A Lebanese Abroad

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Lebanon Should be the Power Broker for Middle-East Peace

Yes, Lebanon. Not the U.S., not the U.N., not France and not the E.U.

After the Lebanese elections, Lebanon has an opportunity to play a greater role in the region as the main broker of peace between Israel and the Arabs. But this is only possible if it steps up to it. The rewards are huge, and the risks are minimal. Here’s why.

Let’s face it. The U.S., U.N., France, E.U. and Russia have all taken turns in trying to lead Middle-East peace initiatives and they all have failed at it. Even Jordan and Egypt have attempted to lead other Arabs to follow their path, and they too have failed. The Palestinians are charting their own trajectory. So, who is left? Lebanon.

Lebanon has an opportunity to lead this effort because of the special relations it enjoys with all key parties.

First, Syria is the key Arab country that really needs to make peace with Israel. The other key Arab group that also needs to make peace with Israel is Hezbollah. Which country has the closest ties to both of them? Lebanon.

Furthermore, both France and the U.S. have been cozying up to the new Lebanese government as guardians of the post-Syria democracy era. Lebanon is on their agenda now, and the diplomatic channels of communications are very open, very active and can go as high as they need to be.

Next, Saudi Arabia. Although Saudi Arabia will never play an active role as a catalyst for peace, their support is needed to grease its wheels. The Lebanese-Saudi relations are on very solid ground, and if anything, they have been strengthened after Hariri’s murder. The new Lebanese Prime Minister Mikati has already made 2 trips to Saudi Arabia since taking office a month ago. The Saudis have a history of trust with the Lebanese. Who could they trust now for leading them to peace with Israel? Lebanon.

Even Palestinian President Abbas has made open overtures of co-operation with Lebanon regarding the Palestinian camps in that country. And we know that this subject is on the agenda of the greater peace talks with Israel.

Back to Hezbollah. More than Syria, there is no other group that needs to heel its wounds with Israel than Hezbollah. Hezbollah and Israel have battled each other in South Lebanon for several years and the memories of death and destruction are still vivid on both sides. But deep inside, the two groups undoubtedly respect each other because each one knows that they can’t take the other one down, but they can both inflict damage to each other. The Lebanese government must ultimately manage Hezbollah’s reign for its own sake, and there is nothing better to boost their ego than inviting them to the negotiating table.

Back to Syria. Now, the famous brotherly ties between Lebanon and Syria can be put to a greater use. From one brother to another, Lebanon can tell Assad: “let’s make peace with Israel now”, or … we may not be able to help you sustain your own regime. In other words, Lebanon could now play a reverse role with Syria assuring its government stability in return for a lasting peace.

Finally with Israel, Lebanon has had a history of flirting with peace talks and although the two countries are officially on non-speaking terms, there is enough inherent empathy to warrant the start of something. Israel has recently proposed that Lebanon should make peace with Israel, now that Syria is gone. Lebanon can take this opportunity by telling Israel, yes to peace, but with Syria and Hezbollah too. By distancing itself from Hezbollah for the purpose of the peace talks, Lebanon can play a unique role in it. Lebanon is in a position of strength now, as the darling of democracy in the Middle-East. There is no better position to be in for starting negotiations than from a position of strength.

This is all possible, but not easy. Israel typically favors divided negotiation stages where they would make peace with each country or group, one at a time. A common front would not bode well for a starter, but this is not an insurmountable obstacle. In reality, they would be dealing mostly with Syria, but via Lebanon.

Now is the time for Lebanon to step-up and play its power broker role in the Middle-East like no other country can. Lebanon and the Lebanese are the only ones that can bring to the same table Israel, Syria and Hezbollah. As for the U.S., France and Saudi Arabia, their role should be mostly as cheer leaders, economic sponsors and emotional benefactors. Again, Lebanon is best positioned to orchestrate and arbitrate such roles.

Lebanon will stand to benefit from this expanded role. Lebanon’s global stature will grow commensurately and they will pick up an economic windfall not to be underestimated.

Let’s not just make peace; let’s re-engineer it.

10 Comments:

Blogger Doha said...

You're not the only one putting this thought to debate, but also Ghassan Tueni today in his editorial piece in Al-Nahar. Why not? Perhaps we can spearhead a successful negotiation attempt.

9:27 AM  
Blogger ThinkingMan said...

Interesting! I will check Tueni's editorial but wasn't aware of it. (I must confess, I hardly ever read the An-Nahar in Arabic)

10:01 AM  
Blogger ThinkingMan said...

OK, I read it in english on naharnet.
http://www.naharnet.com/domino/tn/NewsDesk.nsf/Editorials/$First?OpenDocument

http://www.annaharonline.com/htd/OLA050523-2.HTM (Arabic)

I think both views are complementary, but Tueni didn't specifically call for Lebanon to take a leading role like I proposed. I think he is deploring the lack of leadership within the government which is the cause for the lack of progress or for seizing the opportunity. And he suggested that Syria and Lebanon go together- I don't think it will fly right now, because it will be perceived as "being together" again, whereas Lebanon has to be more assertive with its own foreign policy.

2:09 PM  
Blogger carine said...

very interesting! i do think that lebanon should be the dominant arab negotiating party, for all the reasons you've cited. however, it is still necessary to have a neutral mediator.

the issue of the palestinians in lebanon, even with abbas's help in disarmament, promises to be one of the stickiest and most challenging points in the arab-israeli peace process. without someone in between, i can't imagine how this could be resolved in a way that didn't screw over someone involved (and that "someone" might easily be the most disadvantaged party-- the refugees themselves).

if the lebanese were to achieve peace with israel before other parties, i agree that lebanon would make an excellent power broker for the process thereafter. but in the meantime, a new mediator is definitely needed.

my nomination for this new mediator is japan. it is the only major "first world" power without historical/colonial/demographic ties to the middle east; moreover, its heavy investments in the region would provide an impetus towards the swift, sustainable resolution of the conflict. i think japan would jump at the opportunity to out-do the us and europe, and it's neutrality would provide what has been missing from past attempts at mediation.

11:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe that the Lebanese-Israeli relationship has more of a potential to be a warm peace than any other Israeli-Arab dyad. Israelis and Lebanese actually have things in common. Both societies are very entrepreneurial, Westernized, and service oriented. Israeli Jews and Lebanese Christians are also non-Muslims in a vast Muslim ocean. Personally, I think that Lebanon and Israel are two of the most complex and fascinating societies in the world.

Israel is ready for a peace with Lebanon tomorrow, but I think that peace between Israel and Syria is easier said than done. While I believe that a majority of Israelis are ready to part with the Golan, I do not believe that Israel wants to have two peace tracks going at the same time. The Israeli-Palestinian peace track is divisive enough for Israel - two peace tracks at once would make things even worse.

My hope is that Syria will grease the wheels of Israeli public opinion by making the symbolic gesture of returning the remains of Ellie Cohen (an Israeli spy who virtually became a cabinet minister in the 1960s). Symbolic gestures won't bring about the return of the Golan, but they could really initiate things.

http://www.elicohen.org/

(note, I have said things about Ellie Cohen on other Levant blogs)

Itiail

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had an interesting thought . .. .

Right now Israel is asking Lebanon for normal relations (and not getting an answer); Lebanon is asking Syria for normal relations (and not getting an answer); Syria is asking Israel for normal relations (and not getting an answer).

Itiail

1:35 PM  
Blogger ThinkingMan said...

Very good last observation Itiail- I am not sure whether to laugh or cry about it, unfortunately.
It seems that each party is more interested in "negotiating" tactics and strategy than with the actual outcome: lasting peace and prosperity. Israel, Syria and Lebanon's leaders must get off their horses and sit down at the table and hammer this thing out by simplifying it, and not making it look more complex.
Re: "I do not believe that Israel wants to have two peace tracks going at the same time"; I would argue that it could have a reverse effect actually of energizing the Palestinian track; i.e. if they see progress at the border, they will have no choice but to move more efficiently inside. This will take pressure off Israel as well. Now is the time. We are tired of waiting, and we are getting old- we want a better future NOW, not in 20 years from now.

6:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lebanon's Role in Mideast Peace

Thinking of your original post . . .

I believe that Lebanon's destiny in the Mideast peace equation is not to be a power broker, but to be a place where Israelis and Arabs can meet and come to have relationships.

Historically Lebanon has been a bridge between Europe and the Arab world, it is within the realm of possibility that Israel could be the bridge between Israel and the Arab world as well.

I believe that Israeli tourists would flock to Lebanon if it were legal, joining the tens of thousands of Arabs who already do so. The sight of Israeli sunbathers, Israeli partygoers, and Israeli hikers would serve to humanize Israelis in the eyes of Arabs who encounter them. The sight of Arab sunbathers, etc would likewise help Israelis see that not all Arabs are jihadis and hijab-wearing black masses.

There are already Israeli tourists in Egypt and Jordan, but in Egypt Israelis stick to the Sinai and in Jordan to Petra. Israelis don't go to the heart of either country and really meet the people (with good reason, neither capital would be safe and there's not a lot to see in Amman). No one would make a trip to Lebanon without seeing Beirut.

"Syria and Lebanon's leaders must get off their horses and sit down at the table and hammer this thing out by simplifying it, and not making it look more complex."

In a way I agree with you on the "just do it" idea, but I think that peace must be more than something between politicians. This is somewhat cliched, but it has to be between people too. Perhaps you could play a small role by having a link to an Israeli blog?

Israellycool is hilarious, and only half of it is about politics.

http://www.israellycool.com/

Education also matters. I'm often afraid that Arab students learn all about the shameful things Israel has done - like Deir Yassin and Qana - but nothing at all about all the great/interesting things Israel has done. I'm sure that every Arab knows what Sabra and Shatila was, but how many know what a kibbutz is? or the Histadrut? or about the historical suffering of the Jews in many lands?

I believe that in Israel politicians more or less respond to public opinion. Right now public opinion is Israel is 50% in favor of giving up the Golan, ~25% against, 25% unsure. Assad could do a lot to improve those numbers by a symbolic gesture.

Assad's handshake with Moshe Katsav at the Pope's funeral was all over the papers here. If Assad had decided to admit that the handshake had taken place, and then decided to follow up on it, he could have restarted negotiations. A trip to Jerusalem (like Sadat made) or a return of Ellie Cohen's remains would do even more to change the equation.

Itiail

8:57 AM  
Blogger Brian H said...

Ouch! Heeling wounds sounds painful. You'd certainly need to heal them afterwards.

;)

8:30 PM  
Anonymous ForFreedom said...

Your post was indeed very interesting thinkingman, although quite irrational i think. But not for the reasons anyone would expect...

Although I strongly beleive Lebanon could have a great role to play, and will hopefully, as we can see the way it won back the attention of world's power broker, and as important, from its regional neighbours : jordan, koweit, the saoudian kingdom and the palestinian autority new leader.

But such a step must be well planned. And the parts that will push for it should have a strong interest in doing so.
We can already see the groupe of people that will lead Lebanon after the elections. Those will have plenty of job on their hands, and plenty of opportunities to affirm themselves, and win the crouds attention and support : the electoral law dilemna, the release of Dr. Samir Geagea and all the detainees in the syrian jails, the economical situation, political and economical reformes, and so on...
Any advancement on all those issues will get them lots of support, and i doubt they will engage themselves in any adventure like the one you are proposing, with all they would risk in it.

On another side, what you are hoping for Lebanon can be done in the next years, and middle ranged future instead of the close one. Maybe by the end of that next governement's mandate, or by the one that will replace it.
But an important question pops here : what to do with hezbollah's role and weapons? the move you proposed could solve that issue perfectly, saving all the partie's interests. But will the world wait for the Lebanese to get a governement ready to take such a huge step? will it wait for the lebanese to fix their other,more important, problems? I doubt it...

7:26 PM  

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