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Time for Real Diplomacy

By ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI, Times, 23.07.06  

Viewpoint: Former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski argues that Secretary Rice must stay in the region as long as it takes - and talk to everyone
The following three propositions regarding the Middle East are axiomatic. One, for the U.S., the region poses the critical test of its capacity for global leadership. Two, the parties in the conflict cannot reach a constructive and durable resolution on their own. Three, the experience of the U.S. in Iraq, and the total experience of Israel in its several conflicts with its Arab neighbors, including its ongoing repression of the Palestinians, cumulatively demonstrates that even overwhelming military power cannot produce acceptable and lasting political outcomes. Theoretically, the U.S. could mobilize all of its might and treasure to impose its will on the Middle East, but the fact is, the American public would not support such an undertaking, and therefore it is only a theoretical possibility.
The Israelis can defeat every single one of their current or potential enemies, but in doing so, they simply enlarge the number of those increasingly determined to use force in resisting Israel. In the long run, Israel would then face the same dilemma that France faced in Algeria, be worn down and eventually expelled. That is the historical reality that can only be ignored at considerable strategic risk.
Neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians can resolve the problem on their own because each suspects the other too much, with mistrust and antagonism by now deeply rooted. There have been times when the Israelis were prepared to consider serious negotiations but they had no viable partners on the other side; there were times when the Arab side seemed willing to consider a grand bargain (notably the peace effort early in 2002 initiated by Saudi Arabia and endorsed by the entire Arab League) but a terrorist outrage dynamited that effort as well.
The so-called Road Map to Peace proposed by the U.S. is a road map to an unknown destination, which intensifies the suspicion of those who are supposed to travel on it and makes each side reluctant to fulfill even its basic initial requirements: the Palestinians to dismantle the terrorist networks; the Israelis to stop construction of the settlements altogether. It follows from the foregoing that only an external intervention that is decisive and purposeful in its character can achieve a breakthrough to peace. That intervention can only come from the U.S. It has the power and some residual trust in the area, enabling it to undertake such a task. If the U.S. was prepared to commit itself to support peace along the lines outlined by the Geneva Accord, the joint Clinton-Barak proposals and the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Taba, a formula for peace likely to be endorsed by the majority of Israel and the Palestinian populations would make its impact felt. In fact, public opinion polls show that both the Palestinians and the Israelis are ahead of their governments in their readiness to consider a serious compromise.
The present crisis, however, clearly stands in the way and imposes a particularly important challenge for the U.S. If that crisis continues to percolate and take a higher toll in human life, and continues to demonstrate that terrorism on one side is matched by brutal repression by the other, then the chances for peace in the Middle East will be set back, the region will be progressively radicalized and increasingly dominated by extremist forces. America's position in the region will be placed in jeopardy, and if America's position in the Middle East are undermined, America's global leadership will ultimately be at stake. That's why it's so essential the President send his Secretary of State to the region with a mandate and a mission to tackle the problem head on: to achieve a cease fire between the parties, with sequential but not simultaneous exchange of prisoners, with an international undertaking to place troops from major powers in a security zone in southern Lebanon and perhaps even in Gaza and then to use that as the springboard for eventual negotiations. But to achieve the more immediate task, the Secretary of State has to be prepared to stay in the region as long as necessary, as was the case with Kissinger in the early '70s, and she also has to be prepared to talk to the parties concerned. The notion that the U.S. cannot talk to some of the Arab players is a self-imposed ostracism. The alternative to that is to sit in front of a mirror and to talk to oneself and that is hardly likely to be very productive.
In brief, America faces a challenge that offers it the opportunity to exercise the kind of leadership in the area that for a number of years it has failed to pursue.