Try Diplomacy, Not War – Former President of Mexico Speaks Out

Former President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, writes in Forbes Asia this week of the recent setbacks to the peace process in the Middle East, most notably the war in Lebanon this summer.  He contends that no matter how daunting or discouraging these events may seem, they actually provide the international community with an opening to find a permanent solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.  He notes that as no clear winners have emerged from the recent violence, despite some claims to the contrary, the shared suffering and relative vulnerability of the key stakeholders makes now the right time to seriously re-engage on this issue. 

Zedillo also notes that not only do none of the parties show a clear winning strategy, but that “all sides must know by now that the current trend is not promising for any of them.”  He suggests that perhaps fatigue within both camps for the never-ending cycle of violence may finally be ready to give way to an opportunity for real progress.  However, Zedillo is careful to strongly point out that progress will not come without robust international participation.  He calls for action from the Quartet as well as from “nonbelligerent Arab states” and for a renewed push for a 2002 Arab League initiative calling for normalization of relations with Israel.

Zedillo concludes by calling the Arab-Israeli conflict “one of the biggest, if not the biggest, threats to international peace and security,” and in doing so he rightly recognizes the importance of resolving this conflict in relation to addressing other regional challenges such as Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the rise of Hezbollah.  We agree with this assessment and with his statement that “the intelligent-diplomacy card must be played before it is too late.”

Full article after the jump.

Forbes Asia

November 13, 2006

Try Diplomacy, Not War

BYLINE: Ernesto Zedillo

You may think this the least propitious moment to speak of finding a solution to the longstanding, bloody and highly contagious Arab-Israeli conflict. After all, in addition to huge human and material losses, the legacy of this summer’s war in Lebanon seems to be even more resentment and hatred among all the foes, as well as the entrenchment of the most fanatical and violent forces in the region. Yet on closer inspection the trauma in Lebanon has opened a small window of opportunity to once again attempt to find a solution to this painful and intractable dispute. Ironically, the opportunity stems from the defeat that all camps suffered this summer: In the end nobody won anything. Claims of success are pure deceit. And because the war has dramatically enlarged the sense of vulnerability on every front, it is time to make a serious bid for peace.

The way the war unfolded once again shows that none of the adversaries has ever had a truly winning strategy. Israel’s latest approach, the convergence plan–unilateral disengagement from parts of the West Bank–is now shelved. And, of course, terror as a tactic to advance political objectives will never have any chance of succeeding. The present cease-fire–with the international presence in southern Lebanon a part of it–is fragile, while the situation between the Israelis and Palestinians is as highly charged and explosive as ever. Political divisions among the Palestinians are making the conflict more, not less, volatile and dangerous. Hawks in both Israel and Syria are talking more frequently about military options. The current standstill is, at best, highly precarious. The risk of another major war in the region–with devastating consequences not only for the Arab and Israeli peoples but also for the world at large–will continue to grow inexorably and, in fact, could conceivably materialize any day now. If this happens, once again nobody will have won. A new war, irrespective of the victor, will not conclude the conflict.

All sides must know by now that the current trend is not promising for any of them. They should therefore admit that something beyond waiting and getting ready for the next conflagration must be tried if they are to get what they want. It is on this simple fact that hope for peace, however slim, really rests.

The sense of gloom brought on by this latest clash must be used to launch a serious international effort to solve old grievances and achieve a satisfactory settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is clear, however, that to have any chance of succeeding such an effort will require much more than specific formulas to settle the multitude of contentious issues. For the most part, those formulas have already been outlined and discussed during previous attempts to solve this conflict. They failed because they were never consolidated into a plan with political viability. But viability will never be achieved if the relevant parties don’t recognize that the result of their unwillingness to compromise is not the possibility of advancing their respective causes but the certainty of total failure.

Adversaries will not need to compromise legitimate goals, such as sound security for Israel and universal recognition of its borders, and a viable sovereign state for the Palestinian people. Yet to achieve these and the other reasonable goals, all parties must profoundly transform their attitudes and tactics. Each must swallow the bitter pill of adopting a more pragmatic stance in exchange for potential, not necessarily certain, gains. Each must also accept that no matter how abominable the opposition may seem to be, there is no choice but to deal with them. Movement must be made by each party without demanding prior conditions from the others. Instead of continuing to obsessively consider the possibility of another war, each must now seriously consider the possibility of permanent peace.

International Cooperation Vital

Obviously, the necessary agreements will not be achieved through initiatives and direct contact between the contentious camps. Staunch and skillful diplomatic and material support from others will be required. The so-called Quartet (the U.S., EU, Russia and the UN) is an indispensable force that must be put into play again. And much greater involvement from nonbelligerent Arab states will also be essential in order to bring on board some of the recalcitrant Arab players and to reignite the 2002 Arab League initiative that called for full normalization of relations with Israel. Needless to say, the facilitators of peace will also have to take their own hard-to-swallow medicine, such as supporting a unity government for the Palestinian people that includes Hamas; dealing with Syria in a constructive way; helping to stabilize Lebanon, in which Hezbollah is a key player; and bringing Iran into the peace equation.

Perpetuating the Arab-Israeli conflict serves no legitimate purpose. It’s a constant source of violence, extremism and fanaticism and is contributing to a dangerous and deepening rift between the Western and Islamic worlds. It’s one of the biggest, if not the biggest, threats to international peace and security. This threat can only be dissipated with an ambitious international initiative aimed at achieving a comprehensive, inclusive and realistic solution to the conflict. Because of this conviction, I have joined with other former presidents, prime ministers, foreign and defense ministers, congressional leaders, heads of international organizations and Nobel Peace Prize winners in calling for such an undertaking. The intelligent-diplomacy card must be played before it is too late.

Ernesto Zedillo, director, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, and former president of Mexico; Lee Kuan Yew, minister mentor of Singapore; and Paul Johnson, eminent British historian and author, rotate in writing this column. To see past Current Events columns, visit our Web site at www.forbes.com/currentevents.

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