Sunday, July 30, 2006


Glimmers of Hope Amid the Ruins

For many people around the world, the news of the outbreak of renewed violence this summer between Israel and Lebanon (and Israel and Gaza) carried with it a sense of tragic inevitability. Even among many people strongly committed to peacemaking, bloodshed in the Middle East is often met with sorrowful resignation--"ahh, there they go again"--as if nothing can ever be done to prevent wars and rumors of wars in the region.

There were dire warnings of the danger of the war spreading far beyond the region. Could this be the spark, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich asked, of World War III? Or worse: Voices on the apocalyptic right saw in the Israel-Lebanon fighting the seeds of Armageddon.

While the death toll mounted, world leaders could not agree on whether or how to call for a halt to the fighting.

In the midst of the tragedy, a small glimmer of hope began to emerge. The initial conversation centered around achieving a cease-fire in the daily barrage of rockets and airstrikes between Israel and Lebanon. But it was impossible to talk about a cease-fire without acknowledging that this war didn't begin with the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, or even with the Israeli pullout from Lebanon six years ago. The roots of the conflict in the Middle East, of course, go back centuries--and any genuine, lasting solution must deal not only with the contemporary realities but the heritage of two peoples on one land.

Perhaps the most encouraging sign in an otherwise-discouraging situation is the growing number of voices, across the political spectrum, that these deeper, more profound issues must finally be addressed. On the left, Tikkun magazine and the Shalom Center have called for an international Middle East peace conference to "impose a just, equitable, and lasting settlement." Voices from the right, including George H.W. Bush's national security adviser Brent Scowcroft, have laid out plans for a "comprehensive settlement of the root cause of today's turmoil." While it would be undoubtedly premature to call it a "consensus," the breadth of support for a comprehensive peace creates an opportunity to actually achieve progress toward a just peace in the region.

SERIOUS QUESTIONS, of course, remain unsettled. These range from the Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank to the Arab world entering into full normal relations with Israel. They include the establishment of a viable Palestinian state along 1967 borders, and the establishment of Jerusalem as the shared capital of both states. The bottom line is that both Israel and Palestine must be safe, secure, and peaceful--or neither will ever be.

"Peace processes"--from Camp David to the Oslo agreements and the "road map"--have come and gone over the years. There have been positive achievements--for instance, Jordan and Egypt have established significant accords with Israel--and discouraging setbacks. But the world cannot allow the setbacks to either determine the course of action or prevent hard-scrabble progress from being made.

Real progress toward peace in the Middle East is not the sole responsibility of the Israelis and Palestinians, or even the other actors in the area. For many reasons, peace in this critical crossroads of civilization must be the responsibility of the whole international community--and the United States must play the key leadership role in that effort. But the U.S. must take a significantly different approach than it has in the past if it is to constructively play the part of midwife in the birth of a "new Middle East," as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put it. The U.S. must not only make Middle East peace a high priority, it must do so as an "honest broker," and not just a backer of one side in the dispute. It must not only stand for the peace and security of Israel, but for the peace and security of Palestine and all its neighbors.

Making progress toward a comprehensive peace will never be easy. Extremists on all sides will seek to scuttle any forward movement, out of fear, mistrust, and long-standing hatred. But that only makes the task more important--and the active, unwavering support of committed people of faith essential.

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