Five Steps Toward a More Sustainable Middle East Policy

By CALME luminaries Samuel Lewis and Edward S. Walker.  

This piece was originally printed in the Boston Globe, October 5, 2006

SECRETARY OF STATE Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East “to engage moderate leaders across the region.”

Based on a recent discussion convened by the Israel Policy Forum, which included former US ambassadors to the Middle East, senior advisers to four US presidents, former State Department officials, and academic researchers, there are five steps the United States should take that would have significant, positive impact in the region and on US foreign policy.

Mediate a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire that would include the release of captured Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit from Gaza and a cessation of all attacks on Israeli civilian and military targets. In return, and assuming that the Palestinians keep their side of the bargain, Israel would need to halt its incursions into Palestinian territory and its targeted killings.

Focus on what the Palestinian government does and not what it says. Restoring economic aid and engaging with the new government should depend on the absence of violence and terrorism, for instance, rather than the contents of the Hamas charter. The United States cannot abandon the three conditions set for restoring aid to the Palestinians: Hamas’s renouncing terrorism, recognizing Israel, and accepting previous agreements. However, these conditions should not prevent our testing whether a unity government could be effective in implementing a comprehensive cease-fire.

Work with the Saudi initiative. The United States should consult with the Saudis, Egyptians, and other backers of this initiative so that it would be revised in ways that would meet US objections. This initiative, as currently constituted, would almost certainly have to be vetoed by the United States if it were brought to the United Nations, which would constitute a setback for Washington.

Engage Syria. The United States should reengage with Syria and test the intentions of the Assad regime. Syria’s president, Bashar al- Assad, seems almost desperate to get back in the diplomatic game. Even though it would be difficult to wean his regime away from its alliance with Hezbollah and Iran, conditions are ripe for making an effort. The transformation of Libyan behavior should be the model for American dealings with Damascus.

Strengthen Lebanon’s government. Hezbollah’s rearmament could re-ignite the conflict with Israel and jeopardize UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Therefore, it is essential for the United States to engage Syria specifically on this issue, and also take steps to strengthen the central government in Lebanon, loosen restrictions and increase support for nongovernmental organizations, and assist the expanded UN peacekeeping force in the south.

Two specific ways to strengthen the Lebanese government vis-à-vis Hezbollah would be: an Israeli withdrawal from Shebaa Farms in favor of a temporary UN trust, if the Lebanese government were given direct credit for Israel’s action; an exchange of prisoners by Israel directly with the Lebanese government, with no appearance of a Hezbollah role.

Implementation of these five points would help America take the lead in ending the violence in the Middle East.

Samuel Lewis, senior policy adviser to the Israel Policy Forum, was the US ambassador to Israel under Presidents Carter and Reagan and the director of policy planning at the State Department in the first Clinton administration. Edward S. Walker Jr. served as US ambassador to Israel (1997-1999), the Arab Republic of Egypt (1994-1997), and the United Arab Emirates (1989-1992) and as assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs in the George W. Bush and Clinton administrations.

Explore posts in the same categories: CALME Luminaries, Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East Peace, Palestinians, U.S. Role

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