Ahead of her trip to the Middle East, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on 21 July 2006 blamed Hizbollah for the current crisis and announced that her trip is aimed at addressing the root cause of the violence in a manner that will not return the region to the "status quo."

The misguided assessment of who is to blame is an indication that the stated objectives for the United States’ top diplomat’s upcoming trip will be handled with a similar misguided understanding of the overall situation and, mainly, the conflict’s root cause.

The current crisis in Lebanon and the Occupied Gaza Strip is one episode in a series of episodes within the larger, unresolved conflict: Israel’s occupation of Arab land, including the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and the Sheba’a Farms. Israel’s decision for a military strike rather than diplomacy in dealing with this latest episode points to Israel’s desire to maintain the status quo of occupation, incarceration of Arab political prisoners and aggression against innocent civilians.

Rice must also bear in mind that past political and diplomatic effort to free political prisoners, in which the United States and international community participated, failed due to the intransigence of the Israeli government. Unless the issue of prisoners is resolved on a credible political level, other methods will be attempted in the hopes of securing their release.

Israel’s initial reaction in both Gaza and Lebanon may have been to retrieve the captured soldiers, but that was a step toward much larger pre-existing goals, namely the military, political and social destruction of the last two hold-outs for resistance to Israeli occupation, Hamas and Hizbollah, and the pacification of the occupied people.

Israel, as a superior military power, may succeed in the crippling of these two resistance movements and may even destroy them, but as long as the root cause of their existence, popularity, and support remains, other such groups will emerge. Thus if Rice wants an effective and ambitious plan to prevent a return to the status quo, as she called for, then the United States must finally address Israel’s occupation.

Secretary Rice’s televised comments on 21 July 2006 were correct in that conditions need to be created in order to achieve sustainable peace and that a cease-fire without a political context will not achieve lasting peace. And yes, no one wants to return to the status quo.

However, conditions for a sustainable peace are created through a credible diplomatic path, one where the international community – starting with the United States – refrains first from allowing Israel freely to destroy, physically and politically, a sovereign country like Lebanon and a helpless population under occupation like the Palestinians.

Unless Rice’s interpretation of the status quo shifts to not allowing the continued Israeli occupation rather than discontinuing the ability to resist occupation, her trip will fail and violence will continue.

Samar Assad is the Executive Director of The Palestine Center. This policy brief may be used without permission but with proper attribution to the Center. The above text does not necessarily reflect the views of The Jerusalem Fund.