By Miguel Angel
I JUST returned from accompanying the king of Spain on his tour of several Gulf countries, and I was recently in Lebanon for the election of its new president. I also just made a brief visit to Syria. The week before, I had traveled to Egypt and also to Israel, where I spoke with the Israelis and the Palestinians. In all of these places, I have been able to confirm my impression that in this spring of 2008, the Middle East has entered a new phase, when, for the first time in a long time, our reasons for hope can prevail over the shadows that — let us not forget — still hang over the peoples of this region. Everything seems to indicate that we are witnessing the birth of a new paradigm.
A string of major advances has occurred these days. Lebanon has elected, by consensus, President Michel Suleiman, and I believe that he is a figure capable, with the help of all the other political forces, of bringing the Lebanese people together around a common project. The agreement was reached in Doha, resulting from the successful Arab mediation presided over by Qatar and the Arab League, with a European role as well, especially on the part of Spain, France, and Italy.
Moreover, Syria and Israel have officially confirmed the contacts that they are maintaining through Turkey. Last but not least, we can see that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for establishing a new Palestinian state are going ahead at a good pace. But in addition to these specific events, the Middle East is experiencing a process of in-depth transformation, both internal and external. The international and regional context is totally different from that of the 1990s, when the Madrid Peace Conference was held, and we were all so full of hope as the peace process moved forward.
Today, it is the regional actors themselves who are setting their commitments and the pace of their actions. The United States continues to be an indispensable reference, but it is no longer the only one. All of the parties have understood that each of them should assume its own quota of responsibility. The EU is now, thanks to the Treaty of Lisbon, in a very different situation from that of the divided organization which took its seat in Madrid’s Oriente Palace in the autumn of 1991, Then, there was not even an authorized Palestinian delegation, and of course. Iran was neither in the room, nor — more importantly — was it on the minds of the organizers.
The Arab world has changed, and its public opinion clamors more than ever for a modernity that has yet to be consolidated. Israel now accepts politically the creation of a Palestinian state, but it is still racked with the fear of not having sufficient guarantees to ensure its security. Intra-Palestinian divisions, and Hamas’ presence and control over Gaza, act as hindering factors when trying to make this final leap forward toward a definitive reconciliation.
The new Middle East is not a product of the collective Western imagination, as Edward Said was always reminding us, but is, rather, a Middle East that wants to be the main protagonist of its own future. The international community’s role and intervention should be completely revised. The United States and the EU should engage in a true strategic dialogue, and design an action plan different from the one deployed until now. It is necessary to stand by the parties in their efforts, encourage them to make decisions, ensure peace and security, and embolden them to be the ones to adopt the last courageous decisions and commitments.
Annapolis marked a beginning for this new approach, but there is still quite a ways to go in doing away with old inclinations and practices. The solution is not in Washington, nor in Brussels, nor in Moscow. The solution needs to start with the commitment of Israelis and Arabs to take advantage of the new scenario that lies before them. Both sides know that their geostrategic interests converge, and that the passing of time and unnecessary delays will not help to definitively resolve the longest, most frustrating, and yet the most important ongoing peace process in international relations today.
Source: Arab News