Something smells rotten in the state of Lebanon. As a Lebanese citizen, I truly regret the level of depravity that my country has reached.
This Wednesday and Thursday, leaders from all over the Arab world are convening in Beirut, Lebanon, to discuss and unanimously offer Israel a historic peace proposal. Even though it would fall short of offering the opportunity of normalizing ties with the Jewish state, the peace proposal would still theoretically grant Israel peace and security in return for the 1967 borders. The state of Palestine would be established with East Jerusalem as its capital, Syria would get back the Golan Heights, and the border with Lebanon would finally cease to be incendiary if the proposal were to see the light of day.
While I do not doubt that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, the designer of this peace proposal, seeks to establish peace in the Holy Land while simultaneously clearing the reputation of his country after the Sept. 11 attacks, I cannot help but think that this Arab Summit remains questionable in effectiveness and offensive to the host country’s citizens.
In fact, this gathering of usurpers is a painful slap in the face for most Lebanese people. These despots gather in a country that is under Syrian military occupation, as if to say that the absence of democracy and freedom in Lebanon is not objectionable and will be overlooked in order to solve a more important issue at stake — the Arab-Israeli conflict.
I do not seek to distinguish between conflicts and prioritize which ones deserve greater attention. Instead, I believe that the suffering in the Arab world remains incredibly similar across countries and is a challenge that the world must acknowledge and resolve given that the problems of the Arab world are capable of spilling over across oceans and continents.
The tragic events of Sept. 11 confirm the risks that the world continues to face in response to the unresolved conflicts that have oppressed Arabs for many decades. Lebanese suffer under Syrian tutelage and are incapable of running their own affairs without a direct or indirect form of Syrian intervention. Palestinians suffer under Israeli occupation and are incessantly reminded of their powerlessness as they cross Israeli checkpoints and deal with ubiquitous Israeli settlers. Iraqis suffer under a crippling combination of sanctions and a bitter dictatorship, which denies them the ability to live above sustenance levels. Egyptians suffer under an American-subsidized dictatorship that not only mocks its citizens with its pseudo-elections, but also increasingly marginalizes Coptic Christians and homosexuals. The list goes on and on.
Both Arab and non-Arab governments conveniently ignore the situation in Lebanon. Rest assured that the Syrian occupation of Lebanon will not be discussed during the two-day Arab Summit. Ten years have elapsed since Syrian forces were supposed to leave Lebanon according to the Taef Agreement that ended the painful 15-year Lebanese Civil War in 1990. Currently, there are 20,000 Syrian troops stationed across the country, which is smaller than the state of Connecticut. The United Nations Security Council resolution 520 clearly demands the departure of all foreign forces from Lebanon. Israel withdrew its forces from South Lebanon in May 2000 after fighting a losing war with Hezbollah. However, the Syrian regime remains in control of Lebanon. In fact, Syria is actually a member of the UN Security Council even though it ostensibly breaches a UN Security Council resolution.
The Saudi Crown Prince’s proposal conveniently ignores the Palestinian refugee problem in the Arab world. Perhaps he believes that Israel will never accept the Right of Return as a feasible solution whereby every Palestinian refugee would be able to return to his or her original hometown, even if it is located in Israel proper. A failure to resolve the refugee problem not only harms the refugees, but also cripples countries that host the refugees. Lebanon currently hosts about 400,000 refugees and the government refuses to integrate them into Lebanese society. If the situation remains unresolved, the sectarian reasons that sparked the Lebanese Civil War will continue to exist and the Lebanese Christians will feel particularly marginalized by the Muslim-Arab world that tries to make peace with the Jewish state while ignoring the delicate confessional balance of Lebanon.
In order for there to be a real, permanent, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East, there must be more than an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Democracies that hold leaders accountable for all their actions must replace the current regimes if the Arab world ever intends to recover from its current suffering. Occupations must end. Crown Prince Abdullah’s extravagantly heralded peace proposal can by no means serve as a panacea for the Arab world.
Fadi Pierre Kanaan is a senior in Calhoun College and a co-president of the Arab Students’ Association.