Sunday's rebombing of Qana 10 years after Shimon Peres's government killed more than 100 Lebanese civilians in a UN shelter in this biblical Lebanese village has raised the stakes of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The 1996 atrocity instantly became a symbol of national resistance in Lebanon. It ultimately led to the Israeli withdrawal in 2000 and to Hezbollah's clandestine rocket stockpiling.

Israel's new Qana massacre of dozens of children and disabled has led to a belated sense of urgency in international corridors of power. As a barely composed Tony Blair acknowledged, the "situation cannot continue." Indeed, he declared that Britain's Middle East policy must be fundamentally rethought and be moved away from the self-fulfilling "war on terror" rhetoric.

Whereas North Atlantic governments are blinded by the belief that Hezbollah is the root cause of the present violence, a more comprehensive and historical view indicates the reverse: Hezbollah and terrorism are in fact dangerous manifestations of deeper political injustices and diplomatic failures in the Middle East that date back to the 1967 war. In the absence of a comprehensive, just and negotiated settlement, the region's future will remain bleak.

Today, an indulgent North Atlantic appeasement policy has facilitated Israel's destruction of its northern neighbour, the ethnic cleansing of Shia populations from southern Lebanon and the wanton killing of civilians. North Atlantic support has encouraged Israel to outdo its enemy in the use of terrorism. The only difference is Israel's enormous firing power and the sophistication of its killing machine. Tragically, this military asymmetry endows Hezbollah with the aura of a resistance movement at a time when its armed presence in south Lebanon was being challenged by Lebanese lawmakers and the UN.

A close reading of the apologetic statements from British and American officials about Israel's second massacre at Qana shows what Arabs have known all along: Israel is pushing U.S. and U.K. Middle East policy under the mantra of the war on terrorism. The result has been a score-sheet of horror.

The enormity of the ongoing crisis must now open a breach in the diplomatic impasse that has led to so much suffering since the Bush administration came to office.

In 2003, the UN narrowly avoided the trap of sanctioning the American invasion of Iraq, thanks to a passionate defence of UN principles by the French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin. In the next few days, the UN again struggles with an ill-considered U.S.-imposed resolution that will allow Israel to keep bombing Lebanon until the multinational force physically arrives in southern Lebanon. This is neither practical nor does it bode well for the foreign soldiers' task.

Instead, the Bush administration should throw its weight behind the seven-point plan by Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice must cash in her diplomatic credit in Jerusalem in exchange for having held off international ceasefire calls for three weeks. The embattled Lebanese prime minister who is beginning to show signs of statesmanship after Qana has proposed to implement an immediate ceasefire and begin to address the root causes of Israeli-Lebanese hostilities: a one-to-one prisoner exchange; Israeli troop withdrawal to the border; a joint Lebanese-international force to move into southern Lebanon; the full implementation of the Taif Agreement that ended the Lebanese civil war of 1975-90, including the disarmament of Hezbollah fighters and their integration into the Lebanese army; and a $3 billion Marshall Plan for the reconstruction of Lebanon.

The disarmament of Hezbollah would meet Israel's central security concern and pacify its last hostile border.



Since the Qana massacre, Iran, Syria and Lebanese President Emile Lahoud have joined Hezbollah in rejecting a multinational force altogether, quietly angling for a Syrian return to Lebanon. This option will and should be opposed by everybody else. Lebanese territory must never again be a proxy battleground in which regional tensions are fought out.

In this pressing context, the promise of exchanging the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights for peace with Syria would keep Syria out of Lebanon. This approach also would help to prevent disenfranchised and opportunist elements from holding Lebanese democracy hostage in the future.

Beyond the Siniora Plan, Hezbollah and Israel both need to pay for the destruction they have wreaked on civilian infrastructure including investigating their leaderships' culpability for war crimes.

The Bush administration would do well to support the Siniora government diplomatically. Against the enormous political, humanitarian and environmental crisis, it trumps appeasement of Israel if the ceasefire is to heal Lebanon's war wounds and give U.S. diplomacy back some modicum of credibility and manoeuvrability in the region.

Continued failure to act in a decisive, comprehensive and just manner could haunt the world for decades to come.

http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/Con...l=968350116795