The Mediterranean basin is poetic, rich in culture. It should also be peaceful. In the last 30 years Israel has signed a variety of full or interim peace agreements with virtually all its neighbors. The Middle East, however, remains a hostile environment. Perhaps it is time to recast the goal of peaceful coexistence in cultural, rather than strategic terms.

Now that some governments in developing countries believe they can bolster themselves by supporting terrorism and pursuing weapons of mass destruction, motivating societies to abandon violence and embrace peace has become critical. Such motivation comes from the social, political and cultural environment, and from the values emanating from the region.

While the Gaza disengagement is an important step forward, an attempt must be made to create a peaceful environment in the whole region. What we need is an ecology of peace.

When Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres were engaged in the Oslo process, a process in which I was very involved, Israel aimed to resolve the “Palestinian issue,” open negotiations with Syria and improve relations with Egypt and Jordan. The wider goal was to create a buffer against the common threats of extremism and fundamentalism emerging from Iran and Iraq.

This strategy did not suffice. Peaceful coexistence and cooperation did not get the required majorities from the various countries it needed to prevail.

But the world looks different today. Today an extremist Iraq no longer exists, and Iran faces heavy American and European pressure to discard terrorism and nonconventional weapons development.

Today we must focus not only on the creation of a coalition of common interests; we must be open to the winds of change that will bring with them a new climate for our region, one of peaceful coexistence and balance. If danger radiates from the East, opportunities are emerging from the West. If development emanates from the north, bridges can be built in the south.

I strongly believe that, in parallel with the Gaza disengagement, a more comprehensive approach to peace and security must include the transformation of a region that is ripe for it – the Mediterranean basin.

This basin consists of 22 countries. They have seen the birth of religions and civilizations that have created a cultural identity throughout the region. This common identity raises the prospects for a comprehensive Mediterranean peace.

The Mediterranean includes four conflict areas that require resolution: the Middle East, the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, and the Sahara. In practical terms, I propose an agreement on several key issues, orchestrated with the help of the United States and Europe, which in its south is part of this region:

the end of conflict between all Mediterranean countries, including the resolution of border conflicts according to international resolutions and agreements;

a pact against all forms of violence and terrorism in the region;

security arrangements along the lines of a Mediterranean partnership for peace with NATO;

full diplomatic, cultural and commercial relations between all Mediterranean countries;

economic cooperation to bridge the divide between weaker and stronger economies in the region, including the creation of a regional financial mechanism;

declaration of the Mediterranean Communities as a free trade zone, independently and with the European Union;

joint activity to ensure that our common natural treasure and resource – the Mediterranean Sea – is clean of pollution;

cultural exchange between all Mediterranean countries, including interfaith dialogue;

joint encouragement of Mediterranean tourism, particularly coastal and archeological tourism in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Egypt;

development of joint water, communication, energy and transportation infrastructure, including physical links between the Middle East and Europe;

an emphasis on youth empowerment, including joint youth arts and sports events – aiming, for example, at a joint Gaza-Tel Aviv bid for the Olympic games of 2020.

The Mediterranean basin is poetic, rich in culture and history, relaxed in nature, flavorsome and beautiful. It should also be peaceful. The communities of the region must strive to coexist peacefully, develop their economies in parallel and interact on a cultural level.

We’ve tried diplomacy in a vacuum. This time peace agreements must be backed up by broader strokes in the region, creating an ecology of peace.

(Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post)