15 June 2005
International Media Seminar Debates International, Regional Efforts for Constructive Change in Middle East
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
CAIRO, 14 June -- The International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East this morning held a panel discussion on international and regional efforts for constructive change in the Middle East and whether the Road Map was the answer.
Shashi Tharoor, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and moderator of the discussion, said a number of third parties had been involved for many years in an attempt to address the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, including the United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation, Egypt, Jordan and others. This was proof that the world understood that the stakes were high. Yet the conflict had proved resistant to international and regional helping hands so far. He asked if perhaps it was the time to ask if the Road Map was still relevant and whether the parties were still committed to it.
Bernardino Leon Gross, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Spain, said the European Union and Spain considered that, although the Israeli initiative might represent a step forward, it was essential to establish a link between the Road Map and the disengagement plan. The disengagement plan must fulfil five conditions to ensure its success: it had to be compatible with the Road Map; it had to be compatible with the two-State solution; it must not involve the movement of settlers from Gaza to the West Bank; it must be based on the principle of coordination between Israel and the Palestinians; and Israel must facilitate the economic revival of Gaza and enable the free movement of goods and persons. Israel would be the first to benefit from a stable and viable Gaza.
Michael L. Bogdanov, Ambassador of the Russian Federation in Cairo, said it was evident that under the current situation, keeping the timetable mentioned in the Road Map was no longer possible. The disengagement plan called for a unilateral withdrawal, and Russia had commended it. However, the Sharon plan did not give answers to the many issues of principle. It was important to link the implementation of the disengagement plan to the Road Map, which should be relaunched immediately after the plan was carried out in order to avoid a pause in the peace process.
Said Kamal, Assistant Secretary-General for Palestinian Affairs of the League of Arab States, said the Palestinians were prepared to proceed with the Road Map, but it had to be within an important framework and correspond with the Arab peace initiative. Israel should be pressurized by the Quartet to be committed to the Road Map. It was important to note that no change in the region would materialize unless there was a just, comprehensive and permanent solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict at the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese levels. Arabs were exerting many efforts to reach such a peace.
Clayton Swisher, Director of Programmes at the Middle East Institute, said that the use of words in the Arab-Israeli issue was very important. The panel was asking whether the Road Map was the answer, he would change that to whether it was “an” answer or “the” answer. The Road Map lacked a clear line on issues such as Jerusalem, refugees and borders. Other steps must still be taken if they wanted to turn the Road Map from being “a” solution to “the” solution.
The Seminar, which is entitled “Reinvigorating the Peace Process: the Role of International and Regional Actors in Facilitating a Comprehensive, Just and Lasting Peace in the Middle East”, is organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Egypt.
There were also special addresses this morning by Essam El-Din Hawas, Deputy President of the United Nations Association of Egypt; Rami Khouri, Editor-at-Large of the Daily Star in Beirut; and Abdul Malik Ndaila Onani, Counsellor for Political and Consular Affairs of Malawi in Egypt.
When the Seminar meets at 2:45 p.m. this afternoon, it will hold its final panel discussion on the role of the media in peace and conflict between Israel and Palestine. The two-day Seminar will hold its closing session at the end of the afternoon.
SHASHI THAROOR, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said this morning the Seminar would focus on the role of international and regional actors in promoting constructive change in the Middle East and more specifically whether the vision of the Road Map could be sustained. A number of third parties had been involved for many years in an attempt to address the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, including the United States, the European Union, the Russian Federation, Egypt and others. That was proof that the world understood that the stakes were high. Few would dare suggest that that conflict did not have ramifications far beyond the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and he suspected that everyone accepted that resolving it would have an enormously positive impact not just on the region, but internationally as well. Yet the conflict had proved resistant to international and regional helping hands so far. The world had also seen peaks and troughs in the engagement of the international community, and in its commitment to resolving the problems.
Mr. Tharoor said perhaps it was the time to ask if the Road Map was still relevant and whether the parties were still committed to it. How soon could final status negotiations leading to the two-State solution, envisaged in the Road Map, begin? With the winds of change now blowing in the Middle East, what was expected of international and regional actors, and what kinds of pressures could international and regional actors bring to bear to help nudge the parties towards a lasting and durable peace?
BERNARDINO LEON GROSS, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of Spain, said he believed it was a timely moment to pose the question which was being debated today. Things were moving in the region and it was time to reflect on how the international community could contribute if it was possible to contribute in searching for a just and lasting solution for peace in the region. The peace process undoubtedly had an international dimension. The international community was indispensable to set up a system of guarantees. That was the origin of the Road Map. It was the idea of several international mediators in the framework of the second intifada, which had called into question the progress of the Oslo process. The Road Map was born in 2002. It contained basic elements, not only a two-State solution, but also a verification mechanism which was crucial. The plan rested on the idea that the two sides needed the support of third parties. It contained a timetable which obviously today had been overcome by events, including the disengagement plan. But as a reference document, Spain and the European Union still believed that it was a valid document.
Mr. Gross said that there were different interpretations of the Road Map. Spain and the European Union believed that the peace process needed parallel progress in politics, security and the economy. The European Union and Spain considered that although the Israeli initiative might represent a step forward, it was essential to establish a link between the Road Map and the disengagement plan. The disengagement plan must fulfil five conditions to ensure its success: it had to be compatible with the Road Map; it had to be compatible with the two-State solution; it must not involve the movement of settlers from Gaza to the West Bank; it must be based on the principle of coordination between Israel and the Palestinians; and Israel must facilitate the economic revival of Gaza and enable the free movement of goods and persons. Israel would be the first to benefit from a stable and viable Gaza. The European Union and Spain believed that if the disengagement plan was carried out within the five conditions, it would be successful and could provide momentum to the peace process. The only obsolete element in the Road Map at this moment was the timetable, but its other elements had not lost their validity.
Spain had carried out many efforts to collaborate the peace process, Mr. Gross said. Spain was committed to helping to bring social, political and economic stability to the Mediterranean region. The vision from Spain had always been to create a regional framework and then also to work bilaterally. With regards to bringing an end to violence, Spain had taken a number of initiatives with a number of countries in the region in order to help influence Palestinian organizations in order to achieve stability. It had also allocated 10 million euros to help equip the Palestinian police. Spain had a long-term commitment to the Palestinian people.
In conclusion, Mr. Gross said that in the present circumstances, the Road Map was the best tool that the international community and the parties involved possessed in order to reach a permanent solution. It was undoubtedly open to interpretations which might not always be compatible, but it had the advantage of being accepted by both sides. The European Union and Spain would continue to make every effort possible to make it work.
MICHAEL L. BOGDANOV, Ambassador of the Russian Federation in Cairo, said the Road Map had been worked out by the Quartet of international mediators in a joint effort, with the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation taking an active part in paving the way for a Palestinian State and facilitating peace in the Middle East. It was the embodiment of previous international positions. However, the Road Map had been worked out in specific circumstances when the Israeli and Palestinian sides had totally lost confidence in each other. Today, it was the only alternative plan to reach peace. At the initiative of the Russian Federation, the Road Map had been endorsed by the Security Council. The Road Map was based on the peaceful coexistence of the two States. It would be a political mistake to wait to complete the Road Map before negotiations on the final settlement issues like the borders, refugees and Jerusalem. It was important to proceed bilaterally on final settlement issues, and if necessary, with the help of the Quartet, alongside the Road Map.
Mr. Bogdanov said that it was evident that under the current situation, keeping the timetable mentioned in the Road Map was no longer possible. The disengagement plan called for a unilateral withdrawal and Russia had commended it. However, the Sharon plan did not give answers to the many issues of principle. The matter concerning the air, sea and land borders with Gaza and the linking of the West Bank and Gaza; if those issues remained unanswered, then Gaza would turn into a big prison for the Palestinians. It was important to link the implementation of the disengagement plan to the Road Map which should be relaunched immediately after the plan was carried out in order to avoid a pause in the peace process. The Russian Federation shared the concerns of Israel regarding the issue of security. It believed that much had already been done for the implementation of the first phase of the Road Map, including a decrease in violence and the ceasefire. At the same time, in view of the internal pressure Ariel Sharon was under from those who wished to hinder the withdrawal, everyone should help him, bearing in mind that the disengagement plan should be viewed in the context of the Road Map.
SAID KAMAL, Assistant Secretary-General for Palestinian Affairs of the League of Arab States, said he wished to mention two points in order to defend in a reasonable manner the efforts exerted by the late President Yasser Arafat for the peace process. In 1970, he had attended a meeting between President Arafat and the late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and President Nasser had told President Arafat that he had to start with a dialogue and negotiations with Israel in order to support peace. At the time, the word “negotiations” had been a forbidden term among the Palestinian people. But all the events since then and the contacts had been carried out to reach the point of start of negotiations and the peace process. From 1970 to 1993, there had been the extraordinary initiative of the late President Anwar Sadat. But the Arab mentality had only started to fully absorb that step following the Oslo process. In 1996, President Mubarak and President Arafat and other Arabs had said that they would put forward to Israelis the vision that peace was a strategic option for all the sides. What had been the result? The result was that young Arabs today were telling the leaders that they had been wrong because Israel did not want to understand the Arab message of peace.
Mr. Kamal said the Arabs had made many regional and international efforts towards peace in the Middle East. That had taken many forms. The Road Map in that respect was considered one of the means or mechanisms which had been seen as a way to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Palestinians were prepared to proceed with the Road Map, but it had to be within an important framework and correspond with the Arab peace initiative. Israel should be pressurized by the Quartet to be committed to the Road Map. It was important to note that no change in the region would materialize unless there was a just, comprehensive and permanent solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict at the Palestinian, Syrian and Lebanese levels. Arabs were exerting many efforts to reach such a peace.
Mr. Kamal said, today, there was the Arab peace initiative to help find peace. Many meetings between the Arabs and the Quartet had been held which had resulted in the Road Map on the basis of the vision of President Bush of two States living side by side in security. What had been the result? The United States had rejected those coordinating meetings. The Palestinians had accepted the Road Map without any reservations, while Israel had made 14 reservations. President Arafat at the time had accepted the Road Map, but still Israel had not considered that the Palestinian Government had represented a partner for peace. After President Arafat’s death, there had been a peaceful transition of power, the elections had been held, and President Abbas had been elected. He had started to exert all comprehensive reforms to the political, economic and security institutions and those reforms had been commended by all. At that point, Israel had suggested the unilateral disengagement plan from Gaza and parts of the northern West Bank. At the latest summit in Algiers in 2005, the Arabs had said that any withdrawal had to be comprehensive and within the framework of the Road Map and it also had to ensure the integrity of Jerusalem and eliminate a one-State option with provisional borders. The Quartet was committed to a two-State solution and the disengagement plan had to be a part of the Road Map. There was a movement in Israel to demolish the peace process and to use only limited steps like the disengagement plan. The Road Map should complement the Arab peace initiative which stressed the Palestinian lands only, while the Arab peace initiative dealt with all the occupied Arab territories, as well as Jerusalem and refugees.
In conclusion, Mr. Kamal said there was a need to convene an urgent meeting of the Quartet and the parties to the Arab peace initiative in order to help reach a solution.
CLAYTON SWISHER, Director of Programmes at the Middle East Institute, said he wished to provide an American perspective to the situation, although he was not part of the Administration but an independent observer. A lot had been said about the Road Map. He had a bleak assessment of what was going on. Studying the Oslo process, it was amazing how little the public had been prepared for peace. Words were very important in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Participants might have noted that words like “viable” and “contiguous” were now being used by the United States when it referred to a future Palestinian State; maybe the United States said that “to dispel the notion that anything else will fly”. When President Abbas had last visited Washington, the United States had started using other words like “mutually agreed”. There had been some positive developments, but still he was pessimistic.
Mr. Swisher said the United States was preoccupied with its own security and with Iraq, but it had also made the disengagement plan its policy. The United States was “trying to kick the can” without entering into final status negotiations. He agreed with Mr. Miller yesterday that that was the interim game. It would not resolve the conflict, and he did not think that it would make the United States any safer either. Some people were predicting a new wave of violence could start after the Palestinians realized that the United States was not serious about final status negotiations.
Mr. Swisher said the use of words in the Arab-Israeli issue was very important. The panel was asking whether the Road Map was the answer; he would change that to whether it was “an” answer or “the” answer. The Road Map lacked a clear line on issues such as Jerusalem, refugees and borders. Other steps must still be taken if they wanted to turn the Road Map from being “a” solution to “the” solution. The world must prepare and make contingency plans for a third intifada. The Palestinian Authority must say that it is against violent means and must urge the Palestinians to stop the violence. A real leadership role would be required of the Palestinians. President Abbas must only support peaceful protests. Also, the Arab peace initiative had to get wider circulation and be articulated in Israel, the United States and other places.
A speaker said that at the university, they taught international negotiations and explained how fair negotiations should be based on a balance of interest, not an imbalance of power. In the 1970s, negotiations had been held between the United States and Mexico. The United States was the only buyer for the Mexican natural gas and it was pushing the price down too low, and Mexico had decided to burn the gas rather than to sell it at such a low price. They taught that negotiations had to be a win-win game.
Another speaker asked if the panellists could tell her what would happen if 16 August arrived and Israel carried out its disengagement plan with no further withdrawal, no safe passage between Gaza and the West Bank, and no airport or port. What would the Quartet do? A speaker asked what if Sharon, after his unilateral disengagement plan, continued with another unilateral plan to impose a final solution on the Palestinians.
A speaker said he wanted to swim against the current and say that there was no Road Map. That was a full and complete deception plan because Israel had killed it from the beginning with its reservations on the core substantial issues. The United States had even issued a statement that it would take the Israeli reservations into account during the implementation of the Road Map. The only game in town was not the disengagement plan, but rather a multidimensional Sharon plan, and the disengagement plan was only one of its chains. Israel was liquidating the Palestinian claims. The solution was to pressure Israel and to ensure Palestinian rights. Otherwise, there would be more confrontations and terrorism. Another speaker asked who would enforce the Road Map. A question was also raised on the role of the European Union in the peace process. She believed that the European Union and Spain always spoke softly, while carrying a big carrot in the form of financial donations. The European Union had so far contributed 250 million euros to the Middle East which no one ever heard about, while the United States had given $250 million which everyone had heard about. The European Union was always playing second fiddle to the United States.
In response, Mr. GROSS said that in reference to the question on what would happen in August, the European Union had put clear conditions which were necessary for it to support the disengagement plan and he had outlined them earlier. If these conditions were not fulfilled, then the European Union would not be able to support the disengagement plan and it, along with the international community, would pressure Israel to try to convince it to fulfil its responsibility towards the Road Map and tell it that the disengagement plan could not continue. Another issue was that the only instrument that they had was international pressure and persuasion. The European Union and Spain accepted that the disengagement plan could be a chapter in the Road Map. It was up to the diplomats to find a way to exert pressure, which could not be used as an abstract expression. The international community had to keep a common approach and it was very important to work in the framework of the Quartet and to be ready for what would happen in August.
Mr. BOGDANOV said he wished to say something about the economic aid being given to the Palestinians and also about the international conference. The Quartet and the international community were doing their best to help the Palestinian economy, but everything was affected by the political situation on the ground and the security conditions. A lot of money had been given to the Palestinians to reopen the airport in Gaza, and two Russian helicopters had been presented to the Palestinian Authority, but then Israeli attacks had destroyed the airport and the helicopters. So the political and security and economic situation were all connected. As for the question on the international conference, President Putin had never changed his position. Russia said it was a good idea to have an international conference at the level of experts. It knew that now was not the time for an international summit. President Putin had said the international conference could be held after the withdrawal from Gaza. It would be very important because they were still many answers missing to important questions, and they should all look for the answers together. Bilateral contacts between Palestinians and Israelis were also very important.
Mr. SWISHER said one of the questions had referred to bargaining in international negotiations. Bargaining could be used to signal a game of incentives. It was important to open contacts with Israel, and a lot could be said about giving your adversary a hug at the beginning of the meeting. The ways of the past had not been very successful.
ESSAM EL-DIN HAWAS, Deputy President of the United Nations Association of Egypt, said the International Media Seminar was a timely and much needed meeting. He wished to greet the three courageous Israelis who had participated in the Seminar yesterday. If more Israelis thought like them, there would not be a problem in the Middle East. He wanted to underline a number of facts. Fact one: he did not represent any official view, maybe he could pretend to reflect the 18,000 non-governmental organizations working in Egypt. Fact two: Egyptians were among 50 countries which had worked hard to establish the United Nations in 1945. They would continue to support the world organization and would do everything to enable it to fulfil its objectives and avoid being part of the game of power. Egypt had followed how the Security Council in 2002 had refused to give its blessing to the military invasion of Iraq and supported this. Fact three: Egypt historically had had nothing against the United States. If there was a clear hatred of the United States in public opinion today, there had to be a very good reason for it. It was linked to the United States’ policies in the region, its bias against the Palestinians, considering Arafat a terrorist and Sharon a man of peace, also the invasion of Iraq in search of weapons of mass destruction that did not exist, then the killing of those fighting for their freedom from occupation. Fact four: Egypt had nothing against Jews. It had lived with them for thousands of years. Camp David in 1978 had promised a final solution within five years, but the Arabs had been very disappointed. The 2000 intifada had been met by Barak whose heavy weapons had killed innocent people, and that had been continued by Sharon.
Mr. Hawas said that while talking about the current situation, with the Road Map and the disengagement plan, the Road Map had been widely supported by the Quartet and the Security Council, but he had serious doubts about it. The idea of a Palestinian State was first pronounced by Sharon early in 2002, before Bush had talked about in June of that year. But the question was what kind of an Israeli State. There were already some indications, a State with provisional borders, and another new word was being used, a peaceful State. The Road Map also called for an immediate halt of the Palestinian violence which would end the Palestinians’ right to fight against the occupation. If they gave up their right, what would be left for them and who would listen to them. He hoped that he was mistaken and that he was wrong. On the unilateral disengagement plan, Sharon had already detailed it in 2003. He had then given the Palestinians three months to respond positively to it, or he said he would go ahead unilaterally. That had been in 2004, this was 2005. Why had he waited? He had used these months to kill and assassinate as many Palestinians as he could and to destroy as much of the infrastructure as he could. That was purely a Sharon plan, it was not part of a peaceful settlement. He hoped he was wrong. He regretted the lack of participation of Israeli Government officials in the Seminar.
Finally, Mr. Hawas said that he wished to urge United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to do what he could to help the United Nations fulfil its role and to call on the Palestinians to continue their struggle for freedom by all means and to continue maintaining their strongest weapon which was their national unity.
ABDUL MALIK NDAILA ONANI, Counsellor for Political and Consular Affairs of Malawi in Egypt, said that in simple terms, the United States had brought the Road Map into the conflict. However, was the United States following it or trying to implement it? No. For the Road Map to work, the United States had to come in and implement it, not just to prepare the paper. The international community should implement the Road Map. The document referred to ending the “terrorism”, however, it should use the words “freedom fighters” for the Palestinian resistance and the “oppressor” for Israel.
Mr. HAWAS said that he wished to thank the Ambassador of Malawi. Sometimes, speakers fell short of expressing themselves like he did. He had pinpointed the core. The Road Map called for an end of terrorism and targeting Hamas, but those were actions and organizations working to free their country. He had also asked why the United States had not implemented the Road Map. It was because it wanted to give Israel the time to kill Palestinians and destroy their trees before imposing the final status plan.
RAMI KHOURI, Editor-at-Large of the Daily Star in Beirut, said he wanted to comment on the media in the Middle East, especially the Arab and Israeli media, in the context of ongoing developments like the Road Map, the Gaza withdrawal, the Quartet, these were mostly opportunities which had been lost, some had been achieved, always waiting for the United States. What was needed was a serious international external involvement on the basis of legitimacy in the interest of all the parties. In the end, the problem would be resolved by the people of the Middle East.
Mr. Khouri said that he believed that the conflict had started in 1896 with the birth of Zionism. Today, the conflict had gone on over a century and had involved five or six generations of Arabs and Israelis. It was now a conflict which was being weighed in biblical times. Biblical wars were measured in generations. It had become an existential conflict for the Israelis and the Palestinians. That was the only way to explain the barbarism which was being practised by elements on both sides. It was a paradox that the majority of the Palestinians and Israelis supported the violence and the attacks on civilians, and yet they also supported a negotiated and permanent and comprehensive peace. It was a contradiction, but not a contradiction.
Mr. Khouri said that the resolution of the Palestinian issue must adhere to the return of the Palestinian refugees. The media from both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict had not done a good job of playing its appropriate, professional role as a mass media. Most of the media, and there were exceptions, had allowed themselves to become mouthpieces of ideologies, or had allowed themselves to be simple mirrors of public opinion which was predominately negative. There was another role which he urged the media to follow. The media had an opportunity to decide whether it wanted to be an accurate messenger of the society or predominately a messenger of anger and fear. It had to be both. The media needed to go to the majority population on both sides and reflect their ideas and the paradox. He would argue that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians were prepared to deal with the main issues and were prepared to make compromises on security and refugees and Jerusalem in order to ensure a legitimate, just and permanent peace. The media had not reflected the depth of those sentiments. That was a huge priority for the media. It might be worth the Quartet mandating a semi-formal role to members of the mass media in the Arab world and Israel to ensure that they played a role which was appropriate with their professional position, their morality and their aspirations. There was also a need to explore the role of the mass media in verification and monitoring.
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