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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor’s Letter: The Sussex teenager killed fighting in Syria

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Actor Zac Efron  

Keep your shirt on Zac – we'd all be better for it

Howard Jacobson
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit