Highway for Peace Trucks

Beirut-Haifa-Nablus-Amman-AlDammam

 

 

By: Arif Alwan

ArifAlwan@yahoo.com

WWW.ArifAlwan.com/thewritwr.htm

 

Introduction

This proposal entails establishing a trade route. This will start in Beirut, go to Haifa in Israel, go down to Nablus in West Bank, and then go via Amman in Jordan. It will then cross the Northern borders of Saudi Arabia at Mujamma Al-Hadeetha then go to Aldammam and will end in Abu Dhabi.

This project has two goals:

1.      As this route would enable new trading relationships it would represent a tangible step towards real peace in the area.

2.      Currently the only export route to the East for Lebanon is through Syria. This gives Syria undue influence over Lebanon. These exports are worth $2bn a year. Creating an alternative trade route, which does not involve Syria, would significantly mitigate this influence.

We will illustrate the geographical details of the project along with the economical benefits to the five countries this route will cross.

To the best of my knowledge this proposal is relatively new at this critical stage in the Middle East peace process.  However, if someone else has proposed this idea, then this article should be considered as moral support for those who have long been trying to find ways for a real peace in the area.

Political Background

Comprehensive peace between Arabs and Israelis remains one of the most complex issues of our time. Denial of the existence of Israel looks like a ‘psychological therapy’ for Arabs. Probably, to justify their failure in achieving any kind of superiority over a small country that has established in the same period of time in which most of the Arab countries have been established.

A noticeable change happened in 1973, when Egypt signed a peace treaty with Israel after the war of 1973.  Jordan then signed a similar treaty in 1994. Yet, due to the lack of a comprehensive peace treaty tension and hostility between Arabs and Israelis still exists to this day and affecting the stability of the whole Middle East.  This stalemate has cast a dark shadow over the entire Arab world, including Egypt and Jordan, with the following implications: 

·         Totalitarian regimes have strengthened their roots in the area.

·         Political and then, religious fanatics have widened their influence throughout the area (and the world).

·         Huge amounts of money were allocated worldwide for defence and intelligence, instead of for social development or education, for instance. 

It is worth noting that after the war of 1973, as the machine guns have emptied its powder on the Egyptian and Jordanian borders with Israel, both countries returned their occupied lands and signed peace treaties with Israel. While the Syrian enjoyed a deep sleep next to their weapons for over 35 years, leaving the Lebanese front to be a great source of tense between Arabs and Israelis.

The question that needs to be addressed here is: Lebanon has neither a properly equipped army nor land occupied by Israel. How has such a country become a source of tension in a war against Israel, which it seems to have been dragged into?

The Lebanese have been dragged into a war that was imposed upon them.  The Israeli army entered the Lebanese territories on two occasions. The first was to banish the militia of PLO in 1982. The second was in response to the killing of a number of their solders and the kidnapping of two others by Hezbollah in 2006.  In the two incidents, Southern Lebanon and large parts of Beirut were severely damaged. According to Mr. Hassan Nasrullah’s speech on the 8th of May 2008, in the latter incident, 1200 Lebanese were killed and 200 thousand houses were destroyed, leaving more than a million people displaced.

[RH1] [RH1]The Lebanese economy depends heavily on exporting fruits, vegetables, honey, plastic and textiles to Arab countries like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE among others. The only available crossing points to this active market are located on the Syrian borders. This is due to a Syrian decree, supported by the Arab League, which forces Lebanon to stay in a war-like status with Israel.  Although Arabs are trying to believe that Syria is doing this for purely nationalistic reasons, this policy of rejecting the peace with Israel has two hidden benefits for Syria, namely:

·         Blackmailing the Lebanese government to give Syria a portion of its business transactions and investment projects.

·         Pressurising the Lebanese to submit to the Syrian dream of joining Lebanon to Syria.

Since Syria gained its independence in 1946, the Syrian borders have been closed many times to Lebanese hauliers, thus paralysing the trade movement.  Even under the rule of Mr. Kamil Shemouon, who is considered to be the most antagonistic towards Syria, as well as during Mr. Seniora’s cabinet, which is arguably the strongest in opposition to the Syrian regime, Damascus managed to get what it wanted by playing the border-closure card.  Thus, for decades Lebanon remains to rely on the Syrian borders for its exports. To illustrate, after the war between Hezbollah and Israel in July 2006, Syria was able to force Lebanon to allow Iranian weapons to be transported through its territory to Hezbollah via Syria. Not cooperating would have resulted in Syria closing its borders.

The Lebanese economic sector gets anxious every time Syria threatens to close its borders.

On the 22nd of June 2007, the Syrian vice president, Mr. Farooq Al-Sharaa threatened Mr. Seniora with the closure of the Syrian borders. This was unless the Lebanese government rejected the decision of the Security Council regarding the deployment of international forces along the Lebanese-Syrian borders, in order to prevent Iranian weapons being smuggled to Hezbollah. As a result, the decision was rejected.

 

Two unexpected developments

While working on this research, two significant events took place:

·         Mr. Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister unveiled a year long of peace talks has took place between Israel and Syria via Turkey, despite Syria’s denial of such talks.

·         After being put on-holt for more than six months, Syria gave its Lebanese ally the go-ahead to elect General Michel Sulaiman as President.

On the face of it Syria is working towards resolving the Lebanese crisis. However, this should not be seen as Syria conceding its control over Lebanon. I believe it is important to point out that, even if Syria accepted the Israeli condition of retracting its support of Hamas and Hezbollah, Syria still has other means to inflame the situation in Lebanon, whether there is cautious stability for one year or ten years. For instance, Syria has influence through Lebanese and Palestinian organisations, such as the Syrian Social Nationalist party (SSNP) in Lebanon, the Palestinian Liberation Front, which is a Syrian organisation with a Palestinian guise, Jund Alsham (Sham Soldiers), amongst other small Lebanese groups. Even if Syria claims that these groups are no longer active, Lebanon has no way of knowing this for sure.

In addition, even if Syria signed a peace treaty with Israel, it would not be in its interests to allow Lebanon to sign a similar one, as it would want to keep the crossing tariffs and other benefits flowing to the Syrian treasury, as long as the Lebanese remain dependant on Syria.

It is also worth highlighting that it is likely that Damascus has chosen the peace negotiation in this particular instance to free itself from the strategic coalition with Tehran, in which each party is obliged to stand by each other if subjected to military attack.  This means that Syria could be dragged into a war against Israel if Iran was attacked by the USA.

Accordingly, Lebanon will continue to be subjected to Syrian abuse and threats of blackmail as long as its crucial export points are under control.

The Suggested Route … Shorter and Faster

The Gulf States become upset when the crossing points on the Lebanese-Syrian borders are disturbed. In most instances, the Gulf States declare their dissatisfaction in various ways, whether in an official statement or by introducing initiatives that may help to overcome logistical problems.  On the 23rd of July 2005, for example, UAE announced its willingness to send cargo ships to Lebanon to transfer Lebanese goods that were detained on Syrian borders. This was to express their solidarity and support to the new government and an attempt to prevent the Lebanese economy from falling into a recession.  The same sources said that other Gulf States might follow Abu Dhabi’s example by sending private cargo ships to transfer Lebanese products to their final destinations in Iraq, Jordan and the Gulf.

In light of these positive gestures, we cannot dismiss the idea that fair and enduring initiatives could emerge from the Gulf States to resolve this problem.

Historically, there was a long coastal route linking Lebanon to Palestine and Egypt. The route was built by the Phoenicians and was later restored by the Pharaohs. The Romans then stone-paved it and this was later restored by the Bezants.  In those periods, this route has been used for trade and military purposes. At that time, Lebanese products such as cedar wood, honey and seeds were transported to Palestine, Egypt and the Arab Peninsula continuously. In the past, empires did not resort to closing the trade routes because such an action was considered to be morally wrong.

Yet, this route still exists and was partially restored to become suitable for transportation.

·         In Lebanon, the former PM, Rafiq Al-Hareeri built a highway between Tire and Beirut on top of the existing old route.

·         In Israel, the route was restored and a new coastal highway, which ends at Haifa has also been built in parallel to it.  The old route continues until the Israeli borders with Gaza.

Based on estimate calculations using Google Earth, I have found that the route currently used by Lebanese hauliers, which goes via Syria and Iraq to Al-Dammam in Saudi Arabia, is about 1849 km, while the suggested route is about 1427km, which is 422 km less.  Moreover, the current Damascus-Dammam route crosses two countries, Syria and Iraq, which are known for their unstable regimes. The suggested route is safer because it goes through stable countries with considerably higher moral standards governing their relations with their neighbours and the rest of the world.

Thus, the suggested route will head towards Haifa to pass Northern Nablus, down to Jordan and through King Hussain Bridge via road numbers (40, 25, and 60). It then moves down South, connecting to road number (85) at the Northern borders of Saudi Arabia and ends in Al-Dammam. From there, it goes straight down to Abu Dhabi in UAE (985 km), which is the same route used by the hauliers to get to the Gulf States.

Now, the question that an Arab country may raise is: Can Lebanese products be transported to the West Bank via Israel?

The answer is, simply, “Why not?”

Qatar has established normal relations with Israel without the need for a peace treaty. North Korea opened its Southern borders with South Korea to allow citizens from both countries to visit each other. It then allowed goods and humanitarian aid to cross the border, which again, occurred without a peace deal between the two countries.

In the case of Lebanon:

1.      It is legitimate for the Lebanese Republic to obtain a transit treaty with the state of Israel before ending the war status between the two countries. Any deal of this kind could form a positive step towards peace.  Israel, at the very beginning of its establishment, has already shown its willingness to consider giving the Arabs transit rights in the Israeli ports and to facilitate flexible trade movements for Jordanian products in Haifa.

2.      Peace treaties are usually made between countries that have military conflict on their borders.  Lebanese and Israeli armies never met head-on in the war of 1948, except in the incident of Malkia, a Lebanese village that was occupied by Israel.  In that incident, volunteers from the 3rd Sniper Regiment were sent to join other Arab forces in various battles. Then, during the cease-fire, several shooting incidents took place from the Lebanese territories towards Israel. The Lebanese army was not involved in these incidents.  It is believed that these attacks were launched by militias that Syria (and Iran more recently) was responsible for.

3.      The Security Council highlights these incidents in accurate documents.

4.      It is legitimate for Arab countries that have no borders with Israel to establish diplomatic relations with Israel without being involved in a peace treaty.  It is also acceptable to include Saudi Arabia and UAE because the suggested route will pass through their territories.  Furthermore, the current state of tension is the outcome of a hasty decision made by the Arab League, in which it considers all Arab countries in a war with Israel, to continue rejecting any kind of independence for the original habitants of the area and its fringes.

Accordingly, important Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Jordan courageously rejected the Syrian attitude of deteriorating the Lebanese sovereignty. 

The same countries, with putting aside the wrong inherited concepts about the relations between Arabs and Jews that has dominated the area in the past, could, again, support this promising project, because it would not only benefit Lebanon, rather it would be extended to the West Bank, Jordan, and the Northern parts of Saudi Arabia, as is explained in the next section of this research. 

 

Giant Investment Companies

The refrigerated trucks can travel from Beirut to Dammam (1527km) via Nablus in Palestine, in two days. This includes 8 hours of breaks for the driver at any of the 20 service stations that could be built on the route to Abu Dhabi. This would employ about 450-500 workers, or 25 workers in each service station on average.

The highway which, from now on will be known as the Beirut Line, passes through vast areas in 6 countries. Some of these are farmed by individuals, as in Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank, while other areas are still waste land, which could be utilised by digging wells and creating large farms, which could be established by Arab or foreign consortium investment companies.

The meadows and dales in Lebanon, Israel, the West Bank and Western parts of Jordan are known for their high fertility, and are used to produce fruit, vegetables, olives and various types of seeds. While the lands in Saudi Arabia and the East of Jordan are mainly flat deserts, with some rocky and solid areas that can be used to produce other crops, depending on the availability of wells and seasonal rains.

Consequently, the establishment of this transport route for goods and people will be beneficial to all participating countries. Eventually, it would also be conceivable for Egypt to join this project and to export its products via the Rafah-Gaza-Rammallah route and linking it to the Beirut Line at King Hussain Bridge.  Thus, Gaza will also be able to export its seasonal products, such as flowers, fruit and vegetables to the Gulf States.

In the past 10 years, the car industry has developed rapidly, achieving great advances in the fields of safety and luxury. This progress has boosted ‘family tourism’ between neighbouring countries in the Middle East. It is believed that this international route which would have modern facilities for passengers and hauliers would stimulate economic growth along the Beirut Line. Therefore, thousands of large families in the Gulf would tour Middle Eastern and Mediterranean countries by car, and vice versa, Mediterraneans would have another way to explore the Gulf and the Middle East.

Consequently, the Beirut Line would contribute significantly to strengthening various industries in the Middle East such as tourism, agriculture, insurance and other services.  This line could be as important to the area as the Rome-Switzerland and the London-Paris-Brussels lines are in their respective areas.

Two Implementation Forms

There are two ways to implement this proposed project.

1.      Each of the involved countries will construct its own part of the route according to international standards, while considering the elements that may be required such as bridges, tunnels, and so on, to make an uninterrupted transport link.  Each of these countries will then be in charge of maintaining the road in their territory and responsible for collecting tolls (if any) for certain periods of time.

2.      A large investment company or a consortium, whether local or foreign will be completely in charge of the construction and maintenance of the entire road from Beirut to Dammam, which would include the upkeep and ownership of the services alongside the road, according to international standards.  In this case, each country could introduce a small transit toll, until traffic levels become heavy and profitable enough for the transit toll to be standardised.

In both forms, the project could obtain sufficient financial support, on both a local and international level. It could be marketed as a development project that supports the ‘Arab initiative’ and the ‘Road Map’ towards establishing the independent state of Palestine.

Peace Treaties are not enough

Since the UN imposed a cease-fire on the Arabs and the Israelis in 1948, 17 initiatives were introduced to encourage peace between the two sides.  Of these only one was an Arabic initiative, which was proposed on the 21st of April 1965 by Mr. Al-Habeeb Bu Rgaiba, the former Tunisian president. This upset the Arabs and resulted in them cutting ties with Tunisia.  The Israelis introduced two peace initiatives which the Arabs also rejected.

In Beirut in 2002, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia introduced the first comprehensive peace initiative between the Arab nations and Israel.  This initiative was accepted by all the Arab countries including Syria, which later began undermining the project.  The project has also gained international support from the USA, Europe, Russia and China.

Israel was seeking ‘normalization’ with the Arabs in every peace initiative. This is an understandable because any peace treaty that does not have economic and cultural backing will not withstand the test of time.  In other words, those who would benefit more from war than from peace could eventually thwart this type of treaty in one way or another. Most, if not all of Syria’s economic benefits, regional relations and interior security are dependant on the no-war-no-peace situation with Israel.

Therefore, King Abdullah’s initiative took into consideration Israel’s need to be acknowledged, in addition to satisfying the Arab nations’ longing for peace and stability.

By launching his initiative from Lebanon, it is conceivable that the Saudi leader wanted to highlight the fact that Syria’s attempts to incite tension on the Lebanese-Israeli border, neither represents the Arab nations’ will, nor reflects their genuine desire for peace. This is despite the fact that the Arab league leader believes Ahmadi Najad’s call to eliminate Israel and naively hopes that the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah coalition will liberate Palestine. In light of these indications, I believe that the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and UAE will be able to appreciate the importance of establishing the Beirut Line across their territory for the following reasons.

1.      It would support King Abdullah’s initiative for peace in the Middle East.

2.      It would stimulate the economies of the countries through which the line would pass, in addition to creating thousands of jobs for people in the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon.

3.      It would ensure Lebanon’s independence.

 


References

·         ALESCO, Report 8th Jan 2008-06-15[RH2] [RH2]

·         Lebanese Daily Star http://syria-news.com/readnews.php?sy_seq=56861

·         Ibrahim Arab http://ibrahimarab.blogspot.com/2007/09/blog-post.htm

·         Arab League http://www.sfhty.com/sfhat.php?rkmalsfhh=11041&tid=25562

·         Arif Alwan, MEMRY http://www.arifalwan.com/article20.htm

·         Peace Initiativeshttp://www.moqatel.com/openshare/Behoth/Siasia21/Borkeba/mol11.doc_cvt.htm

Appendix

Syria’s Shaky dream to Lebanon

Syria claims that Lebanon was part of its territory, yet past as well as current history disproves such bold claims.  There is a distinct lack of unity between the two countries throughout history.  Conversely, the Lebanese (Phoenicians 3000-2500 B.C.) established a free state on the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, which later became the empire that conquered Northern Africa and Southern Europe.  At the same time, Syrian territories were captured by different empires that have invaded and occupied the remainder of the area between the period of Alexander the Great and the Ottoman occupation.  During that time, the Assyrians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Byzantines consecutively occupied Syria. 

The Arabs only entered Syria after the Islamic invasion in 636 A.C. when the fertile lands were distributed to the leaders of the Muslim army and the poorer quality lands were given to the solders.  This event was followed by large-scale immigration from the Arabian Peninsula to the new territories. 

The Phoenicians settled near the Lebanese coast and mountains due to the influx of immigrants arriving from the East of the Arabian Peninsula (3000-2500 B.C.). While the Assyrians- from which the name Syria has been derived, - came from Northern Iraq to conquer Syria and to add it to their empire (1800-699 B.C.).  Ultimately, they took all the dales surrounding Damascus, including parts of the coastal heights.  Hence, Syria was never independent before 1946, when the French withdrew from the area after World War II in 1945, which was when new borders were drawn to form the current map of the region.  

In the Old Testament, there is no mention of ‘Syria’, rather, it is referred to as the ‘Aramaic land’, while ‘Lebanon’ is mentioned 18 times.

As a matter of fact, nations usually reflect their people’s thoughts; therefore, some of them discount the parts of history that do not support their ambitions. Thus, they end up fabricating their own version of history. Syria’s claim that Lebanon is part of the Levant country is simply untrue, because Levant or ‘Sham’ is the Arabic name for Damascus. According to several references, this refers to Sam, Noah’s son who built Damascus. 

The social and cultural differences between the people of the two countries are apparent for the people who live there. One can easily distinguish the Lebanese by their Northern and Eastern Mediterranean cultural influences and the ability to reflect it in an innovative development.

Therefore, we should not be sidetracked by Syria’s claims about their relationship with the Lebanese, or pay too much attention to these unsubstantiated claims. It is unfortunate that these misrepresentations are all too common in the Middle East.  Instead, we will work on Lebanon’s weaknesses in an attempt to end this conflict.

 

 


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