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Howard's End: NZ Could Be Peace Broker

There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come - and the time has come for our government to offer New Zealand as an independent and impartial forum for the brokerage of peace between peoples' and countries at war. We can do it, and we should do it. John Howard writes.

I want to lead with a short story.

There had been a big storm and millions of starfish were washed up on the shore. There they lay gasping, baking in the sun - and dying.

Until along came a young boy, saw the plight of the starfish and, one by one, he gently started to place them back into the life-giving sea.

Along came an old man and seeing the massive task the boy had in front of him said." Why are you doing that son, there are millions of them and you won't make much of a difference."

The boy picked up one of the millions of starfish laying there, looked at it with loving eyes, and walked out to just beyond the breaking waves and gently placed the starfish back into the cool sea.

He then turned to the old man and said "I made a difference to that one."

And that is the point - the power of one can make a difference.

Let's take a look at the Middle East crisis - and it is a crisis, even though sitting here in New Zealand watching it unfold on television, it seems far distant and of no concern to us.

Yes, we are a distant and small nation, but that is our strength - because we are not embroiled in the politics of the crisis and we can offer the independent and impartial forum for compromise.

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Not many other Western nations can offer what we can. America has so far been the main broker for a Middle East peace deal, but America is simply not trusted by the Arab world and is perceived to be too one-sided in its support of Israel.

Yasser Araft sees President Clinton as a lame-duck president and Ehud Barak sees Clinton as the biggest element in Israel's policy of restraint. - those are not the elements which would lead to a peaceful compromise.

Face it, it is unrealistic to believe that Israel, with its massive armed forces, would see some 50,000 Palestinians carrying guns as a strategic threat to it. If it really wanted to, Israel could end the Palestinian fighting today by simple annihilation. It hasn't.

But Israel does have a strategic problem - particularly from some of its radical Islamic neighbours. And, like most of the Middle East, it also has a major water problem and who controls it.

For example, how on earth can there be a return of large numbers of Palestinians to Israel when there is simply not enough water now?

For the same reasons, how can there be a separate Palestinian state without massive financial assistance - and from whom?

How will Israel's strategic interests be protected from radical Islam and what land does it need for its early warning systems? - which were used when Saddam Hussein launched SCUD's against it during the Gulf War.

If a Palestinian state is to be established where will it be, what will it need and how many people will it be able to accommodate before overflow?

Remember, we are talking about an area not much bigger than Northland.

Israel says it recognises there must be a fair deal for Palestinians, but for that to happen the political causes of radical Islamic terrorism within the various Palestinian groups must be neutralised. Yasser Arafat is still very much in control of that.

Does Jerusalem need to be internationally divided? - no. With compromise, it could become the capital of both Israel and a new Palestinian state - while still remaining the centre of the three religious faiths of the world.

Before peace can break-out these issues must be solved and while not impossible to solve, solved they must be - through compromise in an independent and impartial forum.

Over many years other countries, such as Britain and Russia, have become embroiled in Middle-East politics - on both sides. They are not seen, from both sides, as an impartial broker for a peaceful and durable settlement.

However I believe, even though sporadic outbreaks of fighting continue, that a window of opportunity still exists because both sides say they are tired of fighting and want and need a peaceful and durable settlement.

But where does a peaceful settlement and compromise start to germinate? - certainly, with trust and good faith from both sides and, perhaps more importantly, in an independent and impartial country - like New Zealand.

Not too many other countries can offer what New Zealand can - and that also goes for finding peaceful resolutions in an independent, impartial and secure forum to the world's other hot-spots.

Our government can and should make the offer. I would be very disappointed if my request fell on deaf ears and we didn't at least try. If not now - when?

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