Six keys to peace in Mideast

Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Baker, Madeleine Albright and others found themselves dragged into the business of trying to bring peace to the Middle East. Year after year, decade after decade, a region that is sacred to three religions, home of sublime landscapes — yet drenched in blood and covered in the dust of bombed-out rubble — brings those who live in more comfortable neighborhoods back to its old quarrels.

Rice’s trip this week marks an implicit recognition by the Bush administration that there are some burdens that every American presidency has to bear.

It is not that Bush has ignored the Middle East; on the contrary, he is fighting a war there, and the commitment of the president to advance the cause of democracy in nations that have long been autocracies amounts to a policy of revolution.

But in six years, Bush’s team has studiously avoided the habits of the past: shuttle diplomacy, Camp David summits, special envoys. To Bush & Co., those things are naive, incremental, Clintonian. But whether he likes it or not, the President — and his Secretary of State — are deep in the Clinton Woods now; the very least that well-wishers can do is to point them to pathways through the thickets.

In truth, Bush and Rice know those paths well. Everyone does. There is no mystery to the theory of peace in the Middle East; it’s the practice that has proved so difficult.

But it is worth setting out the keys to peace that — with time, patience and goodwill in an area where it is in chronically short supply — might one day allow people to concentrate on building a better life for their children rather than scurrying into bolt-holes and shelters. Here are six of them.

1. Get the U.S. involved

Rice’s trip is evidence that the U.S. is involved in the Middle East, whether it wants to be or not. This is not, for once, because it is the world’s sole superpower, the policeman to which those in any tough neighborhood eventually turn. It is because it has a unique relationship with Israel and is committed to guaranteeing its security. That means Washington can talk to the Israelis and, occasionally, convince them that their best interests require them to talk to those whose motives and behavior they despise.

2. Don’t forget the Palestinians

Like any birth, this one won’t be easy. The leading Sunni Arab states, if they are to join the U.S. in opposition to Hizballah and Iran, are likely to ask for something in return, and it is not hard to divine what it would be: a full-hearted U.S. commitment to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.

3. Guarantee Israel’s security

Israel finds itself in a dilemma. The Jewish state’s superb armed forces never failed when asked to fight against massed armies in conventional wars. But Israel is not fighting a standard war now; with Hamas and Hizballah, it is battling against cells of well-trained militias energized by religious fervor. Armies surrender when their leaders tell them to; guerrillas just slip back to a safe house and wait to fight another day. All of that means that Israel has to fight a war that inevitably results in terrible and visible damage to towns and cities — and costs innocent lives. In the court of world public opinion, that is a fight Israel ultimately can never win.

4. Stabilize Lebanon

By leaving soldiers in the West Bank after any future withdrawal, Israel might hope to be able to guarantee security on its eastern border. But the same tactic wouldn’t work to the north; nobody is going to countenance Israel occupying a swath of southern Lebanon again (as it did from 1982 to 2000) to deny Hizballah room from which to fire its rockets — least of all Israelis themselves, who are horrified by the idea of a re-occupation. That is why the fourth key to peace is to stabilize Lebanon. In part, that means propping up the fragile government of technocrats led by Fouad Siniora and pumping donors to help Lebanon rebuild itself (again). But it also means ensuring that Hizballah can no longer use its strongholds in the south to threaten regional peace.

5. Handling Iran

Assuming Iran was behind Hizballah’s raid, what happens next? The U.S. and other powers are discussing how to rein in Iran’s nuclear program, and it may be easier to jointly impose sanctions now that Iran is viewed as responsible for mayhem in Lebanon. But what then? European officials talk of a “constructive dialogue” with Tehran that involves recognizing it as an important regional power while maintaining the right to sanction it if it breaks the nuclear rules. But Israel — along with many supporters in the U.S. — thinks a dialogue with a nation whose leader has said that Israel “must be wiped off the map” is a waste of breath.

6. Pray for Iraq

The failure of the U.S. to impose order in Iraq after the invasion of 2003 has emboldened all those who believe that more spasms of violence will stop Washington and its allies from pushing for fundamental change. And there are worse possible outcomes than that. Iraq could become the launching pad for a full-on war between Sunni and Shiite, with Iran entering the fray on the Shiite side and the Arab states defending Iraq’s Sunnis. Seen in that light, there’s little wonder that Rice is off on her travels.

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