Opinion Peace in the Middle East Still Needs the Americans

The French president has thrown parties for mortal enemies in the Middle East, and toasted himself as peacemaker. But as bodies and prisoners are exchanged this week it's clear just how hopeless the region has become. The process is waiting on Washington.

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But where's George?
AP

But where's George?

Many protagonists in the hopeless story of the Middle East met in Paris on Sunday. President Nicolas Sarkozy had invited them to the French capital to help establish his Union for the Mediterranean. Sarkozy seems happiest when entertaining himself, and because he needs an audience, he was only too pleased to pose with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, two men who presumably have good intentions in dealing with each other but who, for different reasons, are powerless to make any progress with peace.

The French president then patronizingly announced that Syria, represented by President Bashar Assad, planned to open an embassy in Lebanon, which he, Sarkozy, saw as a breakthrough -- thanks to his, Sarkozy's, ingenuity. Because the weather was nice and the occasion oh-so-pleasant, no one mentioned that Abbas and Olmert chat on a regular basis, and that Syrian intelligence likely has too many fingers, not too few, in Lebanon.

But by mid-week the Middle East was a hopeless place again. The exchange of corpses and prisoners between Israel and Hezbollah only emphasized the despair.

Hezbollah turned over to Israel the bodies of two soldiers kidnapped in Lebanon two years ago. Those kidnappings sparked a sudden and poorly conducted war that demoralized Israel. Although Hezbollah celebrated the end of the conflict as a victory, in reality it was little more than a refusal to accept the Israeli invasion without shooting back. After so many defeats in so many wars, though, the 2006 Lebanon conflict was a great success from the Arab world's point of view. Since then, Hezbollah has since become an even greater factor in Lebanon's political confusion.

On Wednesday, the bodies of two fighters were also returned to Hezbollah, as well as the prisoner Samir Kuntar, who the movement will celebrate as a hero, a man who spent almost 30 years in jail for their cause. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah -- who, understandably enough, rarely shows his face in public -- promised to emerge from his bunker and embrace Kuntar.

The U.S. Commitment

In the long history of unfathomable atrocities that are all too often committed in the name of a cause in this part of the world, Samir Kuntar earned fame as the man who beat a four-year-old child to death with a rifle butt.

There must be some third sentiment out there, something other than the bottomless cynicism it takes for a man like Nicolas Sarkozy to stage a party, with himself as the main attraction, as opposed to the absolute hopelessness one inevitably feels when corpses and prisoners are exchanged. But what could it be?

Israel will soon have a new prime minister (probably a woman). And Syria is interested in a better relationship with the West. But the United States has to be part of this equation, and it is waiting for a new president. Without a strong American commitment, the drumbeat for war with Iran will grow louder, perhaps even culminating in a new conflict, one with even more horrible consequences, not just for the region.

The small fragment of hope that remains after wars and exchanges of dead prisoners rests on an America without Bush. On America, that much-berated superpower?

Yes, America. Who else?

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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