History was made last month and hardly anyone noticed. The Israeli pull out of Gaza was a significant event in the history of the centuries-old conflict in the Middle East. Why did such a major event go by without dedicated fanfare? The media seemed determined to make Cindy Sheehan, casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Sunni opposition to the fledgling Iraqi constitution the stories of the summer. Meanwhile, monumental steps towards peace were happening every day in August.
An “occupying” nation, sua sponte, removed its settlement and troops from the Gaza strip; the Palestinians rejoiced in the hopes of establishing a homeland; and the “Roadmap for Peace” became a substantive reality rather than just talk and a piece of paper–yet the media focused on Cindy Sheehan and her protest. Ironically, one of the major complaints of jihadists, and a rallying call to international terror, has been Israeli control of Gaza. The administration, and the President’s leadership in particular (and that of Secretary Powell and Secretary Rice), have created an atmosphere of opportunity to remove at least one of the major complaints against the United States and the West.
In negotiations and diplomatic discussions, time and time again the Palestinians have sought tangible, overt measures of good faith by Israel (and the West) to demonstrate their real commitment to peace in the region. The Palestinians, right or wrong, believed the West was overwhelmingly an “un-objective, knee jerk” supporter of Israel. They desired a fair, balanced approach to diplomacy in the region. Complying with international law, the Israelis have provided such an example for the fledgling Palestinian leadership. The Palestinians can now display the benefits of peaceful negotiation as opposed to bloodshed (such as that which was employed by Yasser Arafat), which has been used with no positive results. The Palestinians now have the chance to curb the extreme tactics of the fringe of their society and to emphasize that real results are attainable by employing methods of peacerather than engaging in terror.
Prime Minister Sharon, President Abbas, and President Bush have laid the bricks of the foundation of “normalized” relations between Israel and the soon to be, nation of Palestine. Although both sides remain rightfully suspicious of each other’s motives and interests, it appears one could cautiously, and legitimately, assert both leaders now in place have a genuine interest in peaceful negotiation to achieve their ends.
Prime Minister Sharon: His efforts regarding Gaza are particularly noteworthy as he spent most of his career, both military and political, supporting the expansion of Israel as a means of ensuring security against terror for the citizenry of his nation. Certainly, the threat of, and actions by, Hammas and other terror organizations provided factual proof of the dangers to the nation of Israel. However, he has chosen to look beyond these legitimate threats to find a means to end the cycle of violence in the region. Spearheading the withdrawal from Gaza was not without significant political cost. Truly a visionary, he put peace and the long term good of Israel above the short-term, hawkish views of many in his own party and cabinet. Americans should be overjoyed by Sharon’s actions and decisions over the last few months. We should be embracing his bold, heroic stances in the name of peace. Instead, there is little coverage of these historic events and the transformation of Prime Minister Sharon.
President Abbas: The successor to Yasser Arafat, the U.S. had hoped for greatness to emerge in the new leader of the Palestinian people. The intransigence of Arafat led many to believe the U.S./Israel could neither negotiate nor engage in diplomacy with the Palestinians. Abbas has completely changed that perception. Again, we need to embrace him and recognize the heroic steps he is taking in calling for an end to violence in the region puts him in peril–both political and personal. Hammas, and other terrorist extremists, are claiming that their tactics have succeeded and were the true catalyst to the Israeli pullout. However false such assertions are, they threaten the process by giving extreme hawks within Israel cause for concern that their country has been perceived as “giving in to terrorists.” The reality is that the peaceful, yet patriotic tone Abbas has brought to the negotiations has been the key fact in ensuring Sharon’s comfort in pulling the settlements out of Gaza. Thus, the U.S., and its “responsible media,” need to embrace Abbas as a man of peace. President Abbas, coupled with the growing tide of democracy in the region (in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, etc), offers real opportunity to reduce tension in the Middle East. But again, the media has been preoccupied with small protests in Crawford.
Tempered with reality, peace and prosperity are clearly not imminent–there remains much work to be done. But there is room for some celebration and optimism for the Middle East. The current U.S. administration has recognized that the status quo was not sufficient and that aggressive leadership is necessary to change the course of human events in the world. President Bush engaged a region of the world which has been historically neglected or, worse yet, been nothing but than a focal point for harmful intervention for the past four decades. The Middle East, and the extremist movements within its culture, are the greatest threats to America’s national security. Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, although painful to many and at tremendously politicallycostly some, is a monumental step toward making substantive change in this historically explosive region. Such a withdrawal was unimaginable a decade ago. We need to embrace both Sharon and Habbas as real heroes, and as peacemakers. With all the negative coverage of U.S. foreign affairs, and of Cindy Sheehan, there is a positive story to tell from this past summer.
The Gaza withdrawal is truly historic. We should applaud all leaders who act in the name of peace.
– Glenn Sulmasy is an associate professor of law at the U. S. Coast Guard Academy where he specializes in international and national-security law. The views expressed herein are his own.