TOKYO - An influential moderate from the Middle East is calling for Israel to drop its opposition to Asian Muslims being included in the United Nations peacekeeping force headed for Lebanon. Jordan’s Prince Hassan made his call in conjunction with a peace dialogue now underway among world religious leaders in Japan.
Jordan’s Prince El-Hassan bin Talal says more is needed than simply increasing the number of United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon.
Speaking in Tokyo to foreign correspondents Monday, the prince said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert should change his policy, and accept Asian Muslim soldiers as peacekeepers between Israel and Hezbollah, even if they come from countries that do not recognize Israel diplomatically.
“Despite the fact that Mr. Olmert expresses his dismay at Malaysians and Indonesians being invited, the fact that the United Nations’ forces are anyway not on the front line with Israeli forces…the presence of Asian Muslim countries in that context may actually work to reinforce the multi-cultural nature of Lebanon,” he said.
The United Nations is planning to deploy as many as 15,000 soldiers in Lebanon, half of them from Europe, as part of a plan to get Israel to withdraw from the Hezbollah-controlled southern part of the country and enable Lebanese troops to move in.
Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh, all with Muslim majorities, have offered troops for the Lebanon deployment, but none recognizes Israel, and the Olmert government has refused to accept the offers.
Hassan, the former Jordanian crown prince and the uncle of the current king, Abdullah, is considered an influential moderate and bridge-builder in the Middle East.
He says it was a mistake to exclude Syria and Iran from last month’s Rome Conference on stopping the fighting in Lebanon. The prince explained that the problems plaguing the Middle East cannot be solved unless Damascus and Tehran, which are major sponsors of Hezbollah, are included in the dialogue.
The prince is in Japan as moderator of the World Assembly of Religions for Peace. The four-day conference, being held in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto, is calling for leaders from all religions to help end sectarian strife and other violence in the world.