Where we are at in the wake of this morning’s horrible news of the deaths of many civilians, including about three dozen children, in an Israeli air attack at Qana, Lebanon, is far from clear. The former Meretz MK, Naomi Chazan, who remains very active in the party, has written an analysis for Americans for Peace Now advocating progress toward a negotiated peace on the Gaza/Palestinian front as a possible key to solving the Lebanese issue. Its kernel is as follows:
…. The National Reconciliation Agreement (better known as the Prisoners’ Document)… designates Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in future negotiations. In recent days, the Hamas government has issued a call for a ceasefire, echoed by all factions (with the notable exception of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad movement). Egypt and Jordan are actively involved in urging its acceptance.
The resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks within the framework of the Roadmap was being seriously explored on the eve of the Lebanese conflagration. Discussions have focused on moving directly to the second phase of the plan, which calls for the convening of an international conference (or a regional variant thereof), the establishment of a Palestinian state with provisional boundaries, and the commencement of negotiations on a permanent settlement. The Lebanese situation might allow for speeding up this timetable and move more directly to final status issues.
Several arguments can be mustered to support a Palestinian-centered post-crisis strategy. First, the vast majority of the Israeli and Palestinian publics consistently favor such an option. Second, for Israel, the significance of internationally recognized boundaries has proven to be an immense asset in garnering support for its military action against the Hezbollah. The right of self-defense of one’s sovereign territory is not open to question, even when the means employed to do so are disputed. Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank do not enjoy similar backing. Third, the present morass may be attributed, in part, to Israel’s preference for unilateral steps as opposed to negotiated agreements in Lebanon as well as in Gaza. And fourth, it is now apparent that viable states able to exercise power and subdue armed militias are a key to achieving human security in the region.
An Israeli-Palestinian accord will not eradicate Islamic extremists. But by removing the main excuse for their heightened popularity, providing hope for a better future, and furnishing an attractive alternative to their retrogressive worldview, it can go a long way towards weakening their appeal and marginalizing their activities. Such an agreement is the linchpin for a more comprehensive arrangement along the lines suggested by the Arab League initiative.