Robert Skidelsky: A peace deal for the whole of the Middle East

There is a balance of power there for the first time since the end of the Ottoman Empire

Share

The endgame is in sight in the Middle East. It has been brought into view by the growing recognition that Syria and Iran have to be involved, not just in negotiating an Iraqi settlement, but in underwriting peace in the Middle East as a whole.

It is increasingly accepted that the American-British-Israeli policy of reshaping the Middle East by military force has failed. The Americans have lacked the strength and the will to subdue Iraq (much less create a democracy there); the Israelis have failed to destroy Hizbollah in the Lebanon (or indeed quell the Palestinian insurgency); the US has failed to stop Iran's nuclear weapons programme.

These policy reverses have knocked on the head the myth of American omnipotence. The US is still the most important actor in the Middle East, but it is not all powerful. The Islamic revolt has created a balance of power in the region for the first time since the collapse of the Ottoman empire. This means that any settlement of the interlocking problems of the Middle East, despite events such as the assassination of Pierre Gemayel in Lebanon, will have to be a negotiated one.

Policy has started to adapt to the new realities. The Baker panel, set up by President Bush following the midterm Congressional elections, is expected to recommend that the US should seek the help of Syria and Iran in ending the bloodbath in Iraq. Tony Blair has been strongly urging this too.

On the other side of the divide, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, exploiting his country's newly-won position as a regional power broker, has invited the presidents of Iraq and Syria to Tehran this week for a summit on Iraq. No doubt their talks will range more widely. If a way could be found of linking up these two initiatives, the way would be opened for that "whole Middle East strategy" of which Blair speaks.

Standing in the way is the Western insistence on attaching preconditions to any talks with "the other side". Iran must give up its nuclear ambitions; Syria and Iran must renounce support for terrorism; the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority must renounce terrorism as well as recognising Israel. This is completely unrealistic.

The renunciations which the West seeks should be part of the bargain eventually struck, not a precondition for talks. I doubt if Bush, Blair,and Olmert have yet accepted the need for a genuinely negotiated agreement. But that is the price they will have to pay for the failure of their policies.

The elements of a "whole Middle East" peace settlement are easy to see, though they will be hard to achieve. These elements include: a federal Iraq, with an agreed formula for sharing out the country's oil resources between the three main provinces; a fully-independent Palestinian state roughly within the 1967 borders, with an internationally-patrolled demilitarised zone along Israel's borders; a phased withdrawal of US forces from the Middle East in return for a guarantee of an uninterrupted oil supply; a nuclear free zone, without which Iran will never give up its nuclear ambitions (but Israel will have to give up its bomb as well); finally, a reactivation of the suspended customs union between Israel and Palestine, with a phased extension to Jordan and the Lebanon, and with a "Marshall Aid"-style programme to get it started, as happened in Europe in 1948.

The idea would be to hold an international conference to strike a grand bargain, once the various sets of separate talks have made sufficient progress. The secretary-general of the United Nations should invite the five permanent members of the Security Council and all the states and power-brokers in, or adjoining, the Middle East to take part in this conference.

The aim would be to achieve a legally binding peace treaty for the region, as an essential building block for an international order fit for our times.

Such ideas may seem crazily unrealistic. But sometimes crazy ideas are the only realistic ones: it is the cautious people who are the real crazies.

The scheme set out here is an attempt to join up initiatives and projects already germinating in a disconnected way. It seeks to take advantage of a moment in time when the United States retains considerable leverage in the Middle East, but not the ability to impose its will.

This is what makes a genuine negotiation and multilateral ownership of a settlement possible. Five years from now the balance will almost certainly have shifted further against the West, with the direst consequences.

The writer is a cross-bench peer and professor of political economy at Warwick University

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own