Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria
Barack Obama
Environment, International Relations, War & Conflict

With the bloody fighting in Gaza, emotions are running high in the region, and around the world. The ghastly images we see on the news evoke a wide range of emotions: sympathy, empathy, regret, guilt, remorse, and yes, anger. All this is understandable. And yet we sense that strong passions and unbridled emotions, in and of themselves, will not bring peace.

What is needed is a rational and concerted effort to broker a peace deal which maximizes justice, and which creates new realities on the ground that will help to sustain the peace once it is in place. And so, if you get a call, in the middle of the night, from President Obama, informing you that you have just been appointed U.S. Middle East Envoy; what would you do to bring peace to the Middle East? Here are a few suggestions. Perhaps you have something to add.

Gaza: Negotiate a ceasefire, and then a truce, between Israel and Hamas, on the basis of an Israeli pullout, accompanied by a cessation of missile and mortal fire by Hamas, to be monitored by U.N. observers. Suggest to Hamas to give up their military ambitions in exchange for: an easing of border restrictions, a lifting of an economic blockade, and an opportunity to partner with Fattah to provide a democratic government for the Palestinian people. If Hamas agrees, launch an international investment program for Gaza, with the purpose of: creating jobs, building infrastructure, growing the economy, and weakening the hold of extremist thinking. Along with the hope that comes from economic growth, launch a series of programs to sustain the hope: a more balanced and modern approach to education, a student exchange, a cultural exchange, an empowerment of women, an expanded Peace Corps presence, a media campaign, international conferences, etc.

West Bank: Continue to train Palestinian soldiers, so as to enable the duly elected government to defend itself from outside threats, including the threats posed by Hamas and other extremist factions. Encourage Fattah to reach a workable agreement with Hamas so that the two could work together to negotiate a comprehensive peace deal with Israel for the creation of a Palestinian state, along the lines of the understandings that have been reached between President Abbas and Foreign Minister Livny, and reminiscent of the deal offered by President Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barack to President Arafat in the year 2000. Continue to develop the four industrial zones in the West Bank, and launch an international effort to invest in good paying jobs, jobs which grow the economy, jobs which protect the environment, and jobs which help to neutralize extremist thinking. Work to inspire Palestinians with a Vision of Hope, and support that economic effort with Public Diplomacy Programs which are specifically designed to prop the vision up and to carry it forward. Use an Ideology of Common Sense to speak to Palestinians with common sense and with a sense of personal dignity.

Israel: Encourage Israel to embrace and enhance the possibility of peace, and to take positive action in that regard by: negotiating a truce with Hamas, allowing Hamas to partner with Fattah for the sake of democratic rule, helping Hamas to build infrastructure and to grow Gaza’s economy, and helping Fattah to do the same in the West Bank. Encourage Israel to negotiate a final status agreement, one that protects Israel’s security, but one that also allows Palestinians to achieve at least most of their political aspirations. To the extent possible, convince Israel to become actively involved in orchestrating the economic growth of the new fledgling state so that the ordinary Palestinian citizen is finally given a place at the table, a stake in his or her future.

Syria: Encourage Syria to negotiate peace with Israel on the basis of an Israeli pullout from the Golan Heights, along with a U.N. monitored military free zone in that area. Structure a series of economic and diplomatic incentives to lure Syria away from Iranian control, and to cause Syria to stop its support of terrorist organizations, and to stop interfering with internal Lebanese affairs.

Lebanon: Continue to bolster Lebanon’s democratically elected government. Try to steer Hezbollah away from military confrontation, in favor of a political role as part of a duly elected government. Use a Vision of Hope to empower the Lebanese people to embrace the possibility of peace among themselves, and with Israel.

Egypt: Encourage the international community to continue to invest to grow Egypt’s economy and to create good paying jobs. Support Egypt’s efforts to mediate regional disputes. Empower the man on the street with the notion that his life could get better, and use that hope to weaken the hold of extremist thinking. Push for warmer relations between Israel and Egypt on the basis of peace in Palestine, and on Israel’s efforts to help orchestrate an economic revitalization of the Middle East with her technological know-how and her economic drive.

Saudi Arabia: Give Saudi Arabia credit for proposing a comprehensive peace deal with Israel. Encourage Saudi Arabia to continue mustering Arab support in this regard. Encourage Saudi Arabia, in light of lower oil prices, and worldwide green demand, to diversify its investment portfolio by investing in green technology in Palestine, and throughout the Middle East. Use oil profits to create green profits, and use these profits to create even more good paying green jobs, jobs which will grow the economies, jobs which will protect the environment, and jobs which will weaken the strangle hold of extremist thinking. Use a growing economy, and the prospects for Middle East peace, to shift the thinking on the street from an extremist ideology to an ideology of common sense. Use the momentum of change to gear the educational system to a more modern and balanced approach, and to gear religious practice to be more in keeping with the more peaceful aspects of Islam.

Iran: Try to convince Iran that its nuclear ambitions are not in keeping with Iran’s best interests long term. Make the point that a nuclear Iran will be in the crosshairs of many a potent foe, and that the least bit of miscalculation could spell a doomsday scenario. Use diplomacy and economic incentives to convince Iran to give up its nuclear aspirations. As such, Iran could begin to play a vital role in pushing a comprehensive peace process forward, based on mutually shared economic and political interests. Iran could also cooperate by having Hezbollah and Hamas play political, as opposed to military roles. Iran would also be able to quell dissatisfaction from within by delivering to its people the promise of a better day.

With this much on your plate, you may think twice about taking the job. But don’t you agree that a chess game of this sort is what is called for, given current realities on the ground? Don’t we have to table at least some of the emotions and passions, for there to be even the slightest chance for peace? And do we have any choice but to try, even against all odds?

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