WHAT WE READERS ARE ABOUT
2009: THE INTERNATIONAL YEAR OF RECONCILIATION
Rene Wadlow,” Wadlowz@aol.com
The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed in Resolution A/61/L22, the year 2009 as the International Year of Reconciliation “recognizing that reconciliation processes are particularly necessary and urgent in countries and regions of the world which have suffered or are suffering situations of conflict that have affected and divided societies in their various internal, national, and international facets.” The Resolution was introduced by Nicaragua’s representative who stated that “reconciliation between those estranged by conflicts was the only way to confront today’s challenges and heal wherever fraternity and justice were absent from human relations.”
Yet we need to ask how can genuine reconciliation take place between people and groups with bitterly held beliefs and a violent history? How can the needs for national healing be reconciled with the demands for justice by the victims of terrible violence?
The General Assembly resolution gives a partial answer by stressing that “dialogue among opponents from positions of respect and tolerance is an essential element of peace and reconciliation.”
For there to be a respectful dialogue among opponents, certain barriers that prevent negotiations must be dismantled as a sign of a willingness to enter into a process of negotiations. Some barriers are physical, some psychological, others ideological. These barriers must be overcome if we are to progress on the long road to reconciliation. Let us, with the New Year, start now both as individuals and as members of movements in the spirit of the historian Howard Zinn’s “People are Practical”
They want change but feel powerless, alone,
do not want to be the blade of grass that
sticks up above the others and is cut down.
They wait for a sign from someone else
who will make the first move, or the second.
And at certain times in history
there are certain intrepid people who take the risk
that if they make that first move others will follow
quickly enough to prevent their being cut down.
And if we understand this, we
might make that first move.
…And if we do act, in however small a way,
we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future.
The future is an infinite succession of presents,
and to live now as we think human beings should live,
in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself
a marvellous victory.
THE WAR IN SIERRA LEONE
Prince Godwin korieocha, Ghers Zonensain, and Jihad Hamdi*
Sierra Leone, as a country recuperating from a decade long civil war in which most of the countries neighbors played a significant role, views of this an appropriate instrument to create regional partnership that will enhance peaceful co-existence of the countries in West Africa.
In Sierra Leone, like most other countries in West Africa, the youths are a marginalized set of the population struggling to gain prominence not only in their localities but also at national level in such matters as decision-making. Consequently, it has been extremely difficult for governments of West African states to give ears to the calls of the young people with regards issues of poverty, rape, suffering, hunger, HIV.AIDS ETC.
As the fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society for the 21st century, created by the largest global consultation process ever associated with an international declaration, endorsed by thousands of organizations representing millions of individuals, seeks to inspire in all peoples a sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the human family and the larger living world. This is an expression of hope and a call to help create a global partnership at a critical juncture in history.
As an authoritative synthesis of values, principles, and aspirations that are widely shared by growing numbers of people, the youths of Sierra Leone are working and guiding instrument of fundamental principles for building a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. I have also sought to inspire in the youths, opinion leaders, Community leaders, local government councilors, members of parliament and ministers, specifically the Minister of Youths, a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of the human family and the larger living world.
Another significant shortcoming that hinders the efforts of these youth groups is the lack of adequate resources to undertake programs that will improve stake holder participation in the process of adopting good governance. There is therefore the need to support all youth‚s groups in facilitating the domestication. Also, it would be worthy on the part of fostering youth inclusion and participation if our international partners recommend that third world countries like Sierra Leone will stand to benefit from international financial assistance only after the country has accepted and domesticated that peace is the answer of all the problems in the land.
It is only after the domestication of peace that other West African countries and other parts of Africa shall see vision of globalization of justice, sustainability, and peace. This will obviously lay the foundation for political and people-oriented globalization which will eventually engender economic globalization from which the rural poor in Africa will stand to benefit. Some of the current critics of globalization say that it disadvantages third world and under developed countries with low GDP at the expense of developed and wealthy countries. Thereby, wealthy countries are given an undue advantage that frustrates the overall development of third world countries rather than facilitating economic stabilization and growth. Consequently, issues such as the arms trade that promotes wars and chaos in Africa will become a thing of the past as globalization will be based on a just and equitable leverage in accordance with the concepts of peace For Sierra Leone, and other West African countries recuperating from war and violence, this new dimension in the activities of good massages will surely foster the post war/post violence reconstruction activities by opening the windows of a kind of globalization that will prove beneficial to Africa and less developed countries rather than promote the interest of the highly developed and industrialized countries.
Indeed there ought to be a renewed concept of globalization: one that promotes peace and facilitates the socio-economic development of the rural and urban poor and largely underdeveloped countries in the world.
The future of any country in the world depends on how it treats its youths. Unfortunately in most developing countries like Africa, this is usually not the case! I feel that any national and local development planning should focus on and involve the youths because that is when we can build sustainable peace. Young people should be given platforms to participate in decision making processes at all levels. Nigerian government and other Africans leaders should give youths a choice.
*Prince Godwin korieocha, Princegodwin1967@yahoo.com, email@example.com, African Peace Ambassador Noah’s Ark-International Peace project and & United Network of Young Peacebuilders Affiliate member, +2348023136481, Lagos Nigeria, +2348052102280; Ghers Zonensain, Director, firstname.lastname@example.org, Tel; + 972-9-7655662, 972-50-6911957, Ertzel 5/14 Kfar Saba, Israel 44444; Jihad Hamdi, Director, Rahimou51@hotmail.com, + 972-4- 6310650, + 972-509800453, Noah’s Ark-International Peace project for the improvement of friendship, -Harmony and Cooperation between all the countries of the world.
A Commentary on Gaza in Progress, and a Response:
CHANGING THE REALITY IN GAZA
Alon Ben-Meir,* January 5, 2009
Israel’s ongoing and decisive military response to Hamas’ continuing rocket attacks should have been anticipated by the organization’s leadership. Yet it seems they have badly miscalculated the Israelis’ sentiment and resolve. They have failed to realize that Israel cannot afford further erosion of its deterrence credibility especially in the wake of the summer 2006 war in Lebanon; that Israel views this conflict in its wider context of the future challenges from Iran and Hezbollah; and that future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations will not be conducted under the gun. Counting on international pressure to bring a quick end to the Israeli onslaught may also prove to be misplaced as Israel is now determined to never allow a return to the status quo ante.
It is nothing less than tragic that innocent Palestinian civilians are caught up in the middle of this and inadvertently suffering injuries and death resulting from the irresponsible behavior of religiously fanatic cult leaders who have long since they lost their moral compass. More worrisome is the reaction of many Arab government representatives, especially the Palestinian Authority, who publicly condemn the Israeli military response without even alluding to Hamas’ unilateral ending of the ceasefire, barrage of daily rockets aimed at Israeli communities and use of women and children as human shields. Privately the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, as many other Arab leaders, wish for the complete destruction of Hamas, yet never muster the courage to publicly hold Hamas responsible for putting their people in harms way while undermining the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to negotiate an agreement with Israel based on a two-state solution. It is understandable that the Arab leadership wants to end the Palestinian suffering in Gaza and needs to publicly appear sympathetic to that cause; hypocrisy however, will not stop future Palestinian suffering or end the bloodshed. The Palestinian people have suffered enough and the only way to end their misery is by insuring that Hamas emerges from this conflict as the ultimate looser. For as long as Hamas continues to openly advocate the destruction of Israel and other Arab states remain silent about it, the Palestinian people will be subjected, time and again, to the horror of war brought upon them by Hamas’ reckless leaders and Arab acquiescence.
Mindful of this, Israel must remain committed to ending the occupation. But to hasten that date the current conflict must be concluded in a manner that is conducive to the resumption of peace negotiations in a calm atmosphere. Short of toppling Hamas- which would be the ideal outcome, Israel must insist on the following measures before ending the hostilities aimed at Hamas’ leadership, infrastructure and military establishment.
First, Israel must compel Hamas to end its rocket attacks either by destroying its stockpile of rockets or by forcing its leadership to accept the Israeli demand without any recourse. Israel must not end its incursion into Gaza unless this objective is fully realized. This is particularly important as it sends a clear message to Hezbollah and Iran that the 2006 summer war was an aberration and that challenging Israel again will force its enemies to meet the same fate.
Second, to arrive at a sustainable cessation of hostilities Israel should welcome the stationing of international force composed primarily from Arab sates such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia and aided by monitors from the United States and given the mandate to use any force deemed necessary to prevent any violation of the ceasefire. The force should remain in the territory at the behest of the UN and can be removed only by UNSC resolution.
Third, Egypt in cooperation with Israel and with the help of the EU must bring a total end to the smuggling of weapons and munitions to Gaza from the Sinai. This requirement is a sin qua non to accepting any future ceasefire. Otherwise, as long as Hamas continues to be supplied with weapons Iran’s and Hezbollah’s influence will persist and it will be only a matter of time before the next conflagration.
Fourth, under the above three conditions to ease the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza on a permanent basis, the Israeli-Gaza and the Egyptian-Gaza border crossings should be reopened provided they are manned by Israeli-Palestinian Authority and Egyptian-Palestinian Authority respectively. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians can accept any thing less than that as Hamas’ authority in Gaza must be marginalized and having no say on border crossings provides a clear statement to that effect.
Fifth, to seek a breakthrough from the current breakdown, Israel and the Palestinian Authority must recommit themselves to an immediate resumption of the peace negotiations to bring an end to the occupation. In this regard, the Obama administration can play a significant role by leaning on the leading Arab states to bring all the necessary pressure to bear on Hamas to accept the Arab Peace Initiative and ask Israel to embrace it as well. This will also restore Palestinian unity between a Gaza and West Bank both under the control of the Palestinian Authority, which is critical to any effort to bring about sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies: email@example.com, www.alonben-meir.com.
AN ALTERNATE VIEW TO BEN-MEIR’S ON
ISRAEL’S REPONSE YO HAMAS BY MASSIVELY ATTACKING GAZA
Stephen M. Sachs, IUPUI, January 7, 2009
While I agree fully with Ben-Meir’s critique, in “Changing the Reality in Gaza,” of Hamas’s actions in restarting rocket attacks into Israel, including the group’s apparent failure to foresee the likelihood of Israel’s making a very strong response (and hopefully this was a miscalculation, and not a consideration of likely gain, if the Israelis did overreact), I take a very different view of how the reality in Gaza, and indeed the Middle East as a whole, is likely to be changed. Israel has a right to protect itself and its citizens from attack (as do all peoples, including the Palestinians). Because the Israeli attacks are so disproportionate to the Hamas attacks – with tremendous harm to innocent civilians, constituting serious human rights abuses – the odds are extremely strong that Israel’s Gaza offensive will prove to be counter productive.
If history is any guide, the Israeli offensive will only temporally set back Hamas, and will strengthen it in the long run. Further, even if Hamas were fully removed from Gaza as an organization, it seems unlikely that all rocket attacks into Israel from Gaza could be stopped by the current Israeli policy, which for a long period has failed to achieve that most desirable goal. Indeed, an unfortunate impact of Israeli overkill, is that it tends to justify the rocket attacks in the minds of many, and makes Hamas seem to be a legitimate protector of Palestinians.
To understand the problem, one needs to put it into the broader context of developing Israeli-Palestinian relations, as part of the web of interactions of the whole region. For a long time, Israel has been escalating its efforts to put down, counter and prevent Palestinian attacks on Israel and its legitimacy. Many of these actions have had short term deterrence effects, but the long term result has been to further and further radicalize more and more Palestinians. The Israelis hope that battering Hamas will strengthen a more moderate Abas, and the Palestinian Authority. I believe that it will turn out that the Gaza attacks tend to isolate Abas and the PA, as they are seen to be able to do very little to protect people, or bring peace. I understand the Israeli frustration. But the Israelis, and those who would support Israel’s legitimate aims of attaining peace and security, need to realize that while power, of which military force is one aspect, must be an element in politics and diplomacy, policies that consistently rely upon the stick, while offering very few carrots, can not succeed. Such a course generally does, and has in Israeli-Palestinian relations, created increasing desperation and anger within the Palestinian community. Moreover, it has contributed significantly to the rise of extremist forces throughout the Middle East, and beyond. This latest incursion into long repressed and tortured Gaza, increases the anger around the Middle East, strengthening militant anti-Israeli groups, and Iran, while weakening Arab governments that have been more moderate on the issue of relations with Israel. In the face of a rising Iran, significantly boosted by U.S. over reliance on military policy – and that badly carried out – in Iraq, Israel has a common interest in finding a reasonable peace, with many Arab nations, who have taken an initiative in that direction, begun by Saudi Arabia. The Israeli incursion in Gaza is seriously undercutting the possibility of reaching such a settlement, and unless the Gaza attacks are followed by a very different set of Israeli-Palestinian relations – that the odds are very strong that the attacks will not create – that possibility will very likely become more difficult to achieve. Furthermore, the actual and apparent human rights abuses tend to weaken support for Israel in Western countries, undermining Israel’s diplomatic, economic, and possibly even military, position.
What is needed is a new approach to the situation that builds peace, by providing many carrots, and holding sticks in reserve, to use with restraint, as needed. The building of the trust necessary to achieve peace is a long process, paved with many difficulties. As North Ireland’s long road to peace demonstrated, one cannot expect to end all violence in a single step, when there is such a history of mutual injury to overcome. The way is through finding ways to have less violence, by slowly building a basis for an active peace, and marginalizing the extremists. Good policing – and that is how it should be seen, even when military personnel have to execute it – has a necessary place in preventing and countering violence, but it needs to be carried out proportionately and judiciously. Peacebuilding, to be successful, has to bring people hope that they can live better. In North Ireland, the peace process brought with it an improving economy and rising employment, that helped the process to move forward and increase security. Since Oslo, the quality of life of most Palestinians has seriously declined. To achieve peace, Israel, the international community, and enough Palestinian leaders empowered (or emancipated) by the Israelis to do so, have to reverse that situation. It is to be hoped, that when this dark moment in Gaza ends – and the sooner that happens the better – enough people on all sides will be sick enough of destruction, to begin building something much better, before much worse tragedy engulfs the region, and likely the world.
AGE AND PUNISHMENT IN GAZA
My fiancé and I (Jewish liberal and Christian peace activist respectively) have been going around on this for days. Neither of us on just one side or the other. Of course we can’t solve it.
But yesterday I heard on the radio that the average age of the Gaza population is 17, lower even than that of Iraq (25), meaning probably a quarter of the population is in adolescence.
Having just emerged from a ten years’ long dark night with an adolescent family member, it occurred to me: If any of our fathers had ever hit us, because of what we were doing when we were a teenager, doing teenage things (in the sixties!), what would it have done to our attitude? How would we have reacted?
I know I learned early on as a parent of an adolescent that nothing I could have done (if it was violent punishment) would have fixed anything, solved anything, made him behave, or made him a better person.
The fact is, Gaza is not just Hamas, not just terrorism. It is a population that is probably at least 25% adolescents, with all the emotions and anger that brings. An adolescent poorly reared by his/her parents and surroundings is a problem with no easy solution. And now a similar problem Israel has created for itself in the form of Gaza.
PROTECTION OF EDUCATIONAL AND CULTURAL INSTITUTIONS IN TIME OF CONFLICT
A PROPOSAL TO UNESCO
Rene Wadlow, Wadlowz@aol.com
1) There has always been a close relation among human rights standards, humanitarian law and efforts to protect educational and cultural institutions in times of conflict.
2) The early efforts to protect educational and cultural institutions following the massive destruction in the First World War began in the 1920s by trying to find a universally-accepted symbol that could be placed on educational and cultural institutions in the way that a Red Cross had become a widely-recognized symbol to protect medical institutions and medical workers.
3) The need for such protection of educational and cultural institutions has been highlighted by the current conflict in Gaza. The Islamic University of Gaza was deliberately hit by six separate air strikes. The extent of the damage is not known, but there were no human casualties as the University had been evacuated. The Islamic University of Gaza was established in 1978 and has some 20,000 students, 60 per cent of whom are women. One of the buildings destroyed was the Ladies Building where women students attend classes. The other building was the science faculty. Science and the education of women are key elements in progress for the Middle East. The significance of the destruction of the Ladies Building and the Science Faculty must not be overlooked.
4) The American International School of Gaza has also been destroyed. The school offered a curriculum in English from Primary to the end of Secondary school. Some 250 students were enrolled in co-ed classes while most schools in Gaza are single sex institutions. The International School was empty when bombed, although the night watchman was killed. Again, the symbol of modern, co-ed education must be underlined.
5) A number of mosques have been destroyed. Places of worship are often considered by some as holy or as a symbol of the Divine or representative of the religion. Therefore, religious institutions should be protected, even if they have no outstanding artistic significance.
6) Tragically, UN-administered schools in which there were refugees, have been destroyed with a loss of life. Therefore, the Human Rights Council must build up existing human rights standards, humanitarian law, and the world law protecting cultural and educational institutions.
7) Humanitarian law – the Geneva Conventions and the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross are well known, especially by those working in Geneva. The efforts to protect cultural and educational institutions are less well known.
8) Early efforts for the protection of educational and cultural institutions were undertaken by Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947), a Russian and world citizen. Nicholas Roerich had lived through the First World War and the Russian Revolution and saw how armed conflict can destroy works of art and cultural and educational institutions. For Roerich, such institutions were irreplaceable, and their destruction was a permanent loss for all humanity. Thus, he worked for the protection of works of art and institutions of culture in times of armed conflict. He envisaged a “Banner of Peace” – three red circles – that could be placed upon institutions and sites of culture and education to protect them, as the symbol of the Red Cross is to protect medical workers and medical institutions in times of conflict.
9) Roerich mobilized artists and intellectuals in the 1920s for the establishment of this Banner of Peace. Henry A. Wallace, the US Secretary of Agriculture and later Vice-President was an admirer of Roerich and helped to have an official treaty introducing the Banner of Peace – the Roerich Peace Pact- signed at the White House on 15 April 1935 by 21 States in a Pan-American Union ceremony. At the signing, Henry Wallace on behalf of the USA said “At no time has such an ideal been more needed. It is high time for the idealists who make the reality of tomorrow, to rally around such a symbol of international cultural unity. It is time that we appeal to that appreciation of beauty, science, education which runs across all national boundaries to strengthen all that we hold dear in our particular governments and customs. Its acceptance signifies the approach of a time when those who truly love their own nation will appreciate in addition the unique contributions of other nations and also do reverence to that common spiritual enterprise which draws together in one fellowship all artists, scientists, educators and truly religious of whatever faith.
10) After the Second World War, UNESCO has continued the effort, and there have been additional conventions on the protection of cultural and educational bodies in times of conflict, such as The Hague Convention of May, 1954 though no universal symbol as proposed by Nicholas Roerich has been developed.
11) Therefore the Human Rights Council has a duty to articulate more clearly the crucial link among human rights standards, humanitarian law, and world law to protect educational and cultural institutions in times of conflict. As Nicholas Roerich said in a presentation of his Pact “The world is striving toward peace in many ways, and everyone realizes in his heart that this constructive work is a true prophesy of the New Era. We deplore the loss of the libraries of Louvain and Oviedo and the irreplaceable beauty of the Cathedral of Rheins. We remember the beautiful treasures of private collections which were lost during world calamities. But we do not want to inscribe on these deeds any words of hatred. Let us simply say: Destroyed by human ignorance – rebuilt by human hope.”
WHERE IS ISRAEL GOING?
Source: Israeli Policy Forum (http://www.israelpolicyforum.org), January 2, 2009. This abridged article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Israel Policy Forum for publication.
These are terrible days for those of us who long to see Israel finally accepted by its neighbours. At a time when all 22 Arab states have offered Israel peace and normalisation in exchange for the territories occupied in 1967, this war could destroy that possibility once and for all.
No, that does not mean that I question Israel‚s right to respond to the rocket onslaught from Gaza. Of course, it has that right. Any country has the right, even the obligation, to respond militarily to thugs who rain down thousands of rockets on its people, leaving its children quaking in terror. The question is not whether Israel has the right, but whether exercising it this way is right.
For Israel, the only right response is the one that will bring it closer to the security it will only have when it is accepted by its neighbours. Some argue that this attack on Hamas will indeed accomplish that. Eliminate the fanatics, they say, and Israel can make peace with the moderates.
But, Israel is incapable of even dealing with its own crazies. Under conditions infinitely more comfortable than those of Gaza, Israeli lunatics ˆ settlers who attack children and burn down olive groves ˆ have become significant political players. In Israel, it is impossible to form a government without the crazies. How can anyone imagine it possible to bomb Hamas into moderation?
One thing is certain: this war is unlikely to bring peace any closer. In fact, I believe that the pictures Arabs and Muslims worldwide are seeing of the attacks on Gaza may push that day so far into the future that none of us will see it.
And, no, it‚s not relevant that Hamas kills children too or that it does it intentionally and Israel does it by accident. The standard that applies to Hamas is not the one to apply to a civilised state, a member of the United Nations, and an ally of the United States and the West. Israel is not Libya, but the state created by Jewish idealists and humanists seeking not regional domination but a Jewish refuge. It is that refuge that is now compromised.
Just a few years ago, Israel was close to achieving virtually universal acceptance.
Some of Israel‚s most vocal supporters want us to forget that. They cling to the idea that „the world has always hated Israel‰ (and the Jews), rejecting as irrelevant the idea that Palestinian statelessness is at the root of the problem.
They reject that fact because it suggests that Israel is in charge of its own destiny. It can determine where it stands in the eyes of the world, and especially the Arab world, by changing its relationship with the Palestinians.
How do I know that? Because it happened once before.
Following Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin‚s decision to recognise both the PLO and the Palestinians‚ right to a state in the West Bank and Gaza, nine non-Arab Muslim states and 32 of the 43 Sub-Saharan African states established relations with Israel. India and China, the two largest markets in the world, opened trade relations. Jordan signed a peace treaty and several of the emirates began quiet dealings with Israel.
The Arab boycott ended. Foreign investment soared. Israel‚s isolation appeared to be over.
The most graphic demonstration of Israel‚s changed international standing occurred at Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin‚s funeral in 1995.
Leaders from virtually every nation on earth came to pay homage to Rabin. From President Clinton and Prince Charles to President Hosni Mubarak, King Hussein, and the leaders of every country in Europe, most of Africa and Asia (including India and China), Latin America, Turkey, Morocco, Mauritania, Oman, Qatar, and Tunisia. Yasir Arafat wept at Leah Rabin‚s apartment in Tel Aviv.
The world mourned Rabin because under him, Israel had embraced the cause of peace with the Palestinians. The homage to Rabin was a clear demonstration – as was the opening of trade and diplomatic relations with formerly hostile states -ˆ that Israel was not being isolated because it is a Jewish state, but because of its conflict with the Palestinians.
Once Rabin moved to end the conflict, he ended Israel‚s isolation as well. (If the problem was undying Jew-hatred, Rabin‚s opening to the Palestinians would not have affected Israel‚s standing).
We need to remember this as the hard-liners insist that anti-Israel sentiment is unconnected with anything Israel does. That is simply not true. Even Ariel Sharon, hated more than any Israeli by most Arabs and Muslims, saw his image transformed overnight when he moved to relinquish Gaza. He actually received an ovation at the United Nations, leaving the old man in shock.
So the questions have to be asked. Does the Gaza war improve Israel‚s long-term (or even short-term) situation? Might it not have been better to induce Hamas to stop the shelling by ending the blockade Israel imposed back when Hamas won the Palestinian election?
Was it right to insist that Hamas accept Israel in advance of negotiations rather than simply push for a total and absolute cessation of violence and blockade, followed by negotiations? Could Israel realistically expect the cease-fire to hold while Gaza remained under siege, rife with hunger, illness, and joblessness? And freezing cold. (Even during the cease-fire, Israel was turning on Gaza‚s heat and electricity only a few hours a day).
Again, I am not questioning Israel’s right to respond. But that is the wrong question. The right question to ask is why it came to this. And to ask ourselves if supporting the continuation of this war ˆ rather than an immediate cease-fire ˆ will do Israel more harm than good.
*M.J. Rosenberg is the Director of Israel Policy Forum’s Washington Policy Center.
PALESTINIANS HAVE THE KEYS
Ghassan Michel Rubeiz*
This article first appeared in Washington Post/Newsweek’s On Faith and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews: www.commongroundnews.org), who distributed it with permission to publish.
As the war of Gaza worsens, the prospects for peace look grim today. But crises can be turned into opportunities by visionary eyes, caring hearts and thoughtful minds. The cycle of violence may continue for some time. But ultimately, Israelis and Palestinians will have to think outside the box in order to achieve a just and peaceful resolution to their conflict. This could take months, years or decades.
If Palestinians unite in their resistance and organise for peace and democracy, they could inspire Israelis to end the occupation. In the face of a nonviolent Palestinian struggle of civic, legal and political liberation, Israel would quickly lose its capacity to sustain a military occupation.
The kind of peaceful resistance that would end the occupation by softening the attitudes of the occupier, shifting the opinion of the international community and strengthening the Israeli peace camp is unlimited in scope: e.g. labour strikes, massive demonstrations, interfaith advocacy, student protest, women-solidarity marches, peace camp rallies involving Israelis, political theatre and parent protests.
Those Palestinians who support leadership that does not believe in the existence of Israel tempt extreme or opportune Israeli leaders to think of unthinkable alternatives to the status-quo, such as the ongoing ruthless assault in Gaza, forced Arab emigration, ethnic cleansing or displacement to Jordan.
Israel needs an Obama-like leader to stimulate hope in people; instead, Israel entertains the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu, a status-quo politician, returning to power. Similarly, Palestinians need a Mandela-like leader to anchor the struggle on co-existence; what they have now are short-sighted leaders.
While Americans have elected Obama in hopes that he will take a new approach to resolving domestic and international conflicts, the results of the Israeli election on 10 February 2009 may not reflect the will of a population ready for change. Israelis appear comfortable, or at least not compelled to change, when it comes to their continued settlement expansion ˆ in the West Bank and East Jerusalem ˆ and building a monumental exclusive wall to handle a threatening, albeit ineffective Palestinian resistance.
The Gaza war may be a game-changing political development with an impact on the coming Israeli national elections and the future relations between the Arab world and Israel. The Gaza war is reinforcing Palestinian and Arab doubt in Israel‚s willingness to relinquish the occupied territories in exchange for peace.
Regrettably, today, Palestinians are poorly led, war fatigued and too ideologically divided to plan creative solutions for ending the occupation of their land. To gain decisive power in negotiating peace with Israel, Palestinians must unite, commit to civic struggle and govern democratically. By establishing one authority in Gaza and another in the West Bank in 2007, Palestinians weakened their negotiating power. By settling their internal conflict with force, Palestinians unwittingly send a message to Israel that force is the „language‰ of the region.
Palestinians need more friends in Israel to activate the engines of reconciliation. For most Israelis, peacemaking is risk taking. Israeli public sentiment is key for peace. As long as Israelis lack trust in others, their steps to peace falter. When Palestinians are divided, they limit the chances for Israeli moderates to lobby for reconciliation, compromise and concessions. When Palestinians fight each other, they offer extreme Israeli politicians an excuse, if not a rationale, to advocate shelving the peace process.
Neither side of the conflict is on the side of angels. Some Palestinians dream of re-possessing Palestine through rapid demographic growth, and some Israelis dream of ethnic cleansing. Without intending to do so, extremes on both sides are working to fulfil each others‚ nightmares.
As the Gaza war expands and as the images of civilian casualties are repeatedly displayed on the TV screen, Hamas popularity will be boosted among Palestinians. Similarly, as Hamas continues to shell rockets on civilians and rejects Israel‚s existence, it offers extremists in Israel a chance to regain power and continue the rule of force.
The key to the Palestinian struggle for justice is peaceful and well organised resistance against the occupation. As Israelis get the message that the occupation is the only barrier to peace, moderates will take over from the extremists in defending the true interest of their state: security through co-existence.
*Dr. Ghassan Michel Rubeiz (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Arab American commentator and former Secretary of the Middle East for the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.
SYRIA AND ISRAEL: KEEP THEM TALKING
Bilal Y. Saab and Bruce Riedel, “Syria and Israel: keep them talking”*
This article first appeared in Ha’aretz and was written for the Common Ground News Service, who distributed it with permission to publish.
The indirect negotiations between Syria and Israel that began last May have gone as far as they can. Their purpose ˆ to break the ice between the two states after eight years of not talking, and to test one another’s resolve over certain issues ˆ has been achieved. Now, Syrian President Bashar Assad wants to move forward, as evidenced in his proposal to Israel for direct peace talks, which he introduced last week at a four-way summit in Damascus involving Syria, Turkey, France and Qatar.
But Assad knows there are still two big uncertainties surrounding the prospects of an historic peace deal with the Israelis: the position of the next U.S. administration and the results of a possible Israeli election. While Assad is grateful for the role Turkey has played so far in hosting four rounds of negotiations (a fifth is scheduled for September 18-19, according to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan), and for France’s pledge of help in any direct Syrian-Israeli talks, he is only interested in a peace agreement with Israel if it is mediated by the United States.
An agreement endorsed by Washington would not only guarantee the return of the Golan to Syria (in exchange for a long-term security deal with Israel), but also, and perhaps more significantly, end Syria’s isolation in the world. The most important lesson Bashar Assad learned from his father is that good relations with Washington, more than any other foreign capital, serve Syria’s strategic interests. But, until a new U.S. administration is in place, he knows there’s little point in proceeding with the direct negotiations he’s proposing.
Uncertainties besiege the Israeli home front, too, and Assad is waiting for the future of Israel’s government to be decided for assurance that the next prime minister will be on the same track as Ehud Olmert.
So between now and the election of an American president in November, and the selection of a new Israeli prime minister some time in the next half year, it’s a delicate waiting game for Syria and Israel. In the meantime, however, tensions between Syria and Israel remain high, even two years after the inconclusive conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. Israel has remained deeply concerned about Syria’s role in rearming the Shi’ite militant group in anticipation of a second round.
Senior Israeli defence officials believe that with their current deployment, the Syrians would be able to airdrop commandos into the Golan and take over several hills there within hours. To prepare for this eventuality, Israel recently launched large-scale military exercises with live ammunition in the Heights. “There is reinforcement on the other side,” said Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who closely observed the drills. “It’s not by chance that we are training intensively on a major scale.” In response to the drills, Syria immediately put its military on high alert.
From a military perspective, it is unlikely that Syria and Israel would embark on an all-out war in the short or medium term. Despite Syria’s recent upgrade of its air- and coastal-defence systems, its acquisition of the most advanced anti-tank hardware from Moscow, and its development of asymmetrical fighting capabilities, its military is still no match for the Israel Defence Forces. The Syrian leadership is fully aware that any direct military encounter between the two states would result in a clear Israeli victory.
While Israel may have no big concerns about a conventional military confrontation with Syria, it does worry about the latter’s stockpile of chemical and biological weapons (CBW) and its surface-to-surface missiles. Syria has been developing its CBW capability since the 1980s and has gained the capacity in recent years to launch large numbers of medium and long-range rockets. If tipped with chemical or biological warheads, these rockets could cause significant damage and terror in Israel.
Do these military considerations rule out any chance of war, then? Not necessarily. Conflict between the two countries could still occur over a miscalculation or a misinterpretation. Not since the early 1980s has there been such danger of escalation should one side mistake the other’s intention.
To avert any dangerous miscalculations, Israel and Syria need to keep meeting and talking. As long as the situation on the ground remains volatile, the indirect negotiations still under way in Turkey are important, because they reduce the risks of misinterpretation and misunderstanding between the two states. This is the real value of the role Turkey has been playing to date.
*Bilal Y. Saab, Research Analyst, Saban Center for Middle East Policy Bruce Riedel, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy.
MEMO FOR OBAMA
Uri Avnery, December 6. 2008
This article was published in the current issue of the progressive Jewish-American monthly TIKKUN, and is republished with permission of the author.
For: the President-Elect, Mr. Barack Obama.
From: Uri Avnery, Israel.
The following humble suggestions are based on my 70 years of experience as an underground fighter, special forces soldier in the 1948 war, editor-in-chief of a newsmagazine, member of the Knesset and founding member of a peace movement:
- (1) As far as Israeli-Arab peace is concerned, you should act from Day One.
(2) Israeli elections are due to take place in February 2009. You can have an indirect but important and constructive impact on the outcome, by announcing your unequivocal determination to achieve Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian and Israeli-all-Arab peace in 2009.
(3) Unfortunately, all your predecessors since 1967 have played a double game. While paying lip service to peace, and sometimes going through the motions of making some effort for peace, they have in practice supported our governments in moving in the very opposite direction. In particular, they have given tacit approval to the building and enlargement of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian and Syrian territories, each of which is a land mine on the road to peace.
(4) All the settlements are illegal in international law. The distinction sometimes made between “illegal” outposts and the other settlements is a propaganda ploy designed to obscure this simple truth.
(5) All the settlements since 1967 have been built with the express purpose of making a Palestinian state – and hence peace – impossible, by cutting the territory of the prospective State of Palestine into ribbons. Practically all our government departments and the army have openly or secretly helped to build, consolidate and enlarge the settlements – as confirmed by the 2005 report prepared for the government (!) by Lawyer Talia Sasson.
(6) By now, the number of settlers in the West Bank has reached some 250,000 (apart from the 200,000 settlers in the Greater Jerusalem area, whose status is somewhat different.) They are politically isolated, and sometimes detested by the majority of the Israel public, but enjoy significant support in the army and government ministries.
(7) No Israeli government would dare to confront the concentrated political and material might of the settlers. Such a confrontation would need very strong leadership and the unstinting support of the President of the United States to have any chance of success.
(8) Lacking these, all “peace negotiations” are a sham. The Israeli government and its US backers have done everything possible to prevent the negotiations with both the Palestinians and the Syrians from reaching any conclusion, for fear of provoking a confrontation with the settlers and their supporters. The present “Annapolis” negotiations are as hollow as all the preceding ones, each side keeping up the pretense for its own political interests.
(9) The Clinton administration, and even more so the Bush administration, allowed the Israeli government to keep up this pretense. It is therefore imperative to prevent members of these administrations from diverting your Middle Eastern policy into the old channels.
(10) It is important for you to make a complete new start, and to state this publicly. Discredited ideas and failed initiatives – such as the Bush “vision”, the Road Map, Annapolis and the like – should by thrown into the junkyard of history.
(11) To make a new start, the aim of American policy should be stated clearly and succinctly. This should be: to achieve a peace based on the Two-State Solution within a defined time-span (say by the end of 2009).
(12) It should be pointed out that this aim is based on a reassessment of the American national interest, in order to extract the poison from American-Arab and American-Muslim relations, strengthen peace-oriented regimes, defeat al-Qaeda-type terrorism, end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and achieve a viable accommodation with Iran.
(13) The terms of Israeli-Palestinian peace are clear. They have been crystallized in thousands of hours of negotiations, conferences, meetings and conversations. They are:
- A sovereign and viable State of Palestine will be established side by side with the State of Israel.
- The border between the two states will be based on the pre-1967 Armistice Line (the “Green Line”). Insubstantial alterations can be arrived at by mutual agreement on an exchange of territories on a 1:1 basis.
- East Jerusalem, including the Haram-al-Sharif (“Temple Mount”) and all Arab neighborhoods will serve as the capital of Palestine. West Jerusalem, including the Western Wall and all Jewish neighborhoods, will serve as the capital of Israel. A joint municipal authority, based on equality, may be established by mutual consent to administer the city as one territorial unit.
- All Israeli settlements – except any which might be joined to Israel in the framework of a mutually agreed exchange of territories – will be evacuated (see 15 below).
- Israel will recognize in principle the right of the refugees to return. A Joint Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, composed of Palestinian, Israeli and international historians, will examine the events of 1948 and 1967 and determine who was responsible for what. Each individual refugee will be given the choice between (1) repatriation to the State of Palestine, (2) remaining where he/she is living now and receiving generous compensation, (3) returning to Israel and being resettled, (4) emigrating to any other country, with generous compensation. The number of refugees who will return to Israeli territory will be fixed by mutual agreement, it being understood that nothing will be done that materially alters the demographic composition of the Israeli population. The large funds needed for the implementation of this solution must be provided by the international community in the interest of world peace. This will save much of the money spent today on military expenditure and direct grants from the US.
- The West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip constitute one national unit. An extraterritorial connection (road, railway, tunnel or bridge) will connect the West Bank with the Gaza Strip.
- Israel and Syria will sign a peace agreement. Israel will withdraw to the pre-1967 line and all settlements on the Golan Heights will be dismantled. Syria will cease all anti-Israeli activities conducted directly or by proxy. The two parties will establish normal relations between them.
- In accordance with the Saudi Peace Initiative, all member states of the Arab League will recognize Israel and establish normal relations with it. Talks about a future Middle Eastern Union, on the model of the EU, possibly to include Turkey and Iran, may be considered.
(14) Palestinian unity is essential for peace. Peace made with only one section of the people is worthless. The US will facilitate Palestinian reconciliation and the unification of Palestinian structures. To this end, the US will end its boycott of Hamas, which won the last elections, start a political dialogue with the movement and encourage Israel to do the same. The US will respect any result of democratic Palestinian elections.
(15) The US will aid the government of Israel in confronting the settlement problem. As from now, settlers will be given one year to leave the occupied territories voluntarily in return for compensation that will allow them to build their homes in Israel proper. After that, all settlements – except those within any areas to be joined to Israel under the peace agreement – will be evacuated.
(16) I suggest that you, as President of the United States, come to Israel and address the Israeli people personally, not only from the rostrum of the Knesset but also at a mass rally in Tel-Aviv’s Rabin Square. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt came to Israel in 1977, and, by addressing the Israeli people directly, completely changed their attitude towards peace with Egypt. At present, most Israelis feel insecure, uncertain and afraid of any daring peace initiative, partly because of a deep distrust of anything coming from the Arab side. Your personal intervention, at the critical moment, could literally do wonders in creating the psychological basis for peace.
MIDDLE EAST PRIORITIES FOR JANUARY 21
Brent Scowcroft and Zbigniew Brzezinski*
Source: The Washington Post, 21 November 2008, (www.washingtonpost.com), distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the co-authors for republication.
The election of Barack Obama to be the 44th president is profoundly historic. We have at long last been able to come together in a way that has eluded us in the long history of our great country. We should celebrate this triumph of the true spirit of America.
Election Day celebrations were replicated in time zones around the world, something we have not seen in a long time. While euphoria is ephemeral, we must endeavour to use its energy to bring us all together as Americans to cope with the urgent problems that beset us.
When Obama takes office in two months, he will find a number of difficult foreign policy issues competing for his attention, each with strong advocates among his advisers. We believe that the Arab-Israeli peace process is one issue that requires priority attention.
In perhaps no other region was the election of Obama more favourably received than the Middle East. Immediate attention to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would help cement the goodwill that Obama’s election engendered. Not everyone in the Middle East views the Palestinian issue as the greatest regional challenge, but the deep sense of injustice it stimulates is genuine and pervasive.
Unfortunately, the current administration’s intense efforts over the past year will not resolve the issue by 20 January. But to let attention lapse would reinforce the feelings of injustice and neglect in the region. That could spur another eruption of violence between the warring parties or in places such as Lebanon or Gaza, reversing what progress has been made and sending the parties back to square one. Lurking in the background is the possibility that the quest for a two-state solution may be abandoned by the Palestinians, the Israelis, or both — with unfortunate consequences for all.
Resolution of the Palestinian issue would have a positive impact on the region. It would liberate Arab governments to support U.S. leadership in dealing with regional problems, as they did before the Iraq invasion. It would dissipate much of the appeal of Hezbollah and Hamas, dependent as they are on the Palestinians’ plight. It would change the region’s psychological climate, putting Iran back on the defensive and putting a stop to its swagger.
The major elements of an agreement are well known. A key element in any new initiative would be for the U.S. president to declare publicly what, in the view of this country, the basic parameters of a fair and enduring peace ought to be. These should contain four principal elements: 1967 borders, with minor, reciprocal and agreed-upon modifications; compensation in lieu of the right of return for Palestinian refugees; Jerusalem as real home to two capitals; and a non-militarised Palestinian state.
Something more might be needed to deal with Israeli security concerns about turning over territory to a Palestinian government incapable of securing Israel against terrorist activity. That could be dealt with by deploying an international peacekeeping force, such as one from NATO, which could not only replace Israeli security but train Palestinian troops to become effective.
To date, the weakness of the negotiating parties has limited their ability to come to an agreement by themselves. The elections in Israel scheduled for February are certainly a complicating factor, as is the deep split among Palestinians between Fatah and Hamas. But if the peace process begins to gain momentum, it is difficult to imagine that Hamas will want to be left out, and that same momentum would provide the Israeli people a unique chance to register their views on the future of their country.
This weakness can be overcome by the president speaking out clearly and forcefully about the fundamental principles of the peace process; he also must press the case with steady determination. That initiative should then be followed — not preceded — by the appointment of a high-level dignitary to pursue the process on the president’s behalf, a process based on the enunciated presidential guidelines. Such a presidential initiative should instantly galvanise support, both domestic and international, and provide great encouragement to the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
To say that achieving a successful resolution of this critical issue is a simple task would be to scoff at history. But in many ways the current situation is such that the opportunity for success has never been greater, or the costs of failure more severe.
*Brent Scowcroft was National Security Adviser to Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. He is president of the Forum for International Policy and the Scowcroft Group. Zbigniew Brzezinski was National Security Adviser to President Jimmy Carter. He is trustee and counsellor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The two are authors of “America and The World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy.”
START WITH SYRIA, A MIDDLE EAST DEAL OBAMA CULD BUILD ON
Aaron David Miller*
Source: The Washington Post, 26 November 2008, (http://www.washingtonpost.com). Distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author to republish.
President-elect Barack Obama will be bombarded with recommendations about how to approach Arab-Israeli peacemaking. One piece of advice he should not take is to make Israeli-Palestinian peace his top priority. There’s no deal there. But there is a real opportunity for an Israeli-Syrian agreement, and Obama should go for it.
There are, of course, strong arguments for making Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking a priority. The Palestinians deserve a state of their own, and an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is not just key to a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace but to Israel’s long-term survival as a Jewish democratic state.
A new president eager to repair America’s image abroad may be tempted to try for an agreement, but he should avoid the sirens’ call. No conflict-ending agreement is possible now, nor is one likely to be anytime soon, and the stakes are too high for America to harbour illusions that would almost certainly lead to yet another failure. The gaps separating the two sides on the core issues (Jerusalem, borders, refugees and security) remain too wide, the current leaders are too weak to bridge them, and the environment on the ground is too complicated to allow for sustainable negotiations.
In Palestine, dysfunction and confusion reign. The Palestinian national movement is riven with geographic and political divisions between Hamas (itself divided) and Fatah (even more divided). There is little chance of creating a united Palestinian house that can take control of the guns and offer up a viable and unified negotiating position that any Israeli government could accept. Weak leadership and unstable coalition politics prevail in Israel, too. And Israeli settlement activity, which continues unabated, rounds out a nightmarish picture that ought to scare away any smart mediator.
It would be folly to go for broke, given these conditions. The notion that trying and failing is better than not trying at all might be an appropriate rallying cry for a college football coach; it isn’t a suitable foreign policy principle for the world’s greatest power. The well-intentioned old college try, which was President Bill Clinton’s mantra at Camp David in July 2000, reinforced by his advisers, myself included, proved costly. And we had much better conditions in 2000 (if still not the right ones) than the new administration faces.
The more compelling argument is for a major push on another negotiation: between Israel and Syria. Here, there are two states at the table, rather than one state and a dysfunctional national movement. A quiet border, courtesy of Henry Kissinger’s 1974 disengagement diplomacy, prevails. And there are fewer settlers on the Golan Heights and no megaton issues such as the status of Jerusalem to blow up the talks. Indeed, the issues are straightforward — withdrawal, peace, security and water — and the gaps are clear and ready to be bridged.
For a president looking for a way to buck up America’s credibility, an Israeli-Syrian agreement offers a potential bonus. Such a deal would begin to realign the region’s architecture in a way that serves broader U.S. interests. The White House would have to be patient. Syria won’t walk away from a 30-year relationship with Iran; weaning the Syrians from Iran would have to occur gradually, requiring a major international effort to marshal economic and political support for Damascus. Still, an Israeli-Syrian peace treaty would confront Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran with tough choices and reduced options.
None of this will be easy. An Obama administration, and particularly the new president, would need to be in the middle of things. It would be excruciatingly hard, time-consuming and expensive to satisfy Israel and Syria’s economic and security needs, and a final agreement would most likely involve U.S. peacekeepers. More important, the United States would need to push the two sides further than they are now willing to go, on the extent of withdrawal from the Golan Heights in Israel’s case, on normalisation and security in Syria’s. But with Israeli and Syrian leaders who are serious, and with a new administration ready to be tough, smart and fair in its diplomacy, a deal can be done.
So, Mr. President-elect, go ahead and try to buck up the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire, train Palestinian security forces, pour economic aid into Gaza and the West Bank, and quietly nurture Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. But don’t go for the endgame — you won’t get there. Instead, invest in an Israeli-Syrian peace, and, afterward, you might find, with a historic success under your belt and America again admired for its competence, you will be better positioned to achieve the success you want in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as well.
*Aaron David Miller, a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has worked as a Middle East adviser for Democratic and Republican Secretaries of State. His most recent book is The Much Too Promised Land. This article was.
ENGAGING IN DIPLOMCY ON DAY ONE
Source: Israel Policy Forum, December 4, 2008, http://www.israelpolicyforum.org. distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from Israel Policy Forum for publication.
The Annapolis process, which is a continuation of the Roadmap for Middle East peace (which itself is a continuation of the Oslo process), has run its course. It has not succeeded. One can try to improve it, but in all probability, that would be a mistake. The answer might be to change the approach. The argument in Washington over whether to go first for the Syrian or the Palestinian track is useless. Instead, we should start thinking about regionalising the solution. This means adopting the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative.
The Arab Peace Initiative proposes to neutralise the effects of non-state actors while enabling the fulfilment of Israel‚s dream from the day it was created to achieve normalisation in the region.
The bilateral talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians are not going to work in the present circumstances. The negotiations are stuck in the bilateral track. The solution should be regionalised, and the process internationalised, under the leadership of the new US administration with the Arab League and the Quartet for Middle East Peace (the EU, the UN, the United States, and Russia). One way that this would help the process is by creating a cover for an agreement.
Even if there is political will on the part of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to reach an agreement, there is not the political capacity to implement one. We cannot do it alone. There must be more assertive international involvement ˆ to the point of intervention ˆ to bring the negotiations in line with the deteriorating situation on the ground. As discussed by the incoming National Security Advisor, General James Jones, the implementation of an agreement may depend on placing forces on the ground.
For 15 years, we have all been locked in the topics initially crafted in the Oslo framework-borders, refugees, Jerusalem, security, and settlements. We should contemplate reframing certain elements of the agenda in a way that is conducive to an agreement.
The prospect of achieving a two-state solution is slipping through our fingers. The future of Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority is at stake. The alternative is institutionalised inequality and escalating violence-gifts to non-state actors like Hamas and Hezbollah.
There is no time left. President-elect Obama takes office on 20 January. The Israeli elections are on 10 February. That‚s 21 days. Don‚t do anything for 21 days. But on the 22nd day, the day after Israel‚s elections, start working. Israel‚s existence depends on a Palestinian state standing beside it. In many respects, what happens to us in Israel is in America‚s hands.
*Dr. Naomi Chazan is President of the New Israel Fund.
OBAMA’S DAUNTING MIDDLE EAST CHALLENGE
Alon Ben-Meir.* November 10, 2008
After eight years of misguided policy by the Bush administration in the Middle East, the time is overdue for an enlightened strategy to tackle the region’s woes. This must include an approach that will bring hope to a region shattered by violence, consumed by conflict and division and filled with disdain toward the United States. Although the massive economic crisis facing America is, and should be, President-elect Obama’s first priority, he must not hesitate to confront the simmering conflicts in the Middle East that cannot be relegated to the back burner without severely undermining the strategic interest and security of the United States.
Mr. Obama faces an incredible challenge to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan honorably, to restore hope to the Palestinian people, and to engage Iran and Syria constructively while fostering regional economic development. These are daunting tasks that may take several years to accomplish but must, nevertheless, be tackled no matter how impossible they may seem. Mr. Obama’s promise for change must be implemented not only with the goal of restoring America’s credibility and moral leadership abroad, but also with the intention to serve the United States’ strategic interests and prevent a potentially major regional conflagration. America’s new strategy in the Middle East must be comprehensive and integrated, utilizing all of America’s diplomatic instruments and power while working with allies. While the United States must take the lead, it must also commit itself to a strategy of multilateralism working with other powers to orchestrate solutions to some of the most intractable conflicts that America alone simply cannot solve. The new American strategy in the Middle East must be developed with an eye on establishing comprehensive regional security in which the majority of, if not all, the states in the area will have a stake in maintaining.
In Iraq, the new administration must remain committed to withdrawing most of the American forces within sixteen months as envisioned by President-elect Obama, but with some flexibility provided that three critical criteria are first met. The Iraqi internal forces and the military first must be well-integrated and trained to maintain internal security and order. Secondly, it is important that the Sunnis are provided with the means to defend themselves and run their own internal affairs as they see fit akin to their Kurdish counterpart. Lastly, an oil law must be enacted providing for equitable distribution of oil revenue to all Iraqis. By pursuing these three objectives and aided by the lull in violence brought about by the surge of American forces, the Iraqis themselves will be more inclined to agree on political reforms and reconciliation. In addition, the United States should actively seek the involvements of Iraq’s neighbors, especially Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan who have stakes in Iraq’s stability and a strong desire to bridge the Sunni-Shiite divide. Anything short of that would reverse much of the progress made to date, except this time with far greater intensity than ever before as American residual forces will be unable to prevent renewed violence. America has a moral obligation to leave Iraq reasonably assured of sustainable security and political stability. That much we owe the Iraqi people and the Obama administration must not settle for less.
In dealing with Iran, the new administration must create a strategy based on engagement and deterrence to prevent Iran from continuing to enrich uranium with impunity. The United States must initiate direct talks with Iran and end the threat of regime change in Tehran while making it abundantly clear that a nuclear Iran is not an option. This can be accomplished by pursuing three tracks of separate but interconnected negotiations. The first track should focus on negotiating an end to Iran’s enrichment of uranium without preconditions, and what would be the economic incentive package provided in return. The United States should take the lead in these negotiations joined by its European allies along with China and Russia. The negotiations should be limited to a three month period to prevent Iran from playing for time. The second track ought to focus on Iran’s and the United States’ grievances against each other. By constructively engaging Iran, Washington will help build mutual confidence, spur progress on the first negotiating track, benefit bilateral relations and encourage Iranian reformers to pursue democratic change without fear of retribution.
The third negotiating track should concentrate on regional security to alleviate Iran’s national security concerns and reinforce the United States’ commitments to the protection of its allies in the region. Should Iran, nevertheless, insist on continuing the enrichment of uranium, the United States must be clear about the extent of the devastating sanctions that will be orchestrated against it while not ruling out the use of force as a last resort. The United States must spearhead all three tracks without which future talks will be as elusive as the previous negotiations, except this time the West and Israel will be facing the unsettling prospect of a nuclear Iran with potentially dreadful consequences.
Since the 1992 Madrid peace conference the solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict has been hashed and rehashed ad nauseam and nothing fundamentally new can be said about the ultimate solution that will be framed. A Palestinian state established over Gaza and most of the West Bank with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side-by-side with the state of Israel–while finding a just solution to the Palestinian refugees–remains the only viable solution. And the return of the Golan Heights to Syria is sine qua non to resolving the Israeli-Syrian conflict. But having a clear view of an Arab-Israeli peace does not reduce the potential risk of devastating war, which makes the need for a solution a pressing imperative. Here too, for the Obama administration to help orchestrate a peace agreement, it must accept the premise that America’s active and direct role is indispensable.
The Obama administration must embrace the Arab Peace Initiative, initially adopted by the Arab League in March of 2002. Although the Road Map has advanced the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, embracing the Initiative remains critical for two reasons: because it represents the collective Arab will which can rein in Arab extremists, and because only a comprehensive peace with all twenty-two Arab states offers Israel the security it has sought since its inception in 1948. The Obama administration must persuade Israel to formally accept the Initiative, while assuring the Israelis that the US will guarantee their security and will insist on maintaining Israel’s Jewish national identity under any peace formula.
The United States must play an active and direct role between Israelis and Palestinians by appointing a presidential envoy with a wide mandate that must stay in the region for as long as it takes until an agreement is forged. Throughout his two terms, President Bush sent over a dozen special envoys to the Middle East, yet none stayed long enough to allow for the consistency and continuity needed to keep both sides fully engaged. The new permanent envoy must be acutely perceptive of the histories of both people and have a keen understanding of the emotional, psychological and religious complexity of the conflict. This is particularly important as both sides suffer from serious psychological hang-ups about each other that ultimately prejudice their negotiating stance. Moreover, because of the endemic internal division and the existence of rejectionist groups in both camps, the Israeli and Palestinian governments need American cover to make the necessary concessions. A permanent envoy who can exert the necessary pressure and speak on behalf of the president can provide such a political cover.
The Obama administration must insist to Israel that ending the occupation of the West Bank also means an end to all settlement activity. The settlement expansion and the building of new outposts has been one of the major impediments to the peace negotiations in the past and has undermined Israel’s credibility. While Obama has reiterated America’s loyalty to Israel as its closest ally in the Middle East, he must also show that he can be an honest broker in the region when it comes to creating a Palestinian state. †It is also of paramount importance that other Arab states in the region with good relations with Israel and the U.S. including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Morocco are engaged at the outset in all peace efforts. In addition, these states should contribute to the creation of a peacekeeping force to be stationed in Gaza and the West Bank to enforce the provisions of the peace agreement. Only Arab forces representing the collective interest of their states can rein in Islamists who are likely to continue to resist any peace accord with Israel until they are brought to heel. Such an Arab force should be sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council and preferably be placed under American command and monitoring to give Israel a greater sense of confidence in the durability of peace.
Contrary to the Bush administration’s policy that has attempted to isolate Syria as it sought a regime change, the Obama administration must engage Syria directly and in doing so dramatically change the political dynamics in the region. Syria is the linchpin to weakening Hezbollah and Hamas and marginalizing Iran’s influence in Lebanon and the Palestinian territories. Israel and Syria have made tremendous progress in their recent indirect negotiations mediated by Turkey. But Syria seeks normalizing relations with the United States. President Bashar al-Assad will be ready to enter into direct negotiations with Israel and conclude a peace agreement as soon as the Obama administration engages Damascus directly. An accord between Israel and Syria will also pave the way to a peace agreement with Lebanon, once Israel withdraws from Shebaa Farms, a disputed swath of land thrust between Israel, Lebanon and Syria.
Finally, any Arab-Israeli peace, however comprehensive, may not endure unless it is accompanied with an economic and humanitarian development program that will not only deal with the pressing need of millions of Arabs who live in abject poverty but foster political and human rights reforms. Moreover, there are many Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Islamic Jihad, and Hamas in the Palestinian territories who will continue to exploit these
social ills to foment resistance as peace with Israel runs contrary to their interests. The Obama administration with its European counterparts must reassess American and Western financial aid to many Arab states and implement programs of sustainable development. Ultimately the United States cannot afford to limit its presence in the region to military or government-to-government solutions and must aim to create comprehensive packages that include bottom-up solutions.
Although the people of the Middle East are eager to forge peace to end decades of violence and suffering, they need a bold, visionary and committed American leadership to help them navigate through the treacherous road to peace. President Obama may have an historic opportunity to achieve what has eluded many of his predecessors.
*Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies: email@example.com, www.alonben-meir.com.
IT’S TIME TO MEND FENCES
Source: MIFTAH, 10 September 2008, http://www.miftah.org. Distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission to publish from The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH).
The Arab ministers are calling for it, Palestinian intellectuals and political pundits are espousing it, and the people are hoping for it. Hamas and Fatah need to patch up their relationship and move forward.
During the 130th session of the Arab ministerial summit, Arab ministers all agreed that the rift between Hamas and Fatah had to end in order for other more substantial achievements to be made. Regardless of how many Palestinians may feel about their Arab brethren’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, this is one point they should take to heart.
The divisions between the two major movements have been building up for years, but culminated in 2007 when Hamas wrestled control of the Gaza Strip from the Fatah-backed Palestinian Authority. It was a bloody takeover, with roughly 200 people killed from both sides. Hamas had previously won the majority of seats in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections, which did not sit well with Fatah, who for the first time in its history, was not at the helm of the Palestinian leadership.
Needless to say, the differences between the two Titans are based in their desire to rule. While this is a natural aspiration for any political party, regardless of the ideologies that govern them, it is clear that Hamas and Fatah have lost track of the national interest or the ‘big picture’, if you will.
There have been several attempts at reconciling the two. Egypt has attempted to play a role in mediating between the two parties, as have Senegal and Yemen. The Mecca Agreement, signed in March 2007, was supposedly aimed at preventing the coup that took place two months later. As it stands today, President Mahmoud Abbas insists that negotiations with Hamas can only take place after the situation in the Gaza Strip returns to the status quo prior to June 2007. Hamas, for its part, says it has no problem talking to Fatah, but it will not be dictated by its conditions. That is, the de facto government in Gaza is not budging a centimetre just yet.
Obviously, there have been far reaching repercussions due to this split. Hundreds of Fatah and Hamas operatives and supporters have been jailed in the others’ prisons, institutions have been shut down and Israel has taken the opportunity to clamp down a strangulating siege on the Gaza Strip. However, in a roundabout way, the potential deal that may be struck with Israel over their captured Israeli solider Gilad Shalit could either make it or break it for Palestinian internal politics.
Since Shalit‚s capture in June 2006 by Hamas activists in a Gaza Strip border raid, Israel and Hamas have been engaged in a swan dance of sorts. Both want a prisoner swap, especially since Shalit is alive and Hamas wants to secure the freedom of as many Palestinian prisoners as it possibly can. Of course the numbers differ, with Hamas demanding some 1,500 prisoners and Israel maintaining it would not release more than 450.
Still, if the swap does actually happen, Hamas is looking at the release of 40 of its parliamentarians, arrested by Israel after the Shalit operation. If all 40 are released and reinstated in their Palestinian Legislative Council seats, this would put them back as the majority. If this happens, Hamas could argue that legally, President Abbas’ term ends by January, thus giving them an opportunity to push the Fatah government out of power, which in their opinion would be null and void.
The fear is that the rift, which is already bad enough, will only get worse once the parliamentarians are released and ready to reassert their legal clout. If Hamas and Fatah remain in their current frame of mind, the Palestinians can only be looking at more infighting and internal disunity.
However, if by some insane turn of events, the two parties actually take this opportunity to mend their fences, this could prove to be a golden opportunity. Although the list is not complete, rumour has it that Hamas is also insisting on the release of West Bank Fatah Secretary Marwan Barghouti, who has been imprisoned since 2002. Widely believed to be the most popular Fatah man out there, Barghouti has repeatedly called for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, and enjoys a wide enough popular platform to actually make a difference. Even Hamas likes Barghouti, who would most likely run in any upcoming presidential elections.
The point to be highlighted here is that political diversity is healthy and should not be discouraged in any way. The fact that Hamas and Fatah espouse different ideologies where liberating Palestine is concerned is not the cause for all of the vicious fighting that ensued. On the contrary, Palestinian diversity should be channelled towards the single goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state where Gaza and the West Bank are not separate entities.
This is a goal that has been apparently lost on the two parties, even though both claim to hold it before them. A prisoner swap where 450 Palestinians are released from Israeli jails is an achievement regardless with whom the prisoners are affiliated. It is high time that the two set their differences aside for once, check their grudges at the door, and get down to the business that is really important. Israel is trying its best to exclude Jerusalem from any final peace deal, and Abbas needs all the support he can get internally and externally to clinch an acceptable settlement, regardless of whether he remains president or not next year. Hamas, on the other hand, is burning its own bridges with the Arabs and with its own people, who are tired of the siege in Gaza, the iron fist with which Hamas rules there, and of the infighting that has taken so many lives.
Besides, how powerful is a seat that can be snatched from beneath you by an occupying power with more might than both of the rivals put together? Has Israel not made this clear enough over the years? More importantly is the fact that if the two do not take a more conciliatory stance towards one another and constructively combine their efforts, much of which has been squandered on their bickering, we will all lose on a much larger scale than Fatah or Hamas ever envisioned.
*Joharah Baker is a writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE CHOICE OF THE PEOPLE
Jordan Times editorial
Source: The Jordan Times, 28 November 2008, http://www.jordantimes.com. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission to publish from The Jordan Times.
By conducting presidential and parliamentary elections, Palestinians may end the unproductive confrontation between Fatah and Hamas that diverts attention from crucial issues with which they are faced.
The Palestinians should decide how they would like to be governed and by whom, and on what basis they can sue for peace. President Mahmoud Abbas proposed elections recently, in a bid to end the tug of war between his government in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza.
Despite repeated attempts by Egypt and other Arab and non-Arab intermediaries, the standoff between Abbas and the Hamas leadership continues. Hamas wants elections to be limited to presidential, so that it may keep control over Gaza and not undergo another test through national elections. That is untenable and ineffective. Democracy means the rule of the people, so the people should decide who represents them.
The Arab world should now take a firm position on the issue and decide how to proceed to end the Palestinian squabbling. The intervention should be more than rhetoric. The Arab capitals, especially those most concerned about the future of the Palestinian territories, must now make their position clear and compelling, since the Palestinians don‚t seem able to settle their differences on their own.
It is perhaps time for an extraordinary Arab summit. With Gaza on the brink of starvation and the Israeli blockade continuing unabated and unperturbed by the outcry of the international community, the entire spectrum of Palestinian leadership should put an end to the bickering and deal at least with the Gaza tragedy.
Arab heads of state should not allow Palestinian division to stand in the way of a resolution to the Palestinian conflict. Arab governments can and must endorse Abbas‚ proposal for simultaneous presidential and parliamentary elections by the beginning of next year and make it binding on all sides.
The fate of the people should be of topmost interest to the Palestinian leaders, not their obstinate grip on power. If they don‚t know that, they should be made to understand.
INFECTIOUS DISEASE SURVEILANCE AS A BRIDGE TO PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Dr. Alex Leventhal*
Written for and distributed by Common Groung News Service with permission to publish.
Against the backdrop of the Second Intifada, Search for Common Ground (SFCG) conceived a collaborative public-health effort among three neighbouring countries: the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and the State of Israel. The initial basis for the endeavour was the notion that in the Middle East, public health has tremendous potential to serve as common ground. This idea became even more compelling during those times when bilateral meetings between Palestinian and Israeli public health professionals were scarce and the involvement of Jordan was unprecedented
Late in 2002, leaders and professionals from the public health arena from both respective Ministries of Health (MoH) and academia, met. This meeting was the catalyst for a joint partnership between SFCG and the Global Health and Security Initiative (GHSI), part of the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a Washington DC-based international NGO. Together, they formed the Middle East Consortium for Infectious Disease Surveillance (MECIDS) in 2003.
The pillars of MECIDS are trust, mutual respect, excellence in the field, equity among partners and low profile in public relations. Its first mission was to facilitate trans-border cooperation in response to food-borne disease outbreaks, a common public health issue in the Middle East. MECIDS selected a regional data analysis unit within the Cooperative Monitoring Center in Amman, and established a mechanism for sharing data among the national systems.
The intergovernmental partnership became effective on many levels, such as harmonising diagnostic and reporting methodologies; establishing common training programmes; encouraging data sharing and analysis; improving detection and control of food-borne infectious diseases and˜ facilitating cross-border communication between laboratory technicians and public health officials.
These achievements proved invaluable in supporting a platform from which to broaden surveillance of other serious emerging infections, such as the Avian Flu: The Avian Flu threat was geographically closer to MECIDS partners with outbreaks taking place in poultry and humans in Turkey and Iraq in late 2005 and early 2006. MECIDS members immediately responded with a regional conference on the issue, organised by SFCG. The conference involved not only senior officials from the respective MoHs but also from Ministries of Agriculture as well as from the Egyptian MoH, experts from the World Health Organization, U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the European Union. Each country presented its national plan to combat the Avian Flu and therefore established a foundational template for exchanging information in real time in case of an outbreak.
Three months later, in March 2006, an Avian Flu epidemic actually broke out among poultry within the MECIDS participating nations. Established and effective lines of communication, assistance between the three partners, and cooperative control measures proved essential in the relatively quick mitigation of the human and economic impact of the outbreak. Concurrently, this example of regional cooperation has been an enormous boost to the sustainability of MECIDS in the respective MoHs and beyond. It has also attracted various donors which work in collaboration with MECIDS, and coordinated by GHSI: the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Government, IBM, and Becton -Dickenson.
Since January 2007, an Executive Board (EB) has presided over MECIDS. Comprised of representatives of the three founding partners, the board is headed by a rotating chairperson selected from the partner nations for a one year term, and agreed to run it only by consensus. The executive board carefully allocates financial and other forms of support in order to enhance capabilities and acquire technology particularly in early detection and identification by the public health labs. Resources are also implemented in efforts to standardise partner capabilities that efficiently run cooperative activities such as electronic data sharing.
The scope of MECIDS activity has been expanded by the EB to include ongoing workshops on building a memorandum of understanding in case of a Pandemic Flu. Initiating these workshops was a series of table-top exercises focused on preparedness at the country and regional levels. There is a plan of the EB to establish yearly Middle Eastern one week training courses in field epidemiology for health professionals from the partner countries like the one held during the summer of 2008. Supplementary information technology workshops conducted by IBM professionals for laboratory technicians provide a forum in which participants may foster lasting personal and professional relationships with colleagues from neighbouring countries.
In summary, MECIDS is a viable regional network that has far exceeded its set up goals and demonstrated great potential to expand its scope through inclusion of different communicable diseases and other countries of the region as well.
Finally, on a personal note, my work with MECIDS has altered my views on the Israeli Arab conflict and shown me the importance of international health and health diplomacy. After almost 16 years as the director of Public Health Services at the Israeli MoH, I have traversed the focus of my career towards international relations in the Ministry.
*Alex Leventhal, MD, MPH, MPA is the director of the Department of International Relations in the Israeli Ministry of Health, a founding member of MECIDS, and the first chairman of the MECIDS Executive Board. Dr. Alex Leventhal, “Infectious disease surveillance as a bridge to peace in the Middle East”
MUL-T-LOCK COMPANY TO MOVE AWAY FROM WEST BANK SETTLEMENT
Gush Shalom Press Release, Oct. 25, 2008
Removal from Barkan settlement announced in Stockholm by Swedish owners Human Rights groups and Church of Sweden had warned company directors: Settlement factory could lead to prosecution on International Law violations Barkan Wineries already left the Barkan settlement, others considering move Gush Shalom: business people starting to understand that settlement activity Is incompatible with building world-wide business activity and partnerships
The board of the giant Swedish ASSA ABLOY concern has announced in Stockholm its decision to immediately remove the Mul-T-Lock Company, under its ownership, from the industrial zone of the Barkan settlement on the West Bank and move it to inside the Green Line (pre-1967 Israeli border). Ann Holmberg, the company’s communications manager, expressed the board’s apology for having maintained a plant in Occupied Territory for eight years, since having bought the Israeli company in 2000, and promised that the error would be rectified.
ASSA ABLOY has taken this step after the Human Rights groups Diakonia and SwedWatch, as well as the Church of Sweden, have conducted research and published a strongly-worded report, warning the company directors that both ASSA ABLOY as a company and its directors personally might be criminally liable for a violation of international law. Moreover, the confiscation of the land on which the Barkan Industrial Zone had been erected from its Palestinian owners was illegal under International Law. Therefore, acquiring the leasehold for the Mul-T-Lock plant – some 22 dunums (5.5 acres) in area – could be considered as pillage under International Law, for which also the company directors might have been held liable.
The Barkan Wineries have already left the Barkan Industrial Zone for similar reasons and moved their activities to Kibbutz Hulda inside the Green Line. It is known, moreover, that that several other factories consider a similar move – such as the “Bagel & Bagel” bakery plant, which considers moving to Arad in the Negev.
“We heartily welcome the forthcoming exit of Mul-T-Lock from the Occupied Territories, and look forward for the moment when we could remove this company from our Settlement Boycott List” says Gush Shalom, the Israeli Peace Bloc.
“Mul-T-Lock has a near-monopoly status in the area of locks in Israel. In effect, its present location forced many Israeli citizens, who simply wanted to lock their doors, to willy-nilly take part in financing the West Bank settlement project.
We hope for the complete collapse of the Barkan Industrial Zone, which is an economic mainstay of the settlement project. The existence of this zone constitutes a grave damage to the state of Israel and a threat to its future, since it strengthens the violent and fanatic forces seeking to prevent peace with the Palestinians and trying to doom all of us to eternal war.
In the past, industrialists were tempted by the generous subsidies which the government offered to anyone willing to locate their plants to the settlements. Now, however, Israeli business people discover that maintaining a factory on stolen Palestinian land in an Occupied Territory in incompatible with developing the exports of their products and building up international business partnerships. Business people – even though purely out of business considerations – are voting with their money against the settlements, and in this way they are best serving Israel’s future”.
Gush Shalom: Adam Keller, Spokesperson +972-(0)3-5565804 or +972-(0)506-709603
Diakonia Human Rights group (in Jerusalem): David Kärnerud +972-(0)2-5322972, ext. 103 or +972-(0)545-432618, Odate Hanna +972-(0)2-5322972, ext. 116 or +972-(0)545-432088, ASSA ABLOY (in Sweden): Ann Holmberg, Corporate Communications Manager +46 8 506 485 54. The human rights groups’ report on the Mul-T-Lock plant: http://www.diakonia.se/documents/public/IN_FOCUS/Israel_Palestine/Report_Illegal_Ground/Report_Mul-T-lock_081021.pdf
85TH BIRTHDAY BRAINSTORMING SESSION
Uri Avnery, December 27, 2008
“Gush Shalom” has acceded to my wish to mark my 85th birthday not with a public celebration, as on my 80th, but with a brain-storming session devoted to the main issues concerning Israel. The event took place on the morning of Sunday 21.12.08 in Tel-Aviv’s prestigious Cinematheque hall, under the headline “Until [White] Smoke Comes Out – Views and Confrontations”. It consisted of two debates: “Two States for Two Peoples – Realistic or Impossible?” and “The Media: Do They Serve Political Power and Money or the Public?”
In the first confrontation, moderated by former Haaretz editor David Landau, Israela Oron (of the Geneva Initiative) and Gilad Sher (former advisor of Ehud Barak and senior Israeli representative at the 2000 Camp David conference) argued that the Two-State solution is viable, while the historian Meron Benvenisti argued that it is impossible, and Dr. Menachem Klein (Bar-Ilan University) took an intermediate position.
In the second confrontation, senior journalists Ron Ben-Yishai (who appears in the memorable film “Waltz with Bashir”) and Rina Matzliach argued that the Israeli media are free, while Prof. Yaron Ezrachi and senior journalist Ofer Shelach argued that they are shackled.
At the close of the event, I was given the floor. This is what I said:
A Congress of Peace Seekers
Dear Friends, Dear Partners,
I have to admit that I am moved. Throughout my long life I have not been pampered with expressions of affection. I am much more used to manifestations of hate. Therefore, please excuse me if I am a bit embarrassed.
People ask me: How does it feel to be 85?
Well, it is strange. After all, only yesterday I was 42, the youngest member of the Knesset. I don’t feel any older or wiser than I did then.
85 is (in the old Hebrew way of numbering by letters) PH. PH can mean “poh”, here – and yes, I am here and fully intend to remain here for a while to come – first, because I enjoy it, and second, because I still have some things to finish.
PH can also mean peh, mouth – the mouth that enables me to voice my thoughts. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the thoughts that are occupying my mind today.
What is special about 85-year-olds in Israel? First of all, we are the generation that founded the state. As such – I feel – we bear an additional responsibility for what is happening here. If our state is not what we imagined it should be – it’s our duty to act to change it.
And here we face a strange paradox. We are partners in a historic success. And we are partners in a dismal failure. Perhaps only members of my generation can fully grasp the extend of our success in the transformation of the national consciousness.
Many people ask me: where do I draw my optimism from when the situation becomes very bad, when good people are seized by depression and despair? At such moments I remind myself – and remind the people who listen to me – where we started from. I bring this up again and again for those who did not live through it, and those who have forgotten:
On the morrow of that war, the ‘48 war, when some of us said that there exists a Palestinian people and that we must make peace with them, we were a tiny handful here and in the whole world. We were laughed at. There are no Palestinians, we were told. “There is no such thing as a Palestinian people!” Golda Meir was still asserting much later.
Is there anyone today who denies the existence of the Palestinian people? We argued that in order to achieve peace, a Palestinian state must come into being. They laughed at us. What? Why? There is Jordan. There is Egypt. There are 22 Arab states. That’s enough!
Today it is a world-wide consensus – two states for two peoples. We said that we must talk with the enemy, and the enemy was then the PLO. Four cabinet ministers demanded that I should be put on trial for high treason when I met with Yasser Arafat in Beirut during the siege. All four of them later met with Arafat, and the State of Israel signed official treaties with the PLO.
True, the treaties were not implemented and did not lead to peace. But the mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO, between Israel and the Palestinian people, became a fact. That was a revolution, and it cannot be reversed. Today we are saying: we must talk with Hamas. Hamas is an integral part of the Palestinian reality. And this idea, too, is gaining ground. What an uproar we caused when we said that Jerusalem must become the capital of the two states! Today almost everybody knows that this must happen, that it will happen.
I have devoted 60 years of my life to this struggle, and it is still in full swing. But we have defeated the idea of a Greater Israel and put forward the alternative of the two states, which has carried conviction in Israel and throughout the world. So much so, that even those in the successive Israeli governments who strongly oppose the idea are now compelled to pretend to support it in order to attract votes. Think about this when you feel despair. Look at the whole picture, not only at the nearest small part of it.
Bur as big as our victory is our defeat. It is enough to look at these coming elections: the three big parties talk almost the same language, and not one of them puts forward a plan for peace. There are small parties which say good and honest things, but at this juncture we simply need more than that. What is lacking is a major political force that is ready to come to power in order to make peace.
It is quite clear that the results of this coming election will be bad – and the only question is whether they will be just bad, or very bad, or even worse. Why is this happening? There are many reasons, many pretexts. We criticize – and rightly so – many things, the media, the education system, all our successive governments, the President of the United States, all the world.
But I miss one criticism – the criticism of ourselves. My father used to tell me: if the situation is bad, the first thing to do is to ask yourself if you are alright. So I am asking: Am I alright? Are we alright? Yes, we have voiced the right ideas. Our ideas have won. But what have we done to realize these ideas in practice, on the political battlefield?
Politics is a matter of power. What have we done to create a progressive political force in Israel? How did it happen that the Left, the camp of peace and progress, has almost been eradicated from the political map? Why don’t we have political power, why don’t we have, for example, even one newspaper, radio or TV station? How did the Israeli Left lose, in the last generation, all its levers of power?
We in the peace camp include many wonderful men and women, who confront the army every week in the fight against the Wall, who monitor the checkpoints, who refuse to serve in the occupation army, who fight against the occupation in dozens of ways. Many of us, of all ages, take part in these actions.
But while we stand and protest, the settlers rush ahead. Another goat and another dunam (1000 square meters), another hill and another outpost. Sometimes I, too, have the feeling that the dogs bark and the caravan moves on – and I am not content with being the dog. We chase the mosquitoes, but the swamp that produces the mosquitoes gets bigger and bigger.
The swamp is political. Only a political force can drain it. In other words: only a force that can confront the ruling powers, influence the decisions of the government and the Knesset. That is a historic failure, and we bear the responsibility for it.
IF I may be permitted to voice a birthday wish: the day after the elections I would like us to start thinking about the next elections. We have to think anew. From the ground up. Examine everything we have done up to now and find out where we went wrong.
Why did we not succeed in convincing enough of the young, of the Oriental Jewish community, of the immigrants from Russia, of the Arab community in Israel, of the moderate religious sector – that there is somebody to talk with, that it is possible to bring about change, that indeed – we can! Why did we not succeed in touching the heart of the young generation that is disgusted by politics – by the politics they know?
What is needed is something completely new, a new act of creation. I would say: we must prepare the ground for an Israeli Obama. Obama means: to kindle hope where there was no hope before. To demand a change from the foundations up and believe that it is possible to bring about this change. To ignite the enthusiasm of masses of young people for a message that stirs the heart, a message of ending the occupation, of social justice, of caring for the planet. The longing for a different system – secular, just, decent, seeking peace.
The new message must address the mind and the heart, speak to the emotions and not only to the intellect. It must arouse again the idealism that is hiding in many a heart and dare not show its face. The great obstacle to such an explosion is despair. It is so much easier to despair. So much more comfortable. It doesn’t demand anything. It is easier to say that everything is lost. That they have stolen our state. But pessimism, as is well known, does not give birth to anything, it just leads to internal or external emigration.
I refuse to be pessimistic. In my 85 years I have seen too many unexpected, surprising, amazing, things – both good and bad – for me not to believe in the unexpected. Obama was unexpected, and here it happened before our very eyes. The fall of the Berlin wall was unexpected, and nobody could even have imagined it a moment before it happened. Even the victory of the Greens in the recent municipal election in Tel-Aviv was like that.
I want to propose the start of a new endeavor a day after the elections. I would like the best of the intellectuals and the peace activists, the social activists and the fighters for the environment to gather and start thinking together, in order to bring about the Israeli miracle. Perhaps there should be a grand congress of those who want change, a Sanhedrin of peace and human rights activists, a kind of alternative Knesset.
From the heights of my 85 years I want to call all those to whom our future here is close to the heart, Jews and Arabs, and especially the young, to mobilize for a joint effort to prepare the ground for the big change, for the Other Israel, for a state where it will be fun to live, an Israel we can be proud of.
This is not a game that can be played between existing organizations, but a completely new political creation, that will speak a new language, that will bring a new message. I believe that this will happen, if not tomorrow then the day after. I wish for myself, and for all of you present in this hall, that we shall see it with our own eyes, that we shall be partners, that we shall be able to say: we have succeeded, we are entrusting the state to good hands.
And now I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you, my friends, who have come to mark my birthday with me by exchanging views and debating the issues that are so important to all of us. Heartfelt thanks to the moderators and the speakers, who have bared the issues for us, to the organizers of this beautiful event, to the members of Gush Shalom who made it possible. Thanks to all of you, who have come from near and afar, and thanks for the good wishes you have showered on me.
I couldn’t imagine a more enjoyable and exciting birthday. Thank you.
16 OCTOBER – WORLD FOOD DAY – THE THREE FS
“determined to promote the common welfare by furthering separate and collective action for the purpose of raising levels of nutrition and standards of living”
Preamble of the FAO Constitution
The current financial crisis joins those of food and fuel to challenge the world economy. The three crises are inter-related and impact each other. Paying hundreds of billions of dollars to rescue the world’s financial industry looks likely to cut both humanitarian aid and development spending. The price of oil has dropped but is still high and is a drain on the funds of developing countries.
Foreign development issues may be the first victims of the financial crisis as government officials focus on domestic issues, especially if there is the predicted slowdown in the economy and a rise in unemployment in North America and Europe.
At a recent funding meeting in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Antonio Guterres recognized that the financial crisis would raise challenges for those who have traditionally financed UNHCR programs. “At the same time, I must point out that the resources required to support the 31 million people we care for are very modest indeed when compared to the sums being spent to bring stability to the international financial system. It would be tragic if the funds available to the humanitarian community were to decline at the very time when demands upon us are increasingly so dramatically.”
Yet the decline in governmental aid to the developing world is probably inevitable. Thus an emphasis must be placed on creating a world food policy which draws upon improving local self-reliance while not creating nationalistic policies which harm neighbours. Food is a key aspect of deep structural issues in the world society and thus must be seen in a wholistic framework.
Jean Ping, the chairman of the African Union Commission noted recently that “The sharp increase in basic food prices has had a particularly negative effect on African countries. In the medium and long term, the Commission proposes measures to regulate speculation, the sharing of public cereal stocks, strengthening the financing of imports and reliable food aid, promoting investment in social protection and increased investment to boost agricultural production.” The African Union has 53 state-members with some 750 million people, over half of which are in what is now called “the bottom billion” — people living on $1.25 a day or less. While there is something artificial in poverty lines based on buying-power, such poverty statistics give an indication of the challenges faced.
While constant improvements in technology, mechanization, plant breeding and farm chemicals have steadily increased food production per acre in much of the world, African food production per acre has stagnated, and in some areas has gone down. Likewise, the portion of development assistance in Africa dedicated to agriculture has declined from 15 per cent in the 1980s to 4 per cent in 2006.
Thus the first need in Africa is to develop the local economies: Currently, poverty, lack of adapted technology, population pressure on ecologically fragile areas, a growth of urban slums due to rapid rural to urban migration is the lot of many Sub-Saharan African countries.
Increased action to improve rural life needs to be taken quickly. As the recent UN-sponsored Millennium Ecosystem Assessment notes “Human activity is putting such strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystem to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted. It is becoming ever more apparent that human society has a rapidly shrinking window of opportunity to alter its path.”
World Food Day needs to be marked by a sharper analysis of the causes of rural stagnation and a renewed dedication to cooperative action.
*Rene Wadlow, Representative to the UN, Geneva, Association of World Citizens.
WHAT WE READERS ARE ABOUT?
Please share with us what you are doing relating to nonviolent change. If you send us a short report of your doings, learnings, ideas, concerns, reactions, queries,… we will print them here. Responses can be published in the next issue.
Steve Sachs: While I am extremely concerned about the current state of the world, I am extremely hopeful that the election of Barack Obama opens a door to turning crisis into opportunity, on many fronts, if enough people give that energy. We need a new consciousness, a broader way of approaching issues and each other. The depth of the difficulties combined with hope provides a basis for moving ahead significantly. It is also important that, at least in the United States, many people are in agreement with Obama’s message that we must begin to work now, but it will take time to achieve major results.