Monday, August 07, 2006

Peace in the Middle East?

The recent "heating up" of military action in the area of Israel and Lebanon has brought the ancient conflicts of the Middle East to the forefront again.

Many American politicians are debating about the best way to make peace - but their debates are founded on the presupposition that peace is possible in this situation, and that is an assumption which we must examine more carefully.

First, let's define peace. If, by that word, we mean merely the absense of violence, the lack of shooting, then, yes, peace in the Middle East is possible. Either by diplomacy or by force, it is possible to create a cease-fire, an uneasy and tenuous truce; this can be done by the involved parties themselves, or by external forces. It has been done before.

But if we mean, by the word peace, something more than an imposed restraint on military action, if we mean, perhaps, the creation of a political stable equalibrium, and the conviction on the parts of all involved parties that an even-handed solution to the underlying conflicts has been reached, then one begins to wonder if "peace" is at all possible in the Middle East.

Remember that this recent round of fighting is simply a continuation of fighting that has been going on since 1948. Remember that the fighting that began in 1948 is merely a continuation of the fighting that has been going on since around 1500 B.C.; indeed, the ancient accounts are shockingly similar to today's headlines: the same towns and countries are mentioned, armies move along the same roads.

For those who want to reduce all Middle Eastern conflict to the Israeli situation, remember that this part of the world has hosted nearly ceaseless conflict over the last fifteen centuries between Arab nations, between Islamic nations, even when there was no Jewish state present, even when the number of ethnic Jews living in the region was insignificant, and even when Europe and America didn't intervene in any way.

This part of the world is used to constant warfare as a way of life. They have fought for centuries. One wonders if any rational articulation of the reasons is at all still possible.

Thus it may be foolish to think that the United Nations, or the United States, can intervene with a "peace plan", and resolve the tensions and create a non-agressive co-existence.

Why has a reasonable and fair peace been possible in Europe following WWII? Europe has enjoyed sixty years of peace, interrupted only by the civil war as Yugoslavia disintegrated into six or seven separate nations. The periodic attacks by Soviet soldiers on unarmed civilians were not military wars, but massacres, and fall into a different category. Why the stability and peace in Europe, but not in the Middle East? For the answer, we must examine the underlying cultures and worldviews.