Propping up the peace process
A United Nations sponsored conference on peace in the Middle East took place in Cairo, reports Sahar El-Bahr
An international seminar held last week in Cairo, sponsored by theUnited Nations and the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was aimedat sensitising people to the question of Palestine as well as providingimpetus to and support for a dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis.
The international seminar, entitled "Reinvigorating the Peace Process:The Role of International and Regional Actors in Facilitating a Comprehensive,Just, and Lasting Peace in the Middle East," was organised by theUN Department of Public Information and included a speech by UN Secretary-GeneralKofi Annan.
In his speech, Annan observed that despite the improved political climatebetween Israelis and Palestinians, there had also been a slow but steadyincrease in violent incidents in recent weeks, underlining the fragilityof the moment. According to Annan, this reality makes it more urgentto take advantage of the spirit of cooperation and to maintain focuson the long-standing objective of a two state solution: a secure Israeland a sovereign, viable, contiguous and democratic Palestine, livingside by side in peace and stability.
Annan suggested that with help from regional and international partners,Israelis and Palestinians could prevent a slide back into conflict andconfrontation. And with a responsible media that refrained from myths,stereotypes and propaganda - an already volatile situation could beprevented from being inflamed further.
According to UN Under-Secretary-General for Communications and PublicInformation Shashi Tharoor, "The seminar is taking place at a timewhen recent events in the Middle East have raised prospects, and evenheightened the opportunity, for a peaceful solution to this long-lastingconflict.
Speeches delivered at the conference included those by Israelis, Palestiniansand Americans.
Ilan Pappe, Senior Lecturer of Political Science at Haifa Universityin Israel, argued that there has been no fundamental shift in the structureof the peace process, despite recent claims of a thaw. From Pappe'spoint of view, the ideal paradigm underlying the peace process shouldbe that of parity and equality, two sides equally responsible for theoutbreak of conflict, which are expected to share in the responsibilityto solve it. The reality on the ground, however, is disparity.
"First, it was the imbalance between the coloniser and the colonised,then the gap between the oppressor and the oppressed, and after 1967,it was the conflict between the occupier and the occupied. The peaceproposals, including those endorsed by the UN, reflected the tensionbetween the actual proposals and the realities on the ground,"he added.
Pappe suggested that what was needed now was a paradigm change. WithoutIsraeli acknowledgment of the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians carriedout in 1948, there was little hope for peace. According to Pappe, thosewho had carried out the expulsions must be held accountable. Finally,Pappe argued that the Palestinians and the entire Arab world must acceptthe presence of a Jewish polity in the midst of the region. "Butfor that to happen, Israel must decide to become part of the MiddleEast, not the front base of the United States," Pappe concluded.
Speaking about policies of the US, Aaron Davis Miller, president ofSeeds of Peace in Washington, and advisor to the past six US Secretariesof State on Arab-Israeli Negotiations (1988-2003) observed the US hasfailed to understand how the situation on the ground and the erosionof trust and confidence between the parties has been so damaging. Arguingthat the US had lost control of its policy to the Israelis, Miller suggestedthat another potential mistake was to have a world summit about theissue when neither party was prepared to do so. Negotiations had tobe based on a balance of interests, not on a balance of power, saidMiller.
Miller described three basic approaches that have governed thinkingabout peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. The firstapproach was the one that governed Arab-Israel negotiations for 20 years,the notion that a conflict-ending agreement was possible. "Thiswas the old game. Between1993 and 2000, the old game become much lessrelevant, it was alive but not well. Its failure gave rise to a secondgame; the interim game," he maintained.
Miller explains that the interim approach sought to implement an incrementalprocess to Israeli withdrawal and Palestinian statehood, such as theGaza withdrawal, limited redeployments, a Palestinian state with provisionalborders, and significant Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank. Ifthe interim approach failed, which he argued was most likely, then thetwo parties entered a final, dangerous approach: increasing demographicpressures, the fragmentation of Palestinian and Israeli politics andthe so-called "Mogadishu Syndrome," where the PA no longerhad political and security control.
Ghassan Al-Khatib, Minister of Planning of the Palestinian NationalAuthority, complained that one of the policies which was most dangerousto peace was the unilateral approach exercised by the Israeli government.This policy included the unilateral withdrawal from Gaza while simultaneouslystrengthening settlement expansion policies in the West Bank. "Israelwas turning Gaza into a big prison. All the talks to convince Israelto couple its withdrawal from Gaza with mainstreaming the movement ofgoods and persons between Gaza and the West Bank failed. Also, the withdrawalfrom Gaza should have been the beginning of the withdrawal of Israelfrom all the occupied territories," said Al-Khatib