The root cause of violence in the Middle East - and of anti-Western terrorism outside it - is the unresolved Arab-Israeli conflict. To say this has become a commonplace.Israel's occupation and colonization of Palestinian and Syrian territory for close on 40 years is, without doubt, the main grievance feeding the fury and sense of injustice of the Arab and Muslim world. It is not, of course, the only grievance. America's smashing of Iraq, and its attendant horrors, runs a close second, followed by the incomprehensible savagery of Israel's recent onslaught on Lebanon, which has left the country in ruins and turned a fifth of its population into refugees.
Feeding the bitter sense of outrage and the thirst for revenge is the fact that the United States, a superpower supposedly responsible for international order, has itself created a climate of international anarchy by its own behaviour and its extraordinary support for Israel's wars.
History is likely to conclude that, by its actions, President George W Bush's administration has created more terrorists than any other in the whole history of the United States.
Many observers fear that if an urgent and determined attempt is not made soon to resolve the region's conflicts once and for all, violence and terror will become endemic, as has already happened in Iraq. In that event, the Arabs, Israel and the West will all be condemned to great suffering as their conflicts become irreconcilable.These concerns have caused several current and former world leaders to call for the convening of an international conference to seek, in the words of President Jacques Chirac of France, 'a global and durable settlement' of the region's conflicts. Mahmud Abbas, the beleaguered president of the Palestinian Authority, has echoed this call for an international conference to save Gaza and the West Bank from further intolerable hardship.
Appeals for America to assume its responsibilities for peace have also come from former President Jimmy Carter - who, by his writings and speeches, has emerged as the anguished conscience of American foreign policy - and also from such distinguished former national security advisers as Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski.
In France, a former foreign minister, Herve de Charette, has recently published in Le Figaro a blueprint for an overall settlement, based on an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders with minor adjustments.
Why then has the peace process not been revived with great urgency? Part of the problem is that the men in power in the United States and Israel seem to have no interest in a peaceful settlement of the region's conflicts, but continue to think that they can rout their enemies and impose their will by brute force. In other words, they cling to a belief in a military solution of the region's problems, even though the evidence from Iraq to Afghanistan, and from Palestine to Lebanon all points in an altogether different direction.
Rarely have the minds of key decision-makers been so confused by mistaken assumptions and plain errors, some probably unwitting, others deliberate. Under the influence of right-wing pro-Israeli neoconservatives - and especially of Eliott Abrams, chief adviser on the Middle East at the White House's National Security Council -- President Bush appears to believe that all the violence in the Middle East can be attributed to 'Islamo-fascists who hate freedom.' Such primitive thinking would be laughable if the consequences were not so deplorable.
Even a normally balanced Israeli military analyst like Ze'ev Schiff has recently written that the Lebanon war 'was part of a developing global conflict.' This is a mistake. The resistance movements in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Palestine and Lebanon, and indeed al-Qaida itself, do not all dance to the same tune. Each has its own agenda, its own methods and its own ideology. They are not part of a global threat. The one thing they have in common is a burning wish to get rid of oppressive foreign occupation. Men like Elliot Abrams, and his Likudnik colleagues at the Pentagon and in Vice-President Dick Cheney's office, have persuaded a gullible President of the possibility of transforming the 'Greater Middle East' in a pro-American and pro-Israeli direction by means of pre-emptive strategies and regime change. This is a disastrous policy error. It is now clear that Bush's 'global democratic revolution' is nothing but a crude attempt to impose U.S. and Israeli dominance.
Another gross mistake often made by Bush and his advisers is to believe that if the U.S. does not defeat the 'terrorists' in Iraq, they will attack the U.S. on its home ground. This is the opposite of the truth. It is because of American violence in Iraq and Israel's violence in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories that the U.S. and its British ally have become targets of terrorist attacks.
Another example of mischievous misinformation is the hyping of the alleged threat from Iran's nuclear activities. Although inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have so far detected no evidence of Iranian weapons production, it has become axiomatic in many quarters that Iran's modest programme is a threat to mankind!
Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert regularly portrays Iran as a deadly threat to his country. Ari Shavit, a respected commentator in Haaretz, wrote that an Iranian bomb would be 'the most serious challenge to Israel's existence since the establishment of the state.
'Influential Americans, in turn, continue to portray Iran as posing a grave strategic threat to U.S. national security - a threat which needs to be actively confronted. As if to leave no doubt about America's bellicose intentions, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld recently declared that the U.S. would not be prevented from fighting another war - he clearly had Iran in mind - by its commitment to waging war in Iraq.These fears are misjudged. It is widely accepted in intelligence circles that even if Iran intended to build a bomb, which is by no means certain, it would need five to ten years to do so. Moreover, any use of such a bomb by Iran would be suicidal and could, in any event, be easily deterred by the vastly more powerful nuclear arsenals of the U.S and Israel.
If Iran is indeed seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon, it is not to attack others, but to protect itself from attack. The real concern of the U.S. and Israel is not of a nuclear strike by Iran, but rather that Iran, and its allies in Syria and Lebanon, may acquire some protection against attack by them. In other words, Israel and the U.S. reject any sort of a 'balance of deterrence' which might restrict their freedom of action.As Iran seems determined to pursue its perfectly legitimate attempt to master the uranium fuel cycle for peaceful purposes, a confrontation with the U.S. and Israel cannot be ruled out. If military action seems for the moment improbable, and if Russia and China refuse to agree sanctions against Iran at the Security Council, then Washington will very probably impose its own punitive sanctions outside the UN framework.
Part of the present dangerous uncertainty in the Middle East stems from the shock Israel has suffered in Lebanon, a shock similar to the one the U.S. is suffering in Iraq. It is the shock of failing to win -- and what this means in terms of their own and the world's perception of their power.
Ari Shavit, the commentator quoted above, summed it up when he wrote the other day that 'there will be no peace… without restoring Israel's power.'This, too, is another grave mistake because it suggests that Israel has been so wounded in its self-esteem and its sense of security that it needs to win another war before it can contemplate making peace.
All in all, the Middle East seems to be heading for more conflict rather than any serious attempt at conflict resolution. Israel and its superpower ally seem a long way from recognising that a lasting peace is made by negotiation and mutual compromise and not by one side imposing its terms on a defeated enemy. Link