It seems that we are approaching the beginning of the end of the current round of Middle East fighting. Putting an end to the “war without a name” in the north should create opportunities for reaching long term agreements that would put the Middle East on a new course of peace making.
Prime Minister Olmert spoke about changing the rules of region as an end-game political consequence of the war. That goal will not be achieved through the military campaign. The rules of the game in the Middle East will only be changed when some of the currently persona no-grata are invited to the table.
While the fire is burning out of control it is difficult for politicians to see beyond the smoke, but the test of true leadership and statesmanship is in the ability to turn disaster into opportunities and to change hard-fast positions often voiced with great self conviction.
Syria is the key
The key to changing the rules is Syria. An end to the conflict in Lebanon that will not lead to the next round of fighting or to the internal destruction of Lebanon with a new round of civil war is bringing Syria into a peace process with Israel. Syria must be brought into the process in order to end the Iran-Syria alliance.
Syria must be brought into the process in order to allow the government of Lebanon to rein in Hizbullah and allow Hizbullah to become another political movement that is not a “state within a state.” The government of Lebanon will not be able to rein in Hizbullah without Syria backing the process. Syria will not join the process
Syria can be brought into the process if the United States provides Syria with sufficient assurances that it will gain significantly, both in terms of US and Western financial support and investments in Syria and by knowing that the Golan Heights will be returned to Syria sovereignty in exchange of peace with Israel.
The way to go
The United States should indicate its willingness to support Syria through public and private diplomacy. Syria should demonstrate its intentions by closing its border with Iraq preventing insurgency there, it should immediate stop the flow of weapons to Hizbullah and it should close the offices of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Damascus.
The US should respond to those steps by taking the “Rabin deposit” regarding Israeli-Syrian peace from the safe.
Israel should receive US assurances that the Golan will remain demilitarized and that an effective and robust multinational force will guarantee the peace of the Golan.
These steps would allow Israel and Lebanon to reach a cease fire and a peace deal that will include the Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s seven points plan and the UN Security Council Resolution for a long term cease fire, an effective and robust multinational force in south Lebanon and the full implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559.
As for Lebanon, Hizbullah must be part of whatever international arrangement is reached. At this point it seems that the best option is for Hizbullah fighters to be integrated into the Lebanese army. This would probably raise the Shiite participation in the army to about 80 percent. Hizbullah will reject any deal that attempts to marginalize them and Syria will support Hizbullah’s position.
Gershon Baskin is the Co-CEO of the Israeli/Palestinian center for research and information