G8's Middle Eastern challenge

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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Marianna Belenkaya) - The events in southern Lebanon will have dramatic consequences for the region and the rest of the world, especially in terms of energy security, the war on terror, and the dialogue - or rather, the lack of it - of civilizations.

The events are also a disservice to the G8 summit in St. Petersburg, where these issues stand at the top of the agenda.

Israel started fighting on two fronts - in Gaza and Lebanon - after the Hezbollah movement in Lebanon followed the example of radical Palestinian movement Hamas by killing seven and taking hostage two Israeli servicemen. Since then, dozens more non-combatants have been killed and wounded in Israel and Lebanon.

This is the most serious situation on the Lebanese-Israeli border in years, although this was bound to happen because smoldering conflicts inevitably slide into aggravations. Israel's unilateral withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000 and from Gaza in 2005 has not settled the Arab-Israeli conflict. We are witnessing a new escalation that can throw the situation in the Middle East 20 years back.

The responsibility for this rests squarely with the G8 leaders, especially the countries of the European Union, the United States and Russia as the Middle East Quartet of intermediaries and as members of the UN Security Council.

Events in the Arab-Israeli conflict zone are glaring proof that the international conflict settlement mechanisms have become obsolete and ineffective. The UN and its member states can no longer deal with the challenges facing them.

Many analysts wrote 15 years ago that the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of Soviet-American confrontation boosted the Middle East settlement. It can be said now that imbalances in international relations and Washington's lop-sided policies have pushed the Middle East and many other regional conflicts into a dead-end.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the deterioration in Gaza but before the escalation on the Lebanese-Israeli border: "It is difficult to say whether the UN Security Council could resolve the problem, as there is a deep divide over who is responsible for it, Palestinians or Israelis."

"The implementation of UN decisions taken decades ago to create primarily a Palestinian State and facilitate relations between Israel and Syria and Israel and Lebanon has been hindered in the last few years due to growing tensions on the Palestinian territories."

The international community, including the UN Security Council, seems to be impotent in the Middle East and in all other regional conflicts that have a global effect, notably Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

No one knows what to do, but it is apparent that a bloc confrontation policy and Washington's diktat have not resolved any conflicts so far.

"The past three years have witnessed a steady erosion in Washington's ability to bend the world to its will," Time writes (see: The End of Cowboy Diplomacy: Why George W. Bush's Grand Strategy for Remaking the World Had to Change, By Mike Allen, Romesh Ratnesar, the current issue of July 17, 2006).

According to the magazine, Bush's foreign policy is changing from unilateralism, including as regards North Korea, to multilateral diplomacy. It quotes a presidential adviser as saying: "It's a more focused foreign policy that is driven by realism and less by ideology."

It's never too late to say you're sorry. There may still be a chance for North Korea and Iran, but Iraq and especially the Middle East are probably past the point of no return. Israel, Palestinians and Hezbollah will not stop or make concessions now, and there is nothing intermediaries can do about it.

We can discuss who is to blame and who started it all, or Israel can (and should) pull out its troops. But this will not solve the problem until the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved without a doubt, or until the international community devises an effective mechanism for settling crises.

This is a formidable challenge for the G8 summit in St. Petersburg. Will the eight leaders offer anything new apart from traditional calls on the warring sides to act reasonably?

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