In the aftermath of Lebanon, the president of Egypt gives his view of what it will take to get the peace process back on track.
I am deeply concerned and worried over the tragic developments in the Middle East. The area is witnessing a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions. The senseless killing and devastation in Lebanon have been destroying the very fabric of life in the entire region. At a time when we were striving tirelessly to heal the wounds of the past, the Israeli invasion came to deepen the rift between Arabs and Israelis and shatter the hopes of millions who were willing to give peace a chance. It awakened old suspicions and misgivings. It revived fears of Israeli expansionism and dealt a devastating blow to the proposition of harmonious co-existence in the area, which gave the world its three major religions. For anyone who is conscious of history, this is a very sad development indeed.
We, in Egypt, have more reason to be particularly alarmed.
We took the pioneering steps on the road to peace. We accepted tremendous risks. We undertook the unthinkable. The basic premise behind our policy was that peace will gain new converts every day. Peace was the only road to a better future. Through the first encounter with peace, Israelis and Arabs would bury their prejudices and begin to learn to live together as good neighbors and friends. A new commonality of interest would emerge. Certainly, disagreements would still exist. But sharp conflict involving war and violence would give way to a new spirit of reconciliation and accommodation.
That was the underlying philosophy of the Camp David framework for peace in the Middle East. No more wars, not only between Israel and Egypt, but between the Jewish state and all its neighbors who are willing to live in peace with it. The all-out invasion of a small Arab country, the indiscriminate shelling of cities and abhorrent loss of life and property can never serve that cause.
The United States has every reason to be alarmed, too. It is our full partner in the peace process. As a superpower with global interests and responsibilities, it can hardly be indifferent to this unwarranted escalation of violence. It maintains friendly ties with several Arab countries, which provide the West with oil and surplus capital so vital for investment and employment. The United States is a recipient of Arab oil and funds. Most Arab countries do extensive business with American firms, buy American products and employ American experts at their development projects.
On the other hand, the United States has a special relationship with Israel. That relationship was never adequately defined or clearly perceived. For almost two decades, the United States has been the main supplier of military and financial aid to Israel. It has provided Israel with indispensable diplomatic protection. All these factors combined establish a special responsibility on the part of the United States for Israeli policy and conduct, particularly when it involves the large-scale use of American lethal weapons. Most people in the area hold the United States responsible for any Israeli hostile acts and/or unjustified resort to force.
Of course, a careful examination of this bond reveals that it is much more complex and intricate. But the fact remains that a certain perception exists in the minds of hundreds of millions all over the globe.
The present situation in the region must be viewed in the light of all the above-mentioned. Added to it is the fact that two other wars are raging against Arab countries simultaneously with the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Such wars are doubling the impact of the Israeli use of force at will. Here also, the United States is seen as partly responsible. Aside from that, the United States is the first to suffer from the spread of instability and insecurity in this region for reasons that are too obvious.
Those who are endowed with vision and understanding of history should not confine themselves to analyzing what happened in the past. Rather, the challenge is to look ahead in an attempt to minimize the losses and rekindle hope in the hearts of individuals of good will. In other words, we should look beyond current day-to-day events in order to explore avenues to a better future for all.
From the ashes of devastation and destruction, we must spare no effort to resurrect the spirit of peace and hope. Thus, it would be a grave mistake to look at the situation from a narrow angle or in terms of the next few weeks alone.
To be specific, one should mention that we are not confronted merely with the problem of West Beirut and its aftermath or repercussions. Nor are we faced solely with the imperative responsibility to end immediately the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, a country of a delicate balance. Rather, that war brought us squarely before the Palestinian problem in all its aspects.
For years, we have been emphasizing the centrality of that question, not only in the relationship between Arabs and Jews, but also with respect to peace and security in the whole region. It plays a central role also as to superpower rivalry and competition. In this sense, it is a source of foreign intervention and polarization. Therefore, it would be shortsighted and futile to direct our efforts and energy to the symptoms while we are aware of the cause of unrest and conflict. On the other hand, we ought to approach the issue from the point of view of conflict resolution and not crisis management.
It is a process, not only of conflict resolution, but also of peace-building. It is a most difficult and trying process, because it requires a higher degree of self-control, restraint as well as focusing on human concerns of all sides without evasion or escapism, for if peace is to triumph, it has to be self-sustained. This needs the cooperation of the majority of the people on both sides. To our mind, peace is a win game in which everyone must feel that his or her basic concerns have been attended to, cared for and fully addressed. This process of peace creates a compromise not of defeat, but for victory; it is a compromise of human survival at an equal level of dignity against the irrational forces of dogma and bigotry.
The basic single cause of instability in the Middle East is that the Palestinian people have been left by most of the powers alone, beleaguered and cornered without seeing any way out. They are being denied a home and a homeland and the inalienable right to exercise in that homeland their self-determination in peace. The right of the Israeli people to live in their country recognized and secure does not contradict the right of the Palestinian people to live in their country recognized and secure, too. Both can therefore co-live in peace and harmony. Hence, our call for mutual and simultaneous recognition.
The imposition of dispersion of the Palestinians or the creation of a new wave of refugees will not solve any problem. It will inevitably lead to the radicalization of the Palestinian movement and a victory for the voices of doom and gloom. The Palestinians residing abroad have only one way to go--back to their own homeland. Any other formula would be like administering sedatives to a patient who is suffering from cancer. It will simply not work. We ought to marshal our political will for a comprehensive settlement that would minimize the damage done by enhancing and multiplying the positive.
Our experience in the protracted autonomy talks has been painful for several reasons. Israel is maintaining a narrow and unbelievably restricted interpretation of the provisions of the "framework." It claims that the self-governing authority should be granted only a few powers and responsibilities despite the preponderance of the Camp David provisions that aim at creating a genuine transfer of power from the Israeli government to the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza. In addition, high-ranking Israeli officials have issued certain policy statements that are inconsistent with the spirit and provisions of the "framework."
I am referring here to statements expressing Israel's determination to block the establishment of any Palestinian entity at any time in the future. Taken at face value, these statements purport to prejudge the issue of determining the final status of the West Bank and Gaza. According to the Camp David formula, that status is to be determined in the course of the negotiations. In other words, the Israeli statements aim at rendering the transitional arrangement of full autonomy a final settlement.
Equally absurd is the Israeli idea of converting Jordan into a Palestinian state. Such dangerous notions are certain to exacerbate the situation and create new problems at a time when we should double our efforts in search for a real solution. Jordan is an Arab state with its distinct identity, which is well established and recognized by the international community. The fact that it hosts a sizeable Palestinian community temporarily is of no significance, for this is the case in many Arab countries. The concept is as erroneous as suggesting the establishment of a Palestinian state in Lebanon.
Neither the Palestinian people nor the host Arab peoples accept or even understand strange ideas that widen the gap we have been trying to bridge. These proposals are viewed by Arabs, not excluding the most moderate elements among them, as a transparent cover for expanionist designs. The Palestinian entity should be established on Palestinian land only--i.e., in the West Bank and Gaza. Any negation of this precept is certain to do the cause of peace a disservice.
In addition, the conversion of Arab land into Israeli settlements is causing a steady erosion of good will and hope. Hence, the situation must be remedied by a combination of acts:
First: The United States must recognize the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. It is inconceivable that the American people would deny the Palestinians, out of all peoples, this God-given right. Such denial would be contrary to the fundamental values and the heritage of the American revolution.
Second: All settlement activities must be halted.
Third: Certain confidence-building measures must be taken in order to restore the trust of the Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza.
In the absence of such new sense of direction, it would be most difficult to resume the autonomy talks or revive the peace process.
It would be another lost opportunity to think that what happened in Beirut and Lebanon in the past few weeks has caused the Palestinian problem to disappear or be relegated to a secondary position. If anything, it came as a sad reminder that this problem must be addressed in its totality without delay. Only then would we be serving the cause of peace.