A Dayton accord for the Middle East

What is there in common between the crises in Bosnia and Kosovo and the strange war now raging in Palestine? An awareness of the fact that certain conflicts cannot be stopped and innocent lives adequately protected without the intervention of the international community, including through a military presence if necessary to guarantee a peaceful outcome.

The Dayton agreement was imposed on the parties in the conflict in Bosnia after all prior efforts had failed. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict bears little resemblance to the Balkan wars. But the succession of failed peace initiatives there seems to suggest that a lasting peace, and an end to injustice and violence, will not come about without a firm commitment of the international community to impose a similar kind of interim solution.

Bosnia is a good example. In 1995, after years of inaction, the Clinton administration and a few European leaders finally decided to put an end to ethnic cleansing and the barbaric manifestations of extreme nationalism in the former Yugoslavia. States are often impotent to resist aggression or to solve other major security problems, just like people are often unable to escape persecution and slaughter. Such was the case with the government in Bosnia and later with the Kosovars. There was only one solution for both cases: the international community had to assume full responsibility and get involved decisively in the resolution of the crisis.

Bosnia, Kosovo or East Timor are the exceptional cases that confirm the general rule of passivity and impotence of the international community in the face of serious conflicts, even if they commit gross human rights abuses and pose a threat to international security.

Take Israel’s military intervention in Palestine: Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was given leeway to persistently pursue a policy of “suffocation” of the Palestinians in consistent violation of international law in the name of fighting terrorism. This was even more the case after September 11. Clearly, continuing acts of terror against Israeli civilians must be delegitimized and stopped. As Palestinian political activist Hannan Ashrawi noted: what moral values could possibly legitimize terrorist reaction against Israeli attacks? However neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinian Authority has proven capable of solving the problem, whether unilaterally or through negotiation. The limitations of achieving peace through a long process of bilateral negotiation prone to constant sabotage have been apparent since Oslo, and the roadmap did nothing to correct that approach.

The Palestinian Authority would not be able to counter Ariel Sharon’s policy without support from the international community; nor is it capable of neutralizing or effectively reining in terrorist groups. For a long time now, the worsening spiral of conflict has called for an "internationalized" solution. Deferring urgent intervention has already resulted in many unnecessary deaths, and the situation is a serious emerging threat to international security.

People in the Middle East have every right to expect the international community to act at least as effectively as it did in Bosnia. There are faint signs of change with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The European Union is more conscious than ever of the devastating effects of the worsening conflict on regional peace. However, it has placed all its hopes on the possibility of persuading the United States to exert pressure on Sharon to accept the necessary existence of a Palestinian state. The US has taken a stand on the issue, but it has been a feeble one, the aim of which seems to have been to quiet the "Arab street" after the military intervention in Iraq. The US does not appear to be ready to get fully involved in the resolution of the problem as it did for the Balkans in the 1990s, or to support a determined international intervention that includes the use of peacekeeping forces.

Many feel that in these circumstances it is utopian to support international intervention. However, had no one supported intervention in Bosnia it would never have taken place. The Geneva accord makes it possible to relaunch the debate about international intervention because it shows that an agreement is possible and that its content is known. But it is also clear that Geneva will become yet another failed endeavor and destroy hopes for a peaceful solution to the conflict if it is not backed by decisive international involvement.

Israel should be made to accept an international presence on the ground in order to protect Palestinians from military incursions and encroachment, and Israelis from acts of terror. Not only would this be far more effective than the wall that Israel is building, but it could also help to ensure the two-state solution essential for peace, which the “security fence” in effect denies. The window of opportunity created by Geneva should be taken advantage of: an international conference should urgently be called that is inspired not by the model of the post-Gulf War Madrid conference, but by the Dayton model, in the sense of not only offering the parties a "final status" solution which meets with broad public support and can still be improved, but of imposing on them active international involvement, including a military presence that would guarantee that the stipulated solution to the conflict can in effect be implemented.