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How would such a process be organized? The obvious vehicle to direct the process would be the Quartet (the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations), established in 2001 for just such a purpose. The Quartet, beginning at the foreign-minister level, would first organize the necessary international force for southern Lebanon and Gaza and then call for a cease-fire. The security force would have to have the mandate and capability to deal firmly with acts of violence. Ideally, this would be a NATO, or at least NATO-led, contingent. Recognizing the political obstacles, the fact is that direct U.S. participation in such a force would be highly desirable -- and perhaps even essential -- for persuading our friends and allies to contribute the capabilities required.
With a cease-fire and international security force in place, the Quartet would then construct a framework for negotiating the specific elements of a comprehensive settlement, after which Israel, the Palestinian Authority and appropriate Arab state representatives (e.g. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon) would be added to the process to complete the detailed negotiations.
The benefits of reaching a comprehensive settlement of the root cause of today's turmoil would likely ripple well beyond the Israelis and the Palestinians. A comprehensive peace settlement would not only defang the radicals in Lebanon and Palestine (and their supporters in other countries), it would also reduce the influence of Iran -- the country that, under its current ideology, poses the greatest potential threat to stability in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Egypt and Jordan.
A comprehensive settlement also would allow Arab leaders to focus on what most say is a primary concern: modernizing their countries to provide jobs and productive lives for their rapidly growing populations.
Removing the argument that nothing can be done because domestic constituencies are fixated on the "plight of the Palestinians" would allow creative energy, talent and money to be rechanneled into education, health, housing, etc. This would have the added benefit of addressing conditions that encourage far too many young Arabs to glorify terrorism as a legitimate means for dealing with the challenges of the modern world.
It is even possible that a comprehensive settlement might help stabilize Iraq. A chastened Iran, bereft of the "Israeli card," might be more willing to reach a modus vivendi with the Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq, and with the United States as well. All countries in the region -- not to mention Iraq itself -- need a stable, prosperous and peaceful Iraq. The road to achieving this may well lead eastward from a Jerusalem shared peacefully by Israelis and Palestinians.
This latest in a seemingly endless series of conflagrations in the region just may present a unique opportunity to change the situation in the Middle East for the better for all time. Let us not shrink from the task.
The writer was national security adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. He is now president of the Forum for International Policy.