Middle East

How to Bring Peace to the Middle East

Perhaps a majority of people in the Middle East actually sympathize with the short-term aims of Hezbollah, especially vis-à-vis Israel. But very few outside some sections of the Shia community would actually want to live in a Hezbollah-run Islamist republic. (Photo: Adam Jan / AFP-Getty Images)

Back in the late 1990's and the early part of the current decade, the far-right M.H.P. or Nationalist Action Party, led by Devlet Bahceli, were one of the strongest forces in Turkish politics, forming one of the most ideologically inconsistent coalition governments — along with Bulent Ecevit's Democratic Socialists and Tansu Ciller's True Party Party, a center-right grouping — anywhere in recent history.

They were also a movement that by most measures was corrupt, alarmingly parochial, and which never fulfilled any of its election promises. Like its two coalition partners, it was spectacularly thrown out of office in the elections of November 2002, and no one expects the Nationalist Action Party to return to parliament anytime soon.

But when it came to the area of foreign policy, the M.H.P. did float one idea that could prove the key to solving the riddle of the modern Middle East. They proposed an East Mediterranean Union composed of Turkey, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and the Palestinian entity, potentially extending to incorporation of Lebanon, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. Partly this was clearly an allusion to Turkey's Ottoman past, when it counted most of the Middle East (as well as the Balkans) as its own; partly it was a genuine attempt at directing Turkey's external agenda in a more imaginative fashion.

When the M.H.P. disappeared from government, the plan was swiftly forgotten about. However, stripped of Turkish nationalism and with a little more inclusiveness toward states such as Iran, the various Gulf kingdoms and eventually perhaps Iraq, the idea has enormous potential.

If one takes a broad overview of today's Middle East, it is possible to identify one major problem, which is arguably the single biggest obstacle to any kind of peace and stability: people do not agree on what they want their future to look like, and their views all too often involve the exclusion of all who do not fit into their particular group.

Take the groups involved in the current crisis, Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah has varying degrees of support throughout the Middle East; perhaps a majority of people actually sympathize with the short-term aims of the organization, especially vis-à-vis Israel. But very few outside some sections of the Shia community would actually want to live in a Hezbollah-run Islamist republic.

Analogously with Israel, it is self-defined as a Jewish state that is built on an exclusivist, nationalist ideology — namely Zionism — which unfortunately gives it limited scope for maneuver in terms of offering Israeli Arabs, let alone Palestinians, a genuine stake in a prosperous and secure country.

It is a similar story across the region. The Shias and all non-Wahhabis get a rough deal in Saudi Arabia; Kurds are discriminated against in Turkey; all kinds of minority groups face significant pressures in Iran. All these countries have faces that do not fit inside the neat, clean categories of their respective nationalisms.

However, a revamped Eastern Mediterranean Union — or rather, a Middle Eastern Union or MEU -- could provide a different focus for the energies of the peoples of the region: technocratic, economic, legal, and eventually political harmonization.

It would do this in two ways. Firstly, through a Schengen-style mechanism, it would effectively obliterate the borders between the countries of the region, meaning a Jordanian could travel into Israel and vice versa with complete freedom. This would be a giant stride in fostering confidence between the peoples of the region; it would also deflect attention from the constant obsession with the exact delineation of international frontiers, which has haunted the Middle East ever since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the 1920's.

Secondly, bodies for complete regional economic, technocratic, and legal integration would be created, with a particular focus on strict adherence to the norms of international law on the one hand, and economic development through EU-style social transfers on the other.

According to the C.I.A., Israel has a G.D.P. per capita of $24,600 and Qatar $27,400; in Turkey the national income per head is a still respectable $8,200 and in pre-conflict Lebanon $6,200, but only $3,900 in Egypt and a paltry $1,100 in the West Bank. There is plenty of room for economic cooperation with the aim of spreading the Middle East's unquestionable affluence in the name of security and stability.

Here, the European Union is the example to take the lead from. Within living memory, Europe was a shattered continent, exhausted by two World Wars that saw tens of millions of its citizens murdered by the machinery of states under the spell of destructive ideologies that had veered out of control. But through a focus on interstate cooperation that was at first incremental and technical, and then ultimately deeper and broader, Europe was able to attain a level of stability and prosperity that previous generations would have found unrecognizable.

The people of the Middle East are not genetically or culturally prone to violence. In fact, historically the Middle East and indeed the Balkans are rather boring areas when it comes to war and violence: such problems are very much a modern issue. Like people the world over, Arabs, Jews, Turks, and Persians alike want the same things: peace, jobs, economic equity, energy and water security, the freedom to travel, and a high standard of living. While they undoubtedly differ in many other respects, they have more than enough objectives to concentrate on solving them together. Only a Middle Eastern Union can give the necessary direction towards enabling this process.

From OhmyNews International.