Saturday, July 22, 2006

Canada and the Mid-East Crisis

In my last post, I argued that Israel's attack on Lebanon was misguided and counterproductive. Its end result could not be to build the peace that everyone claims to want. Instead, it could only perpetuate the problems that exist. In the very, very short run. The destruction of infrastructure in southern Lebanon -- civilian and Hezbollah -- might succeed in its objectives. It is important to remember, however, that Hezbollah has launched more rockets at northern Israel as a result of this invasion that were launched before it. If one of the objectives of this attack was to stop rockets from falling on northern Israel then this attack is an utter failure because it has had the exact opposite effect. In my view, Canadians should understand what it going on in Lebanon. That is the reason I wrote the blog. They need to understand what is going on so they can make the better decisions about what Canada should do with regard to this conflict. If they begin their analysis from the wrong point. They will not be able to produce the grounds for a positive engagement with the situation.

Canada also has an interest in this conflict for several reasons. First, there is a Canadian reason for Canada to be interested in seeing a resolution to this conflict. There is a large Canadian population in Lebanon. All of it is civilian. And, it is being hurt by this conflict. Because the state exists to product its citizens and realize their aspirations, Canada need to be involved in this conflict because Canadian citizens are -- against their will -- involved in this conflict. Second, Canada needs to be involved in finding a resolution to this conflict for humanitarian reasons. Third, Canada should be involved in this conflict because Canada can contribute to a resolution. Said differently there are domestic, humanitarian, and political reasons why Canada should be involved. I'm not naive. We would all like Canada to be playing a positive role on the world stage in every conflict or problem that occurs. There are, I think, good reasons for Canada not to be involved in some conflicts or problems. Canada should not, for example, have been involved in the second Gulf War the invasion and occupation of Iraq, for example. There were few Canadians involved at all and there was little or nothing Canada could actually have done to improve the situation that was about to unfold in Iraq. Some people, for instance, argued that Canada should have joined the coalition to displace Saddam Hussein. Why? There was nothing that Canada could have contributed to make that coalition more effective, even if Canadians were supportive of it. It is laudable that people want Canada involved everywhere but, in situations where Canadian involvement cannot help -- and might actually hurt as in Somalia -- Canada should decide to stay out. This strikes me as a reasonable argument Canada should be involved in international problems where it has a capacity to help.

What can Canada do in Lebanon. Several things. First, we can get Canadians out of the war zone and as many other people as we can. Some folks have been upset at Canada's efforts to help move people from Lebanon. I've heard friends say "some of these people aren't really Canadian." They might be Canadians on paper, but they have lived outside the country for twenty or thirty years. Or, they are relatives of Canadians. Why, some of my friends have asked, should our tax dollars go to help these people when they are not really Canadians and don't have any loyalty to Canada. The answer is simple because we can. Let's think about this. Do you want to go to bed at night knowing that you decided not to help someone when you could. Canada cannot help everyone, to be sure, but that is not a good reason to help no one. Let us do what we can. Let us help preserve and protect civilians. On this count, the Canadian government is doing the right thing.

Second, Canada can -- and should -- apply whatever diplomatic pressure we can on Israel and Hezbollah to stop the fighting. This includes not simply saying "Israel has a right to protect itself" or "everyone should stop firing at each other." It should involve using diplomatic pressure to suggest solutions to the problem. This means, setting this conflict it t he wider context that gave rise to it. Rather than simply stating that Israel has a right to defend itself, we also need to assert need for a solution to the whole issue of Israeli-Arab relations. This will entail a recognition of an independent Palestinian state; the release of political prisoners; disarming of independent militias; the promotion of cross-national cultural and educational exchanges; support for rebuilding civilian infrastructure in Lebanon and in the occupied territories. In addition, Israel will need to leave the Golan Heights and this territory will need to be returned to Syria. Finally, Canada needs to carry this wider context to international bodies. To keep it on the agenda at the UN, at the Arab League and with our allies in the west, including the US. In response to this conflict, Canada should assert its commitment to seeing a two-state solution work that provides for the peace and security of both Israel and the population of the occupied territories. We also need to work with countries that we don't normally work with. We need to be in contact with Nordic countries, peace movements, African and Asian and Latin American countries to get their active support for this solution.

Now, I recognize that some reading this list might say "your list is just a list of things that Israel should do; you are putting the burden of peace on Israel." I think this would be a fair assessment. I am. Israel is the most powerful state in the region. It is the country that is occupying territories that are not its own. It is the country that has destroyed civilian infrastructure in Gaza and Lebanon. No one should take this as a moral statement on my part. Indeed, I think that trying to figure out "who is to blame" is a recipe for continued fighting. What Israel gets back from any "concessions" it makes, in my view, will repay them. By helping develop civilian infrastructure an independent Palestine and to rebuild in Lebanon, Canada will help alleviate one of the reasons for this conflict massive socio-economic disparities. Israel views -- and have viewed -- groups like Hezbollah as terrorists. If this is the case, we need to ask, why do so many ordinary people support them? Ordinary people -- no matter who they are -- don't support terrorism., Why is Hezbollah so popular. Part o f the answer is that it provide infrastructure.

I'll close with a comment on cultural and educational exchanges. This might sound like a wimpy, feel good, throw in, but its not. Canada could offer itself as neutral territory. A place where Palestinians, Lebanese, supporters of Hezbollah, and Israelis can come together to meet each other and work with each other and learn about each other. By doing so, they can begin to bridge generations long antagonism. They can learn about each other's differences and human-ness. And, I think, about their common desires.

There is, then, a lot Canada can do. It has started to do one thing remove civilians from the war zone. It should, now, direct its attention to others. It should begin with a strong statement about an overall solution as something that is needed to everyone involved in this conflict can realize their aims. That solution is a two state solution with an end to military occupation of all occupied territories. In addition, Canada should begin to consider what humanitarian, educational, medical, etc., aid it will provide to the civilian populations affected by this conflict. Our ambassadors should begin to talk about this solution to our allies and those with whom we don't normally work and we should raise it at the UN. Finally, we should develop programmes that bring former combatants together in Canada. This won't solve the problem. But it will be a progressive start and it is something that Canada can do.


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