Claude Salhani
Middle East Times
March 27, 2009 - 12:00am

Here we go. This is the last chance for a peaceful resolution of the Middle East crisis before the region takes a turn for disaster. All the ingredients for peace as well as for greater conflict are in place. How it all turns out is now up to the players on the ground. At this point it's a 50-50 gamble.

Examining the peace dividends, they are many. First, regarding the Palestinian issue, everyone knows the final outcome. There are no surprises; the issues have been addressed ad nauseam:

1. The final borders: Give or take 5 percent here or 10 percent there, there is only so much re-drawing to maps that can be done with such restricted real estate.

2. Jerusalem: The two parties will either have to agree to live together in a unified greater Jerusalem, or continue fighting over it for generations to come. There are a very limited number of solutions to the question of Jerusalem, one of which would be to extend the city limits to include certain areas of East Jerusalem's suburbs and have both Palestinians and Israelis call the city their capital. This is far from a perfect solution, but until someone can come up with something better, both sides may have to just live with it.

3. The right of return of Palestinian refugees: Everybody knows that only a very limited number of Palestinians refugees living in the surrounding countries will be allowed to settle in Israel -- probably less than hundreds. To place the problem in perspective there are about 1,930,000 refugees in Jordan; 456,000 in Syria; 416,000 in Lebanon; 754,000 in the West Bank; and 1 million plus in the Gaza Strip. And those are just the official figures supplied by the United Nations.

Most everybody, except for the Palestinians concerned, accept the reality that it is highly unlikely 4.6 million people will be returning to their homes in the area that was pre-1948 Palestine.

The question of course now is, what to do with the displaced Palestinians? For the most part those in Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza, and even those in Syria, may well end up staying where they have been living now for nearly three generations. The tricky question is what to do with those 400,000 plus refugees currently living in 10 camps strewn across Lebanon.

For the Lebanese, whose social-political-economic structure is entirely based on confessional grounds, the influx of nearly a half-million Sunni Muslims will greatly upset the delicate balance that exists, and with the myriad problems that go with it.

Neither the country's Shiites, represented by the powerful Hezbollah, nor the Christians of Lebanon would accept to keep the Palestinians in their country. A true settlement off the Middle East crisis will not be complete without a final resolution of what to do - or rather where to relocate - the Palestinians living in Lebanon.

4. And finally there is the issue of Israel's security, to which all parties concerned need to recognize.

And speaking of recognition, herein lies one of the problems. Some Palestinian groups, such as Hamas for example, still refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist.

So if everyone knows these issues inside-out, and they know the answers to these issues, why have the problems not been resolved? The answer: Too many roadblocks on the road to peace both figurative and actual.

The roadblocks to an Israeli-Palestinian accord are all too real in the sense that there are literally thousands of physical roadblocks and checkpoints dissecting the Palestinian territories, and making it impossible for a Palestinian from one part of the country to visit another part of the country without having to pass through at least two if not far more roadblocks.

And figuratively the mental roadblocks are just as present with one side teaching hate to their children and the other side telling their soldiers that the lives of Palestinians are not nearly as precious as their own.

That in a nutshell is part of the engine that drives the conflict: that generator of hate and disregard of the other side's right to exist as a human being.

Now the ingredients for war have never been too far-off in the Middle East, with the specter of renewed violence lurking in the shadows of the failure of the peace initiatives. It doesn't take much to reignite those embers.


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