Sunday, February 1, 2009

Progress for Peace?

Looking back at the first month of 2009, I’m feeling pretty good about the progress that has been made on several fronts towards peace. Sure, all of a sudden it’s en vogue to be hopeful thanks to Obama, but I’ve long considered myself an optimist. However as a practical peacenik, its also my job to look at the situation on the ground and the real prospects for peace, not just to hope it will be so.

2009 started off pretty rough with the escalation of conflict in the West Bank. And things are still very tenuous in the region. But despite the lack of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, I believe the engagement of the Obama administration from day one through their envoy George Mitchell is incredibly important. I don’t think that the US can fix the situation, nor that its our place to do so. The situation is far too complex for the US to believe it can swoop in and broker peace in the Mideast. But even Obama’s rhetoric is an important sign that the US is committed to being engaged in the peace process in pragmatic way. According to yesterday’s editorial in the Washington Post, “Obama has already recognized that closing an Israeli-Palestinian deal on a two-state settlement is not a realistic aim for now; instead, he has spoken of providing "a space where trust can be built." Even the ability to understand and speak about the nuances of the situation is an important sea change.

In the Great Lakes region of Africa, Rwanda finally arrested General Laurent Nkunda, Tutsi soldier who has been central to the atrocities in Eastern DRC. This weekend at a pre-African Union Summit conference, national leaders from the Great Lakes region hailed the arrest of General Nkunda. And described his arrest as a positive contribution to regional peace. Leaders also indicated that Lord's Resistance Army chief Joseph Kony is the next target. The improvement of relations between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo is critical to bringing peace to Eastern DRC and addressing the devastating impact of the conflict on people in that region.

Provincial elections were held in Iraq on Saturday and, according to the New York Times, “something has changed and that whatever happens next, Iraq will not return to the way it was.” The hope is that these elections will provide “a more peaceful approach to settling disagreements among factions about the shape of the country.” While I am skeptical about elections in a country still at war, the fact that these elections seem to have caused insurgents on both sides to quell the violence and participate in the elections is a very good sign. At a time when President Obama is looking to draw down US troops, a move that I agree with, peaceful and legitimate elections were critical.

What else has happened this month that has promoted or postponed peace?... We’d love your input