Through the fog of war

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It would be easy for Canada to turn away from meaningful engagement with the postwar situation in the Middle East. But Canada has reasons to take on a role.

Canada accepted to attend a U.S.-sponsored meeting in Rome this week to address the fallout from the war in the Middle East. Through the fog of war, it is difficult to see a way ahead.

A political settlement is needed before a ceasefire can occur according to UN officials who returned recently from a fact-finding mission. France is calling for an immediate ceasefire, judging correctly that the political settlement is being sought through victory by the Israeli army.

Humanitarian aid was said to be a top agenda item for the Rome meeting that included the UN and the World Bank, but not Syria or Iran. In reality, ministers were there to discuss terms and conditions for sending an international security force into Lebanon to police an agreement to control Hezbollah. Israel wants an EU led force. The existing UN mission has been ineffective.

The U.S.-sponsored meeting was called as military action by Israel has caused at least $3 billion of damage and destruction in Lebanon to the infrastructure of roads, bridges, hospitals, schools and recreation facilities. The campaign against Hezbollah, like actions against Hamas in Gaza, fit with the U.S.-sponsored war against terrorism. U.S. diplomatic visits to the Middle East underscore what they expect: no ceasefire until Israel is satisfied they have destroyed the military capacity of Hezbollah. The political settlement which awaits the outcome of the military action may not be lasting.

Canada needs to join those who condemn the attacks by Israel, and by Hezbollah. The Canadian Foreign Minister should work to make the United Nations the centre of diplomatic efforts to end the war, and establish a political settlement that is widely acceptable. Only the UN has the legitimacy to make decisions about the outcome of a war. Allowing the U.S. to lead its own Middle East process, picking and choosing partners and outcomes, is not acceptable.

The Quartet (composed of the U.S., Russia, the EU, and the UN) has been orchestrating a so-called peace process in the Middle East. The unwillingness of the U.S. to accept the election of Hamas and deal with it diplomatically led to a degradation of relations in Palestinian Gaza. The willingness of Hezbollah (acting as the Palestinian champion) to launch rocket attacks against Haifa, Israel's third largest city, led Israel to attack Lebanon. Judging the world reaction would be negative to any Israeli military action, irrespective of its scope, Israel decided to attempt to eliminate Hezbollah as a military force.

It would be easy for Canada to turn away from meaningful engagement with the postwar situation in the Middle East. Intimidations abound. Fixing military destruction is costly, Canadian opinion is divided over the war, the pattern of Middle East politics is confusing, and the U.S. colossus expects no opposition to its plans from Canada.

But Canada has reasons to take on a role. Nations have responsibilities as UN members to work for peace. Canada has the economic capacity to assist with the re-construction of Lebanon, and the development of a prosperous Palestine. The establishment of a UN-sanctioned peace force is a worthy objective, and needs to be shaped by member states so as to work.

Most important of all, diplomatic negotiations, however slow and painful they may be, are always preferable to war. In defiance of the basic rule of politics — exchange — the U.S. is not even talking to Iran, Syria, Hamas or Hezbollah.

Canada should be leading an initiative to control international arms sales and distribution, supporting civil society groups around the world in efforts to curb the spread of war-making capacity. It makes no sense that for the U.S., U.K. France and Russia, the role of military aid looms much greater than economic aid.

Promoting, nurturing and protecting a continued Israel-Palestine dialogue at every level, despite atrocities and injustices committed by the ones against the other, remains an honourable aim.Surely, at some point, enough people on both sides will recognize that what they could accomplish by working together, far exceeds any benefits gained from making war against each other, whatever the justifications available to each for war.

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