The voices of sanity calling for a strategy of cooperative rather than competitive security in the Mideast are more relevant today than ever before. Zero-sum security games in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have clearly failed. They have led to a new cycle of violence characterized by Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The new situation is terrorizing both the Israeli and Palestinian civilians. More than ever before it is diminishing their sense of personal security. U. S. policy of unconditional support for Sharonistas, threats against Iraq, undermining Iran, destabilizing Saudi Arabia, and subduing Afghanistan are recipes for increasing regional instability. Moreover, they are antagonizing the Islamic world and alienating U. S. allies. In due course, such policies will increase U. S. and Mideast insecurity.
Following 9/11, the U.S. had an exceptional historical opportunity to launch a global, multilateral, alliance against terrorism. An imaginative U. S. strategy could have brought all Mideastern states to unite against terrorism and work towards durable peace based on an inclusive regional security regime. However, the Bush Administration chose to pursue a largely unilateral, divisive, and competitive security policy.
By declaring its right to attack an “Axis of Evil” consisting of Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, the U.S. decided to turn what could have been a cooperative police action into a global war on so-called “rogue” states. By adopting a policy of pre-emptive attacks against such nuclear powers as Russia and China, the United States asserted its unilateral superpower prerogatives. By following a unilateralist policy toward international cooperation in a variety of fields, the Bush Administration has created doubts among its own allies about the quality of U. S. leadership.
Bush Administration policies have led to a dissipation of initial international sympathy toward the U. S. after 9/11. Dissension among the Western allies is particularly noticeable with respect to U. S. policies towards Iran, Iraq, and Palestine. In the case of Iran, the Euro and Japan have opted for continued engagement while Washington has reversed the Clinton Administration's policies of cautious rapprochement.
And the White House plan to topple Saddam Hussein through military intervention has met little enthusiasm among U. S. Western allies. The Bush Administration's near unconditional support of Sharon's policies has cast serious doubts on the U. S. ability to be an honest broker in an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The Israeli re-occupation of Palestinian territories coupled with indiscriminate violence by both sides against civilians has produced outrage around the world.
How can we bridge the current gulfs in Mideast security? Adopting a cooperative security strategy will bring about greater benefits to all the stakeholders. Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Abdullah's peace proposal of March 2002 has provided a useful framework. It has been endorsed by the Arab League, supported by the international community, and remained unopposed by the U.S. and Israel.
The proposal calls for a normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab states if and when Israel withdraws to its 1967 borders. That is, in essence, a restatement of U.N. Resolution 242, which guided the Oslo peace process and was restated as U.S. policy by Secretary of State Powell in October 2001. The sweetener is the notion of “normalization” that goes beyond the 242's requirements for a simple recognition of Israel by the Arab states.
The proposal clearly suggests an opening of the rich Arab markets to Israeli consumer goods, technological know-how, and investment. If we apply the logic of this peace proposal to the entire Mideast region, it could produce the following ideal scenario:
1) An immediate ceasefire between all Israeli and Palestinian factions.
2) A United Nations Mideast Peace Conference, including all of the stakeholders (the P5, Israel, all of the Arab states, Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan).
3) A simultaneous declaration of non-aggression by all the stakeholders, reiterating the UN Charter's prohibition of use of violence in the settlement of international disputes, recognition of the national sovereignty of all states, and the principle of non-interference.
4) Mutual recognition of the State of Israel by all the Arab states and the Palestinian State by Israel. Settlement of boundaries between the two states on the basis of UN Resolution 242.
5) Creation of an Association of Mideast Nations (AMN), including Israel, the Arab sates, Iran, Afghanistan, and Turkey aimed at promoting regional trade, investment, and cooperation.
6) Creation of a Regional Center for Dialogue and Cooperation (RCDC) and a Regional Court for continuing confidence building and juridical settlement of disputes.
7) Creation of a UN Authority to govern Jerusalem as the capitals of Israel and Palestine. Alternatively, Jerusalem could be divided into two parts to serve as the capitals of the two states.
Wars are failures of human imagination. Relative to waging war, peace building is difficult. The easiest road to take is for governments to fall back on conventional zero-sum strategic thinking and to refuse to strike a new chord. That is what the U. S. and Mideast governments have largely done so far. How long will the people who suffer the consequence of government follies need to wait before raising their voice?