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A Region In Turmoil Part Three

File photo: Lebanese soldiers on the Lebanon/Israel border. Photo courtesy of AFP.
by Alon Ben-Meir
UPI Outside View Commentator
New York (UPI) Sep 27, 2006
What of Israel? The war in Lebanon has once again changed the political landscape in Israel, with many moving to the right of center. Most Israelis are reeling from the war, furious over its indecisive victory. That Hezbollah was able to fire nearly 200 rockets into Israel's urban centers until the last day of the war is viewed as due to a terrible failure of both the political and military leadership.

The Olmert government is clinging by its fingernails to power. Polls show that if elections were held today, the Kadima party will lose: it may actually disintegrate altogether, with Likud winning by enough of a relative majority to form a new government. Olmert's plan to withdraw from most of the West Bank has been abandoned. Most Israeli political pundits predict that the Olmert government will not last, especially once an independent commission of inquiry into the war is formed.

Olmert may not be able to prevent that from happening after the General Accounting Office issues its interim finding, which is generally expected to be damning of the government. Such a finding will lead to the forming of a national commission of inquiry by the Supreme Court. Whatever prospects the Olmert government may face, this or any future Israeli government must find the courage to bring an end to the dehumanizing occupation and instill hope rather than despair in the hearts and minds of the next generation of Israeli and Palestinians.

Palestinians, too, find themselves in a worse situation than before. The rivalry between the security forces of Hamas and Fatah is manifested by the continuing lawlessness in Gaza; meanwhile, the entire area appears on the verge of total economic collapse.

Land is being expropriated by gangs, families and militia groups; even the security forces themselves are breaking the law with no one brought to justice. The formation of a Palestinian unity government is being taken with a big grain of salt, since it increasingly appears that renewed funding by the West is apparently the driving force behind its creation.

The United States, Israel, and to a large extent the European Community still insist that the three benchmarks -- recognizing Israel, forswearing violence, and accepting prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements -- must be fully accepted by any new government.

Hamas, however, insists that there be no recognition of Israel and that it has the right to continue its armed struggle, which make the prospects for renewed meaningful negotiation highly doubtful. It is time for the Palestinian people to forge a national consensus and insist on the two-state solution that will provide the only assured way to ending the conflict and live at a minimum in a calm atmosphere.

Finally, Egypt, which rightfully sees itself as the leader of the Arab world, is biding its time. Although very involved in trying to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians, and on more than one occasion succeeding, Cairo faces serious internal challenges, such as the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, growing poverty and illiteracy, and a lack of social services.

Despite the apparent calm and non-violent atmosphere in the streets, Egypt could actually explode and, if so, drag much of the Middle East with it. There is a lot of talk about political reform, and many Egyptian intellectuals find in such reform the panacea for the nation's social and economic ills. But this view is oversimplified and requires serious review and analysis.

Egypt is a unique case, and there is no easy solution to its problems. The introduction of political reforms without parallel social and economic development will only lead to political unrest. And if Egypt collapses under the weight of Islamists, this could have a domino effect on the entire region, with the prospect of Islamists taking over many Arab states a real possibility.

I should end by noting that my intention here was to offer a brief summary of the present troubles in the Middle East. In future articles and essays, I hope to fill in the picture country by country with greater detail and depth. Suffice to say, at this juncture that while the United States is not the cause for all the Middle East's malaise, and may have pursued its present course with the best of intentions, for it to stick to the same failed policies is to pave the way to unthinkable disaster.

(Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiations and Middle Eastern studies. alon@alonben-meir.com.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

Source: United Press International

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Russian Troops Make First Mideast Foray In Lebanon For Centuries
Beirut (AFP) Sep 27, 2006
Russian troops are to deploy in Lebanon soon for the first time in more than 200 years, with a small contingent being sent to build bridges -- not only real ones but also geopolitical ones. As a member of the Middle East diplomatic "quartet", Moscow is grouped with Washington, the European Union and United Nations in so far futile efforts to advance a roadmap to an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement.







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