A lasting peace for Lebanon?

Editor's Note: The following column was published by Creators Syndicate on July 22, 1996.

Since April, the situation along the Israeli-Lebanese border has been quiet, if not altogether calm. The hundreds of thousands of civilians who fled north from the fire and fury of the 16-day Israeli military campaign have returned to their homes and attempted to reconstruct their lives.

For some, there is little left to reconstruct. For some, everything they owned has been destroyed. And until a lasting peace can be restored, the danger of renewed aggression casts an imposing shadow over the region. By its nature, a cease-fire is not an end to the battle but only a temporary reprieve, the eye of a deadly hurricane.

Sadly, history has proven that the storm will continue. The events that led to the deaths of over 150 Lebanese this April are all too similar to the half-dozen other times Israel has conducted military pushes through Southern Lebanon over the past decades. In every instance, the excuse has been to restore stability to the land &

and in every instance, the result has been renewed terrorist reprisals against Israelis, soldiers and civilians alike.

Surely it has become clear by now that until this cycle of violence is broken, extremism and intransigence will rule the day and peace will remain an abstract concept to be haggled over during fruitless negotiations.

This cycle cannot be broken until Israel makes a fundamental change in the flawed strategy by which it has pursued its foreign policy in Lebanon. It has adopted a "by any means necessary" approach to achieving total security, denying others the very principles that are the basis of much of the international sympathy toward the Israeli state. Those principles include ensuring the security and sanctity of human life, and of the lives of innocent civilians in particular.

It seems obvious that Israel has turned Lebanon into a hapless object of displaced anger, stemming from its frustrations with bigger players in the region.

While long-term regional security may not result from these incursions, a short-term political gain can be realized as the Israeli government provides its people with the appearance of "doing something" to end the terrorism within its borders. But these temporary gains come at much too high a price.

Events such as those in April cause one to question the motivation behind Israel's efforts. Does it truly want a lasting peace of equals, or would it prefer to be surrounded by unstable and weak countries, vulnerable to domination? When newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu declares that his country is surrounded by "unreconstructed dictatorships whose governmental creed is based on tyranny and intimidation," what conclusions can Netanyahu's neighbors make as to his country's desire for peace?

Even if Israeli intentions are for the best, actions such as those in Lebanon give those opposed to the peace process, whose views are founded over years of mutual mistrust, opportunity to destroy the negotiations once and for all. It is in a charged atmosphere such as this that legitimate calls for peace can be viewed as conspiracy and every gesture of goodwill feared as a potentially deadly trap.

Israel must move beyond its self-created notion that it can only assure its security by bending other nations to its will &

by choice if possible, by force if necessary. It can make a good beginning by explaining that it seeks neither hegemony nor economic domination of the region and then dismantling the visible symbols of an aggressive and forward policy &

namely, the Israeli military occupation of Southern Lebanon and its attacks on economic targets in Lebanon.

As long as Israel considers its presence in Lebanon to be justified, the violence will go on. The Israeli occupation will continue to serve as a lightning rod for Hezbollah attacks, such as Katyusha rocket launches. Israel will then respond by claiming these attacks are unprovoked and retaliating against Southern Lebanon, breathing new life into the next generation of suicide bombers, who feed on despair and violence.

In short, the recent Israeli action against Lebanon had no strategic value, little political dividend and dubious diplomatic gains. But the spirit of the Lebanese has not perished, and as long as that is the case, peace is not unreachable. Lebanon has made determined efforts to emerge as a viable nation, which only gives further encouragement to those who seek a lasting end to the bloodshed.

It is on the foundations set by the Lebanese people that a just and comprehensive peace can be constructed. Only then can the Lebanese begin to rebuild, secure in the knowledge that their lives will never again be shattered by violence.

Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was a Pakistani politician who chaired the Pakistan Peoples Party, a centre-left political party in Pakistan. Bhutto was the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state, having twice been Prime Minister of Pakistan. She was removed from office both times on allegations of corruption. Bhutto went into self-imposed exile in Dubai in 1998. Bhutto returned to Pakistan on Oct. 18, 2007, after reaching an understanding with President Pervez Musharraf by which she was granted amnesty and all corruption charges were withdrawn. She was assassinated on Dec. 27, 2007, two weeks before the scheduled Pakistani general election of 2008 where she was a leading opposition candidate.

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