduce the dangers of the present 'neo-con' course directed at world domination.

So Israel has, it seems, two alternatives; continue to be hemmed in on all sides, taking in more territory and being subject to internecine attack, or take the opportunity that occurs now that the region has been so greatly disturbed to come to terms with present dangers and the looming future. No doubt the leaders of Hamas, supported by Hizbollah, will fight a rearguard action to gain as much as they can - joint sovereignty of East Jerusalem at the very least.

In the wider Middle East the Arab League has come to represent common sense and an understanding of reality. Like other regional organisations it cannot be expected to agree on everything, but as an example of its ability to speak with one voice the League accepted the International Declaration of Human Rights in September 1994.

In March 2002 the League, composed of twenty-two Middle East states, held an Arab Summit and issued the 'Beirut Declaration'. This began "We, the kings, presidents and emirs of the Arab States...have conducted a thorough assessment of the developments and challenges ...relating to the Arab region and, more specifically, to the occupied Palestinian Territory".

The declaration was based on the "objectives of the Arab League Charter and the UN Charter". Together with other, wider, issues the declaration addressed the question of Israel/Palestine directly by saying "We reaffirm that peace in the Middle East cannot succeed unless it is just and comprehensive..."

There were three demands including complete withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories, including the Golan Heights and withdrawal to the June 1967 occupation line, attain a just solution to the problem of Palestinian refugees, and accept the establishment of an independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied since 1967 in the West Bank with Jerusalem as its capital.

In return, the League declared, "the Arab states will do the following;Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict over, sign a peace agreement with Israel, and achieve peace for all states in the region". It ended with " Establish normal relations with Israel within the framework of of this comprehensive peace".

This declaration was made six months after 9/11. It ended with a statement denouncing international terrorism and the 9/11 attacks. It also "emphasised the distinction between international terrorism and the people's legitimate right to resist foreign occupation", stressing the need "to reach an international agreement within the framework of the United Nations".

Four years later, when a new conflict has raged in Lebanon and the brutal occupation of Palestine continues unabated, it is time for the international community to devise a way in which real justice and peace can be restored.

The author, Jim Addington, is Chair of Action for UN Renewal, a UK group which was formed by the merger of Renew UN and the Forum for UN Renewal. Among its aims is the conversion of the British government and parliamentarians to a proper respect and support for the United Nations.

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