The situation in the Middle East has escalated dramatically over the last 72 hours and risks approaching a point of no return that could lead to a major conflagration in the area.
The tit for tat attacks between Hezbollah’s armed faction and the Israeli military has unfortunately drawn in its line of fire innocent civilians, who would rather be earning a decent living then having to scurry underground to shelter from missiles and bombs.
The kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hamas extremists in Gaza and Hizbollah fighters in Lebanon is condemnable and unacceptable. Their actions have compromised the Palestinian cause. Too many acts of violence have been perpetrated in the name of the Palestinian cause and they risk turning it into a lost cause undermined by unscrupulous extremists.
Despite the shift in focus of recent days on the Lebanese front, the root of the problem in the Middle East remains the Palestinian conundrum.
Palestine has seen a fledgling democracy trying to take shape in the Gaza strip. Unfortunately, the democratic process is hampered by the very fact that Palestinian people are still denied their legitimate right to a state. And the procrastination to implement the now defunct road map has only led to a hardening of views among Palestinians, which has allowed extremists like Hamas to be elected to government.
The frustration of the Palestinian people is justified. In a context where poverty and unemployment are endearing scourges on a society, where the very dignity of the person is constantly being stripped by forces of the occupation, it is no wonder that violence is viewed as the only way out.
The psyche of Palestinian children has been poisoned by a conflict that seems to have no end in sight. The perpetual stumbling blocks for the creation of a viable and stable Palestinian state have robbed people of their sense of hope in a better life. Violence and aggression will only breed more violence.
The Israelis have an incontrovertible right to live in peace and security. But so do the Palestinians. It is time for the hawks on both sides of the warring fence to step aside and make way for the doves.
It is not an easy situation since the events of recent months have only strengthened those in Israel and Palestine who favour the more hard line approach. Quoting Arafat; the Middle East requires ‘a peace of the braves’, who would persevere in their quest for long lasting peace irrespective of the violent actions of the few on either side.
While Israel has a right to defend itself, its actions over recent days can only be described as an over-reaction aimed at harming the civil, democratic and social foundations of another independent state that had only just started on its road back to normality.
By attacking Beirut airport, blowing up main roads and bombing power stations, Israel has not hit out at Hezbollah but against civilian targets in Lebanon. The actions of the Israeli military are not different in their viciousness to the despicable acts committed by the Hezbollah.
An immediate, unconditional cease fire has to happen to deflate the dangerous situation that has developed. Diplomacy must be allowed to work to bring all sides around the table. And that includes legitimate democratically appointed representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah in Palestine and Lebanon respectively.
On the other hand, the Palestinian authorities and the Lebanese government need to show their willingness to not only condemn acts of aggression against Israeli civilians and targets but have to act to disarm and disable these military groups.
The time has come for another attempt towards peace. The European Union must take a pro-active stance in the region. It should utilise the channel of communication kept open by Italian premier Romano Prodi and act to sponsor a new Middle East conference bringing together all the parties in the region. A fresh attempt at peace is called for. A course of action with identifiable deadlines is needed and the Palestinian state must become a reality sooner rather than later, even if not in its entirety in the initial phase.
The people of Palestine and Israel have a right to enjoy a decent standard of living, away from the trepidation created by senseless acts of violence. Fear needs to be replaced with hope and the drums of war need to be silenced.