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|| News: A few hopeful signs|
Middle East North Africa
Financial Network, Jordan
By James J. Zogby
Small but still significant signs of change are occurring in the US discussion
of the war on Lebanon.
Polls are showing that the US public is confused.
While it is a given that the public supports Israel, a solid majority now say
that they believe "Israel has gone too far" in its assault on Lebanon. A
majority also expresses deep concern that the continuing conflict could lead to
a wider war.
Not surprisingly, almost two-thirds disapprove of the way
the US administration is handling the situation, reflecting the public's
dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush's handling of Iraq and foreign
affairs, in general. As a result, a plurality of Americans are shy about the US
playing a more active role in resolving the conflict in Lebanon.
are even changes in Congress, which only two weeks ago passed near unanimous
resolutions giving full support to Israel, with no concern for the damage being
done to Lebanon and its people. Now some influential members are speaking out.
Some have made dramatic and far-reaching statements about Lebanon and US policy
in the Middle East, while others have made less dramatic, but still important
calls for an immediate cease fire, expressing concern for the growing numbers of
Lebanese civilians killed, and the damage to the country's
Most notable in this regard was the striking speech
delivered last week by Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE), one of the most thoughtful
analysts of America's Middle East policy. Some of his comments deserve to be
cited at length.
Hagel opened his remarks with the following
"Mr. President, The Middle East is a region in crisis. After
three weeks of escalating and continuing violence, the potential for wider
regional conflict becomes more real each day. The hatred in the Middle East is
being driven deeper and deeper into the fabric of the region... which will make
any lasting and sustained peace effort very difficult to achieve. How do we
realistically believe that a continuation of the systematic destruction of an
American friend, the country and people of Lebanon, is going to enhance
America's image and give us the trust and credibility to lead a lasting and
sustained peace effort in the Middle East? The sickening slaughter on both sides
must end now. President Bush must call for an immediate ceasefire. This madness
Hagel then added:
"Our relationship with Israel is a
special and historic one. But, it need not and cannot be at the expense of our
Arab and Muslim relationships. That is an irresponsible and dangerous false
choice... Extended military action is tearing Lebanon apart, killing innocent
civilians, destroying its economy and infrastructure, creating a humanitarian
disaster, further weakening Lebanon's fragile democratic government,
strengthening popular Muslim and Arab support for Hizbollah, and deepening
hatred of Israel across the Middle East... The war against Hizbollah and Hamas
will not be won on the battlefield."
Reflecting this changing mood,
several senators, including Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and
Patrick Leahy (D-VT), issued strong statements calling for an immediate
ceasefire. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and John E. Sununu (R-NH) sponsored a
resolution urging the administration to grant "temporary protected status" to
Lebanese citizens in the US and the Senate passed, by unanimous consent, a new
resolution on Lebanon, correcting its previous one-sided effort.
resolution was sponsored by Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT) and cosponsored by
Senators Sununu, Chafee, Stabenow, Carl Levin (D-MI), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and
Russ Feingold (D-WI).
Responding to a letter signed by over one hundred
Arab American constituents, Dodd explained why he was undertaking the
"While every nation has a right and duty to defend its citizens
against acts of terrorism, maximum efforts must also be made to protect against
civilian casualties... The sad result of the current crisis is that
approximately 700,000 people have been displaced from their homes, and more than
400 innocent Lebanese have paid the ultimate price for Hizbollah's aggression...
This reality is what prompted me more than a week ago to call for a cessation of
hostilities between Israel and Hizbollah."
While repeating some of the
provisions of the first Senate bill, it is significant that the Dodd effort adds
language that calls for ...
a cessation of hostilities, an international donors conference, and new support
for the Lebanese government.
On the House side, as well, there are signs
of change. A group of 18 Congresspersons authored a letter to President Bush
urging him to call for an immediate ceasefire and expressing their concern for
the suffering of the Lebanese people.
Congressman John Murtha (D-PA), one
of the most respected members of the Congress, issued a personal call for a
ceasefire as did Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). In a strong letter to
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Van Hollen urged her "to call for an
immediate ceasefire." The Israeli actions, he noted, "have gone beyond the
destruction of Hizbollah's military assets. It has caused huge damage to
Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, resulted in large loss of civilian life, and
produced 750,000 refugees."
This is only the beginning. We're not out of
the woods yet, but it is a hopeful sign that the suffering of the past several
weeks has not gone unnoticed.
A personal note: I appeared for an hour
last week on a nationally televised call-in programme. In response, I received
over 400 e-mails, only 10 of which were negative. Most of those who wrote asked
for more information about Middle East history, leaving me with the clear hope
that change is possible. But more needs to be done.
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