Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1322, (1 - 7 December 2016)
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1322, (1 - 7 December 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Towards a Middle East peace conference

The arrival of Donald Trump to the US presidency presents an opportunity for a fresh vision for peace in the Middle East region, writes Mohamed Higazy

Al-Ahram Weekly

It’s now clear to all parties to the different Middle Eastern conflicts that none can achieve their goals through military means. The region is suffering from the collapse of the nation-state, the spread of terrorism, unprecedented human tragedy, growing numbers of dead and refugees, and unrelenting bombardment from all sides of civilian populations. This all amid heated overlapping international, regional and local interests, which compete to achieve conflicting goals.

All parties have realised that a zero-sum game should be avoided, and a political solution that guarantees each party limited gains, so as not to compromise the interests of other parties, forged. The conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya are similar in this regard.

A stable Middle East requires that regional powers Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Egypt agree on a set of principles that will safeguard peace and security in the Middle East and allow for dialogue and cooperation. These principles are based on good neighbourly conduct, non-interference in the internal affairs of other states as well as respecting the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of each other, political settlements of disputes and economic and cultural cooperation. The region needs its states to act responsibly before anybody else. Efforts must be dedicated equally to attaining political harmony and reconstruction at the same time.

A regional understanding between the main players is the only way forward, not the current practice of serving only national agendas regardless of the interests of others.

The breakthrough that happened in the political scene in Lebanon lately, following the presidential stalemate, suggests that regional players must agree and approve solutions and compromises. This regional approach to settling conflicts needs also to involve international players to harmonise their competing interests in the region. Local players can always find common platforms and compromises that safeguard their interests. The Syrian opposition groups proved that when they met in Cairo in June 2015, reaching agreements and understandings through a Syrian-Syrian dialogue.

Solutions to our crises in the Middle East require harmonising the collective interests of local, regional and international players. But before specific issues can be discussed, all players must agree on set principles to base their discussions on — a fair platform for all.

My concrete suggestion here is to call regional parties and international players to a comprehensive peace conference in a similar format to the one held in the city of Lausanne in Switzerland to discuss the Syrian crisis, or soon after in Paris to discuss the future of the Iraqi city of Mosul after defeating the Islamic State group. In both conferences, regional and international players were present along with the UN special envoy. The election of a new US president in Donald Trump might open new horizons for the war-infested Middle East. The president-elect can talk to the Russian president and both regional and local allies to come all together at one table, maybe under the auspices of the United Nations.

This comprehensive peace conference for the Middle East could forge a new vision for the region where common understandings are based on coexistence not conflicting interests.

All parties should come to this conference with a clear understanding that only part of their interests can be fulfilled. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt and Turkey ought to understand that potential political, economic and cultural commonalities and synergies that exist between these nations will only be cultivated when they talk to each other, understanding each party’s interests and motivations and most importantly, that interfering in each other’s internal affairs and attempting to impose regional hegemony was the cause of many of our conflicts.

The October edition of Foreign Affairs called for a conference for peace similar to the one that established the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 after the devastating 30 Years War in Europe, where all parties gathered to reconcile territorial claims, religious and sectarian differences, and economic interests.

In his speech in Beijing in July, during the World Peace Forum conference hosted by Tsighua University, Dominique de Villepin, former French prime minister and former minister of foreign affairs, suggested that it is only through regional cooperation and harmony that the countries of the Middle East and their international allies can solve their disputes and advance their future relations in all aspects. He also suggested that as coal and steel were the catalyst of European regional cooperation, oil and gas can be the common factor of Middle East regional cooperation.

Middle Eastern countries will need international support and auspices to arbitrate and help the parties bridge their differences. Europe and the UN can play this role.

On the other hand, President-elect Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin both are strong presidents and peace can best be struck between strong and visionary leaders. Nowhere requires their immediate cooperation more than the Middle East.

The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

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