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APN Policy Statement - July 20, 2006

Where things stand today, how we got here, and the way forward are covered in APN's statement

(July 20, 2006)

Where Things Stand Today

The Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, backed by Iran and Syria, deliberately changed the rules of the game on the Israel-Lebanon border when it crossed into Israel and attacked an Israeli military patrol, killing three soldiers and capturing two others; and by raining rockets deep inside Israel. In response, Israel has launched its fiercest military campaign in Lebanon since it voluntarily withdrew all troops from that country six years ago. The Palestinian terrorist group Hamas goaded Israel to action with a constant rain of rockets from Gaza into Israel, and upped the ante when it crossed into Israel and captured an Israeli soldier. In response, Israel is carrying out its fiercest military campaign inside Gaza since it withdrew from that territory last year.

Israel has a right to defend its territory and citizens. In doing so, Israel must ensure that its military goals are defined and achievable, and the means used to achieve them minimize harm to innocent civilians. Failing this, Israel risks enraging the civilian populations, mobilizing additional support for militants, and miring Israeli forces in a long-term conflict with no exit strategy.

Hamas and Hezbollah cannot avoid responsibility for their reckless and provocative acts, which triggered the current escalating violence. And as in any conflict, the immediate trigger is not the whole story.

How We Got Here

The crises in Lebanon and Gaza reflect both the failure of the Bush Administration, throughout its entire tenure in office, to seriously engage in the Middle East, and the failure of local leaders to rein in militants and assert their authority. They also clearly demonstrate the limits of unilateral action in resolving conflict.

The U.S. rightly praised Israel for its withdrawal from Lebanon, and praised the Lebanese people for courageously evicting Syria, but failed to follow up with tangible assistance to help the fledgling government meet the United Nations' call to disarm Hizballah and extend its sovereignty to its southern border. Such assistance could have provided Israel with the security to which it was entitled following its withdrawal from southern Lebanon.

The U.S. rightly praised then-Prime Minister Sharon's courageous disengagement from Gaza, but failed to promote Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and a political process, even after the death of Yasser Arafat and the election of President Mahmoud Abbas. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been left to fester, centering now on the future of the West Bank and Jerusalem and providing a rallying point for extremists, both among the Palestinians and throughout the region. The absence of a political process and U.S. political engagement weakened Palestinian moderates and strengthened extremists, contributed to the failure of President Abbas to rein in Palestinian terror groups and the subsequent Hamas election victory, and helped create a vacuum for violence to fill. It also left Israel and the Palestinians with no mechanism to turn to when the situation began to spiral out of control. Efforts to undermine the new Hamas government - led by the U.S. and Israel - contributed, predictably, to Palestinian outrage and support for Hamas. Absent a political process and a political horizon, Israeli-Palestinian violence will inevitably continue to erupt.

These crises have taken on their own momentum, with civilians - Israeli, Lebanese, and Palestinian - bearing the tragic consequences. It is increasingly unlikely that the parties, on their own, have the ability to slow or stop the escalation. Unchecked, the fighting threatens to engulf the region in conflict, with potentially devastating consequences not only for the people of the Middle East, but for the world. Painful experience has demonstrated, over and over, that there is no wholly military or unilateral solution that can guarantee Israel's security and stability in the region.

The Way Forward

It should be evident by now that the Palestinian situation is not unfolding in a regional vacuum. The ongoing fighting has severe consequences for broader Israeli and American interests, and undermines our Arab allies. While it is clear that terrorism and support for terrorism must not be tolerated, the Bush Administration's dogmatic approach in the Middle East has placed at risk vital U.S. national security interests, giving rise to the unprecedented situation in which the U.S. maintains little or no contact with key players in this crisis - Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. At a time when Arab leaders are denouncing Hezbollah's actions and Lebanon's Prime Minister is asking for international assistance to comply with UN Security Council resolutions, a U.S. decision to remain on the sidelines risks playing into the hands of extremists who want to see these conflicts transform into a regional conflagration.

Never in history has the U.S. stood by idly while Israeli-Arab violence raged unchecked. The U.S. has an obligation - to its own citizens, to its ally Israel, and to the world in which it represents the last superpower - to intervene to stop the escalation and turn the current dangerous and tragic moment into an opportunity to move toward a safer and more stable Middle East.

The U.S. should intervene immediately, bringing to bear the full force of American political and diplomatic influence. President Bush should immediately dispatch a senior presidential envoy or envoys to the Middle East - for example, former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton - vested with the authority of the president and empowered to work with parties in the region, the UN, and relevant world leaders to restore order and renew a political process capable of ending terrorism and violence.

There can be no return to a status quo in Gaza or along the Israel-Lebanon border where terrorists are able to strike Israeli civilians with virtual impunity. However, ceasefires may provide an opening for the international community to mobilize assistance and resources to help the Government of Lebanon extend its sovereignty to its southern border, removing the threat of rocket fire into Israel, and to stabilize the situation in Gaza, as well as to work to free the captured Israeli soldiers via diplomatic means.

In addition, the U.S. may need to reconsider its policy of refusing to engage with some parties in the region, or at a minimum, work with Arab and European allies as intermediaries - not as a reward for terror but as responsible policy to protect vital U.S. national security interests.

Skillful and determined U.S. engagement can and must transform these dangerous crises into opportunities to strengthen Lebanon's new government, re-launch Israeli-Palestinian contacts, and, in the process, improve Israel's security and ensure that these same tragedies do not recur.