Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Peace in the Middle East?

It took only a simple phone call made by President Obama. The recent 15-minute conversation between Obama and President Rouhani of Iran has already been heralded as a major portent of peace in the Middle East. It may yet become such a sign, although it is quite premature to speak about peace between their two countries, much less peace in the Middle East. That peace may never happen.

The negotiations could take years, although there has been talk of ending the negotiations early next year, or they could end in dismal failure, since many on both sides are adamantly opposed to any negotiations.

A few weeks ago I urged dialogue tween the US and Iran as one step towards resolving the Syrian crisis. That dialogue has now been initiated, although I am under no illusion that these two men listened to me. It is simply common sense that steps such as this be taken if peace is ever to become a reality in the Middle East.

Nearly every part of the world has conflicts, which can be political, ethnic, economic, religious and so on. There is probably not one region anywhere that has seen so much conflict as the Middle East. It has been fought over for  millennia as armies swept across this vast area. No piece of global real estate has been fought over so often and for so long.

The people who make their homes in the area today are the legacy of these conflicts. Some enmities may continue for decades or even centuries, and they can weave a very tangled web. But enmities can also shift quickly, as can friendships.

It is hard for outsiders to unravel these complex relationships.An Arab proverb puts it well: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Alliances have been formed for ages in order to achieve political goals, whether long-term or temporary. This is equally true today.

Outsiders have interfered since time immemorial and made these webs even more complex. The colonial powers, Britain and France, contributed the modern borders that separated ethnic groups, as also happened in Africa, or forced various people who have little in common to live together in one country  whether they like it or not.

The US has interfered extensively in the Middle East and thus contributed to the current mess. Not only has it fought a tragic war in Iraq, but it was responsible for supporting the Shah in Iran and continues to support Israel in an inequitable fashion, earning the ire of many Arab countries. Desmond Tutu and many other world activists are also upset.

Thus it is high time that the US and Iran sit down together and negotiate an end to the decades of hostilities. These negotiations would not be easy. It would not be popular with every one in both countries. Rouhani was greeted by less than enthusiastic crowds when he returned to Tehran. Many hard-liners are opposed to any deal with the US.

But Rouhani does enjoy the support of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei who holds the real power in Iran. Khomenei has urged "heroic flexibility," which is code for accepting a treaty that may be beneficial, even if it involves major concessions. The Western-educated Rouhani was the only candidate in the recent presidential elections who enjoyed Khomenei's support.

Successful negotiations would have to deal with Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program. These negotiations would affect many other countries in the region, including Syria, which was and is a client of Iran. Iran also supports Hamas and Hezbollah.

Israel would also be affected. Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu at a speech at the UN warned about the Iranian charm offensive. His country has the most to fear from an Iranian bomb and thus it has good reasons to be wary.

Both the US and Iran are already wary of each other's intentions. Iran insists that their program is purely for
energy and that is within its sovereign right a a nation to engage in such research. Iran sees the US as seeking to protect Israel by preventing the spread of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

The newly mandated inventory and destruction of Syria's chemical weapons by the UN will facilitate the negotiations between the US and Iran, between these two former friends and now bitter foes. Maybe one day friendship will be restored again.

Two doves, one from either side, may through a phone call have been able initiate the process of eradicating decades of enmity. That will not happen overnight, but when it does a big step will have been taken to bring peace to the Middle East.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of conflicts that will also have to be resolved if peace is ever to bloom throughout the Middle East. But some major conflicts will have be eliminated first. The conflict between the US and Iran need never have arisen if the US had stayed out of the region in the first place and not interfered in Iran and elsewhere. The US must stop playing policeman throughout the world.

Any country that allows the use of blackmail by Tea Party Republicans who want to delay or even turn back Obamacare -- legislation that was properly passed by Congress and approved by the courts -- has forfeited the moral right to tell other nations how they should behave.

I pray that peace may come to the Middle East. Then the entire world will become a better place in which to live. By nature, I prefer to see the doughnut rather than the hole. Peace will come in the Middle East one day, even if that day is still a long time off.

Christians, Jews, and Muslims must all pray to the one God whom they all worship, albeit in different ways that peace may reign in a regain that has rarely known peace. All these faiths agree that God brings peace.

Sometimes a phone call is all that is needed to begin the process of bringing peace to this region. Then other conflicts may follow, even the seemingly intractable conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Pray for peace!

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