By Helena Cobban
The carnage in Lebanon, Israel, and Gaza continues. Civilians in all three areas have suffered horrendous, unacceptable casualties. Israel remains the dominant military power in the region: It is in no danger of being vanquished, and it clearly remains capable of inflicting greater damage on the civilian communities beyond its borders. But history has shown us once again that, even with all the firepower at its disposal, Israel is incapable of imposing its will by force on the Lebanese and Palestinian people who are - and will always be - its neighbors.
Israel's government and people need to find a way other than coercive military force to build a relationship that is sustainable over the long term with these neighbors and thus to enjoy at last the sense of security that they (and all the peoples of the region) so deeply crave. And Americans, who have a long and close relationship with Israel and aspire to have good relations with the Lebanese and Palestinians, should understand that the region's most urgent needs are to win a complete and fully monitored cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon (and, if possible, between Israel and the militants in Gaza), and to link that cease-fire to an explicit plan to have the United Nations convene an authoritative peace conference within, say, two weeks that aims to find a speedy resolution to all the unresolved strands of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Why work for a comprehensive peace agreement now, rather than postpone this search once again? Because all the remaining strands of the Arab-Israeli conflict are closely connected, and none of them can be resolved without the others. Because the casualty rates in Palestinian Gaza have been and remain shockingly high. And because the challenges the world faces concerning Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan are now so serious that the Arab-Israeli tinderbox cannot be left to smolder.
Finding a final, comprehensive peace between Israel and all its neighbors may look ambitious, but it is certainly quite doable. The past 39 years of peace diplomacy have shown what the basic outline of a sustainable "final outcome" will look like. It will roughly resemble what the UN Security Council envisaged in 1967 when it called on Israel to withdraw from territories it brought under military occupation that year, and on the Arab parties to accord full recognition and peace to Israel.
This outcome is close to the peace plans
discussed intensively between Israeli and Arab negotiators in 2000, and to the
one the Arab states all endorsed in March 2002. In the recent past (though
before the present tensions), clear majorities of citizens in
This will certainly require visionary and
determined leadership from the international community. The
One historical note: Almost exactly 50 years
ago, Britain and France - both of which still had significant political
influence over the Middle East - allied themselves with an aggressive Israeli
military assault (against Egypt) aimed at transforming the regional balance in
Israel's favor. On that occasion,
• Helena Cobban is writing a book on violence and its legacies.