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Scoop Opinion: The Path To Peace

Scoop Opinion: The Path To Peace

Today Great Britain and Israel - two nations who ought to know better - are the source of global worries about a deterioration in the quest for peace.

To recap: In the Middle East Israel has launched a large scale bombing offensive against Lebanon. The attacks have been targeted at the Hezbollah fighters - and Lebanon in general, through attacks on power stations earlier this week . Meanwhile Northern Israel is under a state of emergency and settlements are either closed down - with everybody in bomb shelters - or are being evacuated.

The bombing is technically a retaliation to the killing of, first, of an Israeli militia commander in the occupied area of Lebanon, and then later, the trigger point came with the killing of six Israeli soldiers. For some time Israel has been under rocket attack from the Hezbollah.

In Ireland meanwhile the Good Friday Peace Accord - with Good Friday fast approaching - is falling to pieces. The IRA hasn't handed any arms in for decommissioning. Meanwhile the Unionist leadership in the new Northern Irish Assembly has threatened to walk out. In response the British Parliament is in the process of passing a bill to resume its control over Northern Ireland, effectively suspending the new Parliament.

In both cases blame for the step-backs in the peace process are being attributed by the governments involved - those of Prime Minister's Ehud Barak and Tony Blair - to the terrorists, the Hezbollah and the IRA.

In both instances we have conflicts in which the Prime Minister's declare themselves to be peace-makers.

However in both cases we in fact have leaders who - possibly seduced by the excitement of playing the peace-game to their domestic constituencies - are in fact aggravating the situation.

In Israel what has occurred, however it is dressed up, is escalation. Kosovo War style targets - particularly the power stations - make good TV and headlines. Barak has certainly shown he is a peacemaker with a strong hand.

But they also create a lot of resentment throughout Lebanon among peaceable people who might otherwise be keen to encourage a peace in the area. Significantly they also alarm people in the Middle East, and around the world, who respect the rule of law .

Who is to say what is a legitimate military action? Those that aren't are illegal and could potentially be classed (to use a term that the West is fond of using when applied someone else ) as 'war crimes'. According to the UN Charter the only legitimate military actions are those sanctioned by the UN Security Council.

In this case numerous Security Council resolutions calling on Israel to desist from its tactics in the Lebanon are again being ignored. However with the US veto at the Security Council table we can confidently expect that the council will not hold an inquiry into the bombing of the power stations, just as they did not hold an inquiry into the US "retaliatory" cruise missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan.

This is not the way to make peace. And if Mr Barak, a self professed peace-maker, cannot pay regard to the law then it is hardly surprising that the Hezbollah are not so easily coming to heal.

On the bottom line Israel would like those elements in Syria, Iran and elsewhere who support the "terrorist" Hezbollah to stop doing so. Many in the Israeli military would probably go further and say they would like the "terrorists" either handed over to them for trial, or eliminated.

These objectives are understandable in the face of the ongoing rocket attacks, but how does escalation of the conflict and punishing the electricity consumers of Beirut help achieve this end. Rather it seems to clearly and dramatically undermine it.

In Northern Ireland Tony Blair's errors this week have been more subtle, if increasingly typical.

If the Northern Irish Unionists want to pack a sad and quit then let them. Hold a new election perhaps, but suspending the Parliament is - like bombing Lebanon - an escalation. Worse though is the setting a deadline for the return of weapons.

Deadlines and ultimatums are the enemy of reconciliation and peace. Deadlines led Blair and Clinton into launching a poorly prepared form, and cowardly, war in Kosovo.

In this case the IRA clearly have stacks of weapons and will most probably be gradually handing them over for much of the next five, if not 50, years.

The important thing is not the weapons - America is full of people who have constitutional rights to own arsenals - but the fact that they are not being used. One hand-gun is all that is needed for an assassination. And as several people have demonstrated over the last century, shoot the right person and you can start a war.

When looking for peace it is always necessary to look at conflict from both sides. Peace is like contract law, you need a meeting of minds to achieve it.

In this case from Sinn Fein and the IRA's perspective it is the same old story. The UK Parliament saying effectively - "you do as we say or else", with the Unionists cheering all the way.

Bu,t like bombing power stations, deadlines and demands to hand over weapons make good TV.

So what should they do?

Prime Ministers Barak and Blair's problem is not a lack of good intention, clearly both men want to make peace, their problem is that they do not know how. In addition there is the problem that some aspects of the peace-making craft - making friends with your enemies - can have negative short term impacts on poll ratings.

And so the people of the world have come to expect that peace is a noble but seemingly impossible goal.

US Secretary Of State Madeleine Albright has in a few recent speeches on peace-making started quoting names.

In a speech on January 18th in Washington titled "Sustaining Democracy in the Twenty-First Century" she listed "those whose vision and sacrifice enabled us to live in a world more free than it has ever been".

"This is a debt we owe, not only to Jefferson but also to Bolivar, Shevchenko and Kossuth; not only to the Roosevelts, but also to Marti, Masaryk, Gandhi and Mandela; not only to Martin Luther King, but also to Vaclav Havel, Kim Dae Jung and Aung San Suu Kyi."

This is not my list, but it is not bad.. Most of these people understood - or now understand - how to make peace, and there are lessons we can learn from them.

They are, or were, pretty much all very humble people. Most of them experienced oppression first hand. Most of them are pacifists, and most of them are known for forgiving their enemies and oppressors.

Most of them are hugely loved around the world, but most are also hated by some people too.

Each of them has shown that the path to peace is not easy - some are still on it - but all the while they have remained true to their convictions. They are not politicians in the sense we have come to expect - vacillating in a wind of public opinion. They know what is right and wrong but they do not preach.

To this role of honour I would be inclined to add UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who has in the past 18 months stood out among the players on the international stage for a special reason, he apologises.

Under Kofi Annan the UN has produced several damning reports about itself. In Sebrenica, Bosnia, unarmed UN peacekeepers failed to protect those it had undertook to protect - and worse, disarmed them. They were slaughtered. In its report on the massacres in Sebrenica the UN pulled no punches. Announcing these reports Annan made a point of making a clear and very public apology.

There are numerous positive consequences to this. Firstly the victims are recognised and empowered by it.

Also, the UN as an organisation can learn from the mistake and cite it in future circumstances as an object lesson. Thirdly the perception implications of an apology in international relations have been hugely positive. Among ordinary peaceable people an apology at the level of statecraft is a signal that authorities know that what they have been doing to date has not worked and that they are prepared to try and change.

While on one hand an admission of fault appears to be an act of subjugation, which is probably why politicians so rarely do it, on the other it is really more simply an admission of being human, and that as we all know, everybody makes mistakes.

Most of us also know - from our personal experience - that apologising it is often the hardest thing to do, especially when we do not believe we have done anything wrong.

But in spite of this, if we want to get on with those around us we know we have to do it. In domestic conflicts the apology is almost always the first step towards ending an argument. This is because forgiveness flows from admission of having done something wrong.

The art of peace-making is all about forgiveness. Around the world the scars are so deep that this is self evident. This is also the lesson taught to us by those on the US Secretary Of State's role of honour.

This morning we hear reports from London saying UK PM Tony Blair is exasperated with the Northern Irish impasse over decommissioning and that a search is underway for a new idea.

The new idea he needs is simple: apologise.

Finding a few things to apologise for on behalf of the UK should not be too hard. Blair could start with the potato famine and move through to the Birmingham six. On the positive side of the equation a great statesmanlike speech of apology would almost certainly also make CNN.

In Israel Barak should probably do the same, and offer to pay for repairs to the power stations Israel bombed.

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