Greater international resolve needed for Mideast peace

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2006, 12:00am

The harrowing pictures of parents grieving over the bodies of their children after an Israeli bombing raid in southern Lebanon aimed at Hezbollah militias gives weight to arguments that the conflict is being waged without sufficient regard for civilians. That is only part of the story, though, and belies the fact that this is no ordinary war that can be told simply through dramatic images: rather, it is complicated by history and circumstances.

Israelis living within range of Hezbollah rockets felt a moment of sorrow for those affected but that quickly dissipated: with the next barrage from southern Lebanon, they could also be mired in tragedy.

For Hezbollah and the Lebanese government, there could have been no better propaganda tool - here was salient evidence of their claimed heartless tactics of Israel's military. But to Israeli officials, Hezbollah was squarely to blame for the deaths through its alleged use of civilians as human shields against military action.

The pictures also reminded us that war is not just rhetoric and statistics but has a human face that is too often shocking. A glance should be enough to convince those with the power to put a stop to the fighting to step in swiftly. Israel's 48-hour suspension of most air strikes called so that civilians can safely leave is a start. But pulling its forces and those of Hezbollah apart will require sterner stuff from an international community that has so far failed to take sufficient action.

The two-year-old UN Security Council resolution 1559 would have prevented the crisis had it been implemented. Hezbollah's disarming and the strengthening of a peacekeeping presence were at the time, and continue to be, the most sensible immediate solution.

If that succeeds - and it would take great political and financial resolve - the even more difficult part of searching for a permanent settlement could begin.

Therein lies the complexity because ultimately, this is not about Lebanon but a Palestinian homeland. The road map for peace as drawn up by the quartet of the US, Russia, the European Union and the UN faltered and chances of reviving it were struck a blow with the election by Palestinians of Hamas, like Hezbollah, a political and military group that does not recognise Israel's right to exist.

Overcoming that obstacle, bringing into the discussion Iran and Syria - the backers of pro-Palestinian Hezbollah - while calming Muslim extremism, are far-off objectives. Even more divisive issues not addressed by the road map, the status of Jerusalem among them, would remain.

This is a step-by-step process with no guarantees. Most pressing, though, is bringing the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah to an end. This will involve ensuring Israel's security by permanently ending the rocket attacks from Hezbollah. Only then, with unrestrained international resolve and Hezbollah's co-operation, will there be a chance for peace.