Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Talking to Hezbollah

While the Canadian Liberal party was busy having a public meltdown about their deputy foreign affairs critic's comments about possibly dialoguing with Hezbollah, providing the Conservatives with a victory by toeing their line that 'Thou shalt only support Israeli government policies - no matter what', one Conservative British MP is actually echoing Wrzesnewskyj's sensibilities across the pond.

The world indeed has turned upside down when Liberals force one of their own to resign for not agreeing with Canadian Conservative policies.

Here's what Brit Michael Ancram, a man with experience in such delicate areas, has to say in a column in The Independent:

Michael Ancram: It is time to start dancing with the wolves

The war in Lebanon, with an uneasy and fragile ceasefire in place, is, for the moment, over. The guns of Israel have almost fallen silent, and the wolves of Hamas and Hizbollah have almost stopped howling. It could, however, at any moment reignite. It is therefore astonishing that our government remains so supinely US-obsessed in the face of what could re-emerge as a genuine threat to international peace and is in effect doing nothing. It is time to start dancing with wolves, to start talking to terrorists.

As we learned in Northern Ireland, terrorism can be contained by military action, but it cannot be defeated by it. In the end, you have to start talking, not necessarily with fanatical leaders who are beyond dialogue, but with those who support them and the communities that give them shelter.

It is not easy. For a short time in 1995 I was ostracised by the Ulster Unionists as "contaminated" when I opened discussions with Sinn Fein/IRA. Such dialogue can never be even remotely seen to condone terrorism, but it can begin to explore ways out of it. We talked and so did the IRA, because after 30 years of "troubles" there could be no military winners.

Ancram, unlike too many western politicians who believe 'terrorists hate us for our freedoms' and think that makes for some sort of actual strategy, addresses the roots and realities of the situation in the Middle East. It's not just about who started what when or whether Israel has a right to defend itself. It's about reaching out to the communities in the region that provide support to groups like Hezbollah because they are actually gaining needed services from them in return - like healthcare, reconstruction and security. As Israel learned, you simply cannot bomb a population into seeing things your way unless you want to go totally nuclear on a country.

How can there possibly be peace in the Middle East unless all involved parties are talking to each other?

It may not be possible yet for Israel to speak directly to Hamas, let alone Hizbollah, but there can be no "two state solution" without the eventual involvement of Hamas, and there can be no secure Israel without a permanent cessation of violence by Hizbollah. If they cannot talk yet, then others must pave the way.

And if at the moment these two terrorist groups are unapproachable, then we should be talking to their sponsors in Syria and Iran, whose governments the British know well. The hearts and minds that must be won are those of our enemies as much as of our friends. Their initial intransigence may appear unbreachable, but I learned in Northern Ireland that there are ways of squaring such circles. Talking is not a sign of weakness. You can talk to insurgents and their supporters even when taking military sanction against them.

Last week, a group of 21 former US diplomats and retired generals urged Bush to talk to Syria and Iran but, as we've seen with how his administration has handled the crisis with North Korea, he refuses. So, the situations keep going sideways and tensions continue to escalate around the world.

Richard Haas, a former State Department official, found irony in the government use of the word "opportunity" to describe the crisis in the Middle East, and Richard Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state, said Washington's irrational fear of talks was a sign of weakness.

The message ought to be clear. It's being echoed on both sides of the pond. You cannot solve these problems without talking. It's not going to happen.

And that brings us back to the Canadian Liberal party and its decision to force its deputy foreign affairs critic to resign for suggesting that dialogue may actually advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. It appears they've aligned themselves with the Bush/Harper style of non-diplomacy diplomacy and have embraced the idea that talking is a sign of weakness as well.

Meanwhile, people in the Middle East continue to suffer tremendously while some western politicans are only concerned about how much they'll receive in campaign contributions from their constituents who back Israel - no matter what it does - not realizing that they are only contributing to its doom by making its enemies stronger when they oppose criticism of that country's policies.

And so, the stalemate will go on indefinitely, leaving many victims of various types all over the world in its wake.

War, after all, is good for business people and those are the most important constituents to some politicans - on the so-called left and the right.

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