What a Future Middle East at Peace Might Look Like

By Helena Cobban. Helena Cobban does research and writes on foreign affairs . | The Christian Science Monitor, November 7, 1991 | Go to article overview

What a Future Middle East at Peace Might Look Like


Helena Cobban. Helena Cobban does research and writes on foreign affairs ., The Christian Science Monitor


THE Bush administration and those Middle Eastern leaders who made the Madrid peace talks possible deserve our congratulations! But the hard work of building a peaceful Middle East of the future has only just begun.

In planning their present Middle East diplomacy, President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker III made some smart decisions. They opted to try to resolve both the Palestinian-Israeli and the Arab-Israeli conflicts on parallel tracks.

They decided to tackle not only the "traditional" tasks of diplomacy, but also the broader challenges of controlling the region's vast arms inventories and building a shared stake in regional economic development.

All those decisions were wise. But other efforts are also needed if the opponents of the peace process sniping from Tehran, Baghdad, or elsewhere are to be denied the constituency they seek.

In particular, the issue of accountability of the region's leaders - to their own people and to the international community - needs to be addressed. And leaders and opinion-formers from throughout the region should be engaged in a sustained exploration of what a future Middle East at peace might look like.

It is a region of tremendous wealth and creativity. For too long, those precious resources have been channeled into warfare and hatred. But the events of recent years have created an unprecedented chance to reverse that situation.

Today, for the first time, there is a substantial constituency in Israel and most Arab states that is prepared to say - out loud - that they are tired of war, and that negotiation and compromise provide a better way to resolve differences.

More than ever before, respected Middle Eastern opinion-formers have begun to look at their communities' security and well-being as a mutual and not just a narrowly national affair.

Last September, the group that I work for, Search for Common Ground, brought 14 of these Middle Eastern pioneers together for a trailblazing meeting in Rome.

They included three Israelis - two from the right of the political spectrum - and Arabs from seven different Arab communities, including a Palestinian, three nationals of Gulf countries, and one leading thinker of mixed Iraqi-Iranian heritage.

These 14 individuals came to Rome to begin building a network of cooperation between private individuals and institutions throughout the region, in an attempt to build its long-term security. Each brought to the meeting his or her own rich mix of experiences and concerns.

An Israeli strategic specialist brought his concern that the Arabs might launch a surprise attack against his country. …

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