In The Middle East: Give Peace A Chance

By: Hugh B. Price

President

National Urban League

We Americans live in a nation-and in a culture-saturated with notions of the rightness of the rule of law and civility, and of peaceful coexistence and mutual respect along and across racial, ethnic and religious boundaries of difference.

Of course, no one has to tell us at the National Urban League that those pledges of allegiance have not always been honored, either in the past or today.

We know full well that the history of America is in significant measure a history of a multi-racial nation struggling, and being pushed by some of its own peoples, to make such code words of democracy as tolerance and equality of opportunity more than just rhetoric, more than just skin-deep.

We need to keep both those perspectives-the great promise nations hold out to their citizens, on the one hand, and, on the other, how seriously flawed the reality can be-in mind as we search for a way out of the horrific conflict raging between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.

That search is more important than ever now, precisely because the conflict's continuing seems not only assured but inevitable.

We who stand outside the conflict cannot accept that inevitability. Nor can we let those on the struggle's front lines accept it.

It is our duty to, while not ignoring the pain and terrible costs already paid on both sides, move beyond the pain of the past and the present and say what must be said to both sides:

Give Peace A Chance

No, this is not a much too simplistic a way of putting it. This is, in fact, the "bottom line" of the diplomatic maneuvering the Bush Administration has undertaken by sending Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region.

Giving peace a chance means that to get to that bottom line, we must demand that both sides, and their supporters, accept without question or resistance several unimpeachable realities.

The first is that Israel, whose commitment to democratic values and freedom stand in sharp contrast to most Middle Eastern regimes, is right to defend its people-and its very right to exist as a nation-against a campaign of terror whose primary targets are innocent men, women and children.

Terrorism is the very antithesis not only of civilization and the quest for a civilized society, but also of self-respect: How can one claim and demand respect while declaring that your cause justifies the murder of others? No government can be expected to absorb deadly assaults day after day and not seek to root out the purveyors of the terror.

But we also know from bitter and frustrating experience that attacking terrorism alone and engineering temporary ceasefires doesn't ensure peace. Not only must the cycle of violence be broken; the dynamic that rationalizes resorting to violence must be destroyed so that violence as a tool of politics becomes unequivocally unacceptable.

For the sake of those who are dying on both sides every day, I implore Yasir Arafat and Ariel Sharon to heed Secretary of State Powell's urgent plea to give peace a chance by-simultaneously-stopping the terrorist attacks and the military incursions into the West Bank.

If Secretary Powell's mission fails, then it will be time, before the region and the world tumble into the abyss, for a potent coalition of world leaders to use all of the political, moral, economic and, yes, even military leverage at their disposal to impose peace on the region.

That means that the Bush Administration, the NATO alliance, and such Middle East allies as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey would have to orchestrate, institute and police a political settlement which: enforces zero tolerance for terrorism; preserves and protects Israel's right to live in peace and prosperity; and, yes, establishes and builds an economically viable Palestinian state that by word and deed recognizes Israel's right to exist.

This will be necessary because, if Secretary Powell's fails, it will confirm that the Middle East is trapped in a maelstrom of terrorism and reprisal, hatred and mistrust, death and devastation.

This isn't the time for timid and cautious leadership. What's required to give a lasting peace a chance in the Middle East is daring and visionary statesmanship-of the kind, to mention a recent powerful example, that Nelson Mandela, the great freedom fighter, and F.W. DeKlerk, the leader of the Afrikaner regime in South Africa, took in the late 1980s.

Their commitment to the "bottom line" of finding a peaceful way to end decades of civil war and apartheid in South Africa, forestalled what could have been a wrenching, violent transformation and gave the peoples of South Africa a chance to have a future.

We must ask no less of the leadership of the world community-of President Bush, Prime Minister Blair, of Great Britain, King Abdullah II, of Jordan, President Mubarak, of Egypt, and others-who, along with us and, most of all, the Palestinian and the Israeli people, have the most to lose from continued war and the most to gain from a just and lasting peace.

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