Middle East A bottom-up approach for peace

Published 1:14 pm Friday, December 17, 2010

In a region where national, religious and ethnic clashes have been the rule rather than the exception for millennia, it may be overly optimistic to believe an Israeli warrior would promote an alternative solution to the Middle East’s ongoing conflicts.

Israel’s Moshe Ya’alon, a former special forces paratrooper, now vice prime minister and minister of strategic affairs, shared his views Monday with the Register’s Editorial Board on how to achieve Middle East stability.

Ya’alon made sense when he said the seemingly intractable differences between his nation and its Arab and Muslim neighbors aren’t necessarily irreparable. His familiar complaint is that in negotiated “solutions” to date, Israel’s concessions have been met only with terror and missiles in return. Such negotiations, he reasoned, are doomed to the same unsatisfying results until Israel’s opponents acknowledge his nation’s right to exist.

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Clearly, Ya’alon isn’t optimistic that retracing the same path can lead to a different destination. But were the top-down approach to imposing change replaced with a bottom-up approach, he said, there could be hope. That, Ya’alon said, requires education to change hearts and minds and a new role for the United States.

Interestingly, U.S. diplomatic cables revealed by the latest WikiLeaks disclosure show Israel’s presumed enemies, including Saudi Arabia, have much in common with Israel in those nations — perhaps even more aggressive opposition to Iran’s bid for regional hegemony. Without revealing details, Ya’alon suggested Israel and some of its Arab neighbors have found common ground, at least in dealing with Iran.

“This regime (in Iran) should be put in an immediate dilemma — the West, led by the United States, should (pursue) a new strategy.” He suggested ongoing political and economic attempts to isolate Iran’s regime, while encouraging Iranian citizens to oppose human rights abuses in their nation, can bring regime change and avert war, even as Iran moves toward what he is convinced is its goal of obtaining military nuclear weapons. He would include a military option as a last resort but doesn’t believe the U.S. “has the political stomach” for it.

Despite Ya’alon’s desire for bottom-up solutions, it’s clear the momentum at the moment for his nation and its regional opponents is to continue pursuing top-level, if not top-down, approaches to easing Middle East tensions. We suspect he may be right. Only a bottom-up approach ultimately will change hearts and minds.