International Meeting on Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process Opens in Istanbul Spotlights Path to Ending Occupation, Building Viable Palestinian State
International Meeting on Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process Opens in Istanbul Spotlights Path to Ending Occupation, Building Viable Palestinian State
|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
International Meeting on Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process Opens in Istanbul
Spotlights Path to Ending Occupation, Building Viable Palestinian State
With New Round of Proximity Talks Under Way, Secretary-General Urges
Parties to Avoid Provocations, Move Quickly to Direct Negotiations on Core Issues
(Received from a UN Information Officer)
ISTANBUL, Turkey, 25 May — United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today reiterated his support for the revived Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks, saying it was necessary that they lead quickly to direct peace negotiations so that progress could be made on core issues such as the status of Jerusalem, which was vital to both parties, and “should emerge from the negotiations as the capital of Israel and Palestine, with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all.”
“As the talks proceed, we must work with the parties to ensure that further steps are taken to build mutual trust and more positive conditions on the ground,” the Secretary-General said in a message delivered by Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, to the opening of the United Nations Meeting in Support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process, in Istanbul, Turkey.
The two-day meeting, organized by the Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, on the theme “Ending the occupation and establishing the Palestinian State,” brings United Nations officials and diplomats together with a diverse group of Middle East experts. Topics include prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace, Jerusalem’s spiritual significance, and ways to reset the political dialogue, including through third-party mediation. The Meeting will be followed on Thursday, 27 May, by the United Nations Public Forum in Support of the Palestinian People to be held at the Istanbul Kültür University.
Secretary-General Ban was pleased that the proximity talks, which began on 9 May, were finally underway after a period of prolonged delay and setbacks, and urged the parties to avoid provocations or breaches of the Quartet-backed Road Map or international law, “which would only create new crises of confidence.” Israel must exercise particular restraint in East Jerusalem, where demolitions, evictions and settlement expansion should be halted. The Palestinian Authority must continue positive efforts in fulfilling obligations under the Road Map to promote security and build institutions in the context of its widely supported State-building programme.
As for Gaza, he urged all actors to support measures to promote calm, end the closure, prevent illicit weapons smuggling and achieve Palestinian unity within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority and the commitments of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Finally, he reminded everyone that Israeli-Palestinian peace would be bolstered by a favourable regional environment – “a comprehensive approach” that included support from all regional parties for talks between the two sides, a resumed political track between Israel and Syria, and full realization of the Arab Peace Initiative.
Nemer Hammad, Special Political Advisor to the President of the Palestinian Authority, said the commitment of President Abbas and of the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to attain peace with Israel through negotiations was “genuine and unwavering.” All efforts to that end were based on the principle of land for peace, ending the occupation, and building a Palestinian State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side in peace and security with Israel. “The State we will build will be a peaceful State,” he said, adding that the Palestinian Authority would accept any international presence on its territory “but not one Israeli soldier.”
On the proximity talks, he expressed the Palestinian Authority’s full support for their aim, but had concerns about Israel’s resolve. The talks were supposed to provide an opportunity, within the agreed four-month timeframe, to pave the way for direct negotiations leading to a comprehensive settlement and creation of a Palestinian State within two years. Yet, from the Palestinians’ viewpoint, nothing had changed. They continued to hear daily provocative statements from the Israeli Government, especially regarding occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli officials had begun to use religion and a fabricated reality to continue their policies.
As a result, Palestinian homes were being demolished, high taxes were being levied, and a racist military policy that allowed people, whether Palestinian or not, to be evicted at the whim of any Israeli military officer, had been put in place. The only answer to all this was increasing pressure to ensure the talks succeeded and a Viable Palestinian State was established. “Let the negotiations begin in earnest and on an equal footing,” he declared, calling on the international community to help the talks proceed quickly but fairly and without preconditions. Indeed, if religion were left to interfere, it would undoubtedly lead to dire global consequences.
For his part, Zahir Tanin, Head of the Delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the twentieth anniversary of the Madrid peace conference was coming up next year, and all stakeholders needed to take a hard look at what had gone right and, more importantly, what had gone wrong in the two decades since that landmark meeting had ushered in the peace process. “The sovereign State of Palestine, free from occupation, is still just a vision,” he said, emphasizing that the sense of frustration was palpable, among Palestinians and throughout the region, with the “open-ended Israeli occupation” and with the on-again-off-again nature of the peace process.
But against that rather bleak backdrop, the United States-mediated proximity talks offered some encouragement, he said. The Committee welcomed the start of those talks and he hoped they would lead to tangible results on the ground, such as unobstructed movement of persons and goods in the West Bank and the end of the blockade of Gaza, release of Palestinian prisoners and enlargement of the Palestinian Authority’s area of control.
The Committee also championed the comprehensive blueprint for Palestinian Statehood within two years, unveiled by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last August. Aiming to end the Palestinian economy’s dependence on Israel, harmonize the legal system and streamline governance, the Fayyad Plan also involved building infrastructure, harnessing natural resources and improving education. “The Plan aims to end the occupation by creating positive facts on the ground,” he said, adding that the State-building agenda also complemented the negotiating process. It was a bold initiative that demanded an equally bold response by the international community, including with the adoption of a resolution in 2011 by the Security Council determining the borders of the Palestinian State based on the pre-1967 lines.
Mr. Serry, who is also the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority, delivered today’s keynote address, entitled “The path to a Palestinian State”. He said that while polls continued to show that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians continued to support the two-State solution, they knew that time was not on the side of peace, and that the longer the wound of Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not healed, the harder it would be to find a permanent cure. Moreover, as the only Quartet Envoy based permanently on the ground in Jerusalem, he was acutely aware that Israelis and Palestinians actually had increasing doubts that the two-State solution was achievable.
Continuing, he said many Palestinians doubted that Israel had the will or capability to roll back the settlement enterprise, end the occupation that began in 1967 and share Jerusalem. Many Israelis, for their part, doubted that the Palestinians had the will or capability to confer the kind of recognition that Israel sought, to ensure their commitment to peace and security would be maintained, and to put a permanent end to the conflict. “Each side can point to evidence which backs up their claims,” he said.
He asked: How do we overcome a situation that is neither acceptable nor sustainable in the long run? How can we build the only future that can work? The answer was through the pursuit and promotion of five vital aims: real negotiations; responsible actions on the ground; relentless Palestinian State-building; effective crisis prevention and intervention in Gaza; and a comprehensive regional approach.
“After many setbacks and delays we are now entering into what may be our last opportunity to reach a just, lasting and comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, based on a two-State solution.” And while that path to a Palestinian State would be fraught with challenges, it was still achievable. “But we do not have the luxury of time [and] we cannot afford to waste our time in the 24 months ahead. It is too late for yet another incremental approach to peace.” That was why the negotiations needed to address the core issues and could not be allowed to stagnate. “The consequence of failure is only likely to increase the risk of the region sliding backwards into conflict,” he warned.
In his remarks, Ahmet Davutoglu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, welcomed the participants to Istanbul and hailed the work of the Committee, which was a key United Nations body that worked tirelessly. He said his region was passing through yet another critical period and the confluence of regional and global dynamics required maximum vigilance and concerted actions by countries in the region and in the wider international community to avert new crises and de-escalate tensions, largely around the issue of the Middle East and the question of Palestine. That complex question had four main dimensions - humanitarian, national, regional and global – and must be approached in a comprehensive manner. All peoples had inalienable rights and there should be no difference between nations and cultures, he added.
The most important of those rights were security and freedom. All human beings deserved these rights, he said, noting that throughout history, most wars had been fought to secure those two rights. As for the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, security and freedom were under threat and the entire international community should be concerned. “We must defend these rights,” he said. “This is not only a strategic question, it is a human question,” he continued, stressing that Turkey would, in line with its history, continue to press for the human rights of those being oppressed, wherever they were and wherever they came from. Palestinians must have the same rights as everyone else, he said.
In the afternoon, the Meeting heard expert presentations on the state of the political process and prospects for peace in the Middle East. The ensuing discussion touched on that issue as well as on matters regarding resetting the political dialogue, the question of Jerusalem and the impact of the United States’ involvement in the peace process.
One expert, Danny Seidemann, Legal Counsel, Ir Amim, foresaw the “painful but necessary” political division of Jerusalem under which “not one Palestinian would see an Israeli military officer when they went home at night and where Al-Quds would be the capital.” As for Israel, such a political division would give that country what it needed most: recognition. “Israel does not need demographic superiority in Jerusalem, it needs recognition.” If that sounded familiar, he said that it should, because it was what the Arab Peace Initiative had always offered: withdrawal, a divided Jerusalem and the management of holy sites in a way that was acceptable to all.
Looking ahead, he expected United States President Barack Obama, “had a musical ear for this conflict” to take bold steps on Jerusalem and other final status issues after the November mid-term elections in the United States. If that happened, it was imperative that all stakeholders, not just Israelis and Palestinians, prepare themselves for the final status “end game.” It would be essential in that regard to bolster support for the Arab Peace Initiative.
Indeed, implementing the principles of that accord was absolutely critical to any agreement on Jerusalem. He said that in he Arab Peace Initiative, Arabs and the wider international community had a powerful weapon. As a weapon against Israel, it would be stillborn, but as a tool to bring Israel to the negotiating table, it was powerful.
The Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt also addressed the opening session, as did the Assistant Secretary-General for Palestine of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Director of the Department of Arab Occupied Land of the League of Arab States.
Other experts participating in the meeting’s first plenary were Nemer Hammad, Special Political Advisor to the President of the Palestinian Authority; Richard Murphy, Adjunct Scholar, Middle East Institute; Michele Dunne, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Editor of the Arab Reform Bulletin; and Jad Isaac, Director General, Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem.
Opening the Meeting, ZAHIR TANIN (Afghanistan), Head of the Delegation of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the gathering was taking place at a time when, once again, the world public was focused on events in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After a period of consistent efforts by the international community, including the Middle East Quartet (European Union, Russian Federation, United States and United Nations) and particularly the United States and the League of Arab States, negotiations on the permanent status issues between Israel and the Palestinians had resumed, through so-called “proximity talks.”
“The situation on the ground, however, remains extremely volatile,” he continued, saying that in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, projects for the expansion of settlements on occupied Palestinian land were being announced despite the temporary freeze declared by the Israeli Government. Violence by settlers against Palestinians was increasing and was a cause for great concern. The construction of the separation wall continued unabated. Moreover, the Gaza Strip remained under siege, with only the bare minimum of humanitarian goods allowed in.
He said the developments on the ground threatened to render a two-State solution to the conflict unattainable. That was the reason the Committee had decided to call particular attention to the urgency of achieving such a solution through a resumed political process. “The window of opportunity for realizing that goal is closing rapidly,” he warned, adding that the Committee believed that there was no feasible alternative to the two-State solution, to the creation of an independent, sovereign and viable Palestinian State living side by side in peace and security with Israel. In closing, he said the Committee was particularly grateful to the Government and people of Turkey for the opportunity to host the United Nations International Meeting in Support of the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process in Istanbul
AHMET DAVUTOGLU, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Turkey, welcomed the participants to Istanbul and hailed the work of the Committee, which was a key United Nations body that worked tirelessly. He said his region was passing through yet another critical period and the confluence of regional and global dynamics required maximum vigilance and concerted actions by countries in the region and in the wider international community to avert new crises and de-escalate tensions, largely around the issue of the Middle East and the question of Palestine.
That complex question had four main dimensions - humanitarian, national, regional and global – and must be approached in a comprehensive manner. He said that all peoples had inalienable rights and there should be no difference between nations and cultures. The most important of those rights were security and freedom. Throughout history, most wars had been fought to secure those two rights. As for the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, security and freedom were under threat and the entire international community should be concerned.
Indeed, children in Gaza and Ramallah did not have the same rights, hopes and prospects for the future as children living in other lands. “We must defend these rights,” he said. “This is not only a strategic question, it is a human question,” he continued, stressing that Turkey would, in line with its history, continue to press for the human rights of those being oppressed, wherever they were and wherever they came from. Palestinians must have the same rights as everyone else. Palestinian children must have the same opportunities to build solid futures like other children.
As for national and local dimensions of the issue, he said it was vital to help bolster Palestinian institutions, and called on the international community to help strengthen them. At the same time, Palestinians themselves must come together and work towards strengthened institutions and governance structures. “They can blame others for some things, but on the issue of national reconciliation they can blame no one else; they must come together,” he declared.
He added that all support must be afforded to those institutions so that that the two-State solution created a real and viable Palestinian state, not a “secondary State.” As work towards that end proceeded, it would be necessary to set a timetable for full realization of the process, so that it did not become a repetitive circle of meetings and unrealized agreements.
As for regional issues, he said that his region was very complex, home to many religions, cultures and peoples. Yet, at the core on many problems was the Palestinian question. Indeed, that issue produced psychological frustrations in many societies in the region. Turkey wanted regional peace and stability, as had been seen in its recent efforts on the Iranian nuclear issue. Regarding the Palestinian question, he said: “Enough is enough. Our region needs peace, stability and prosperity. And in order to have that, we need to have a peaceful and stable Palestine.”
Continuing on another important facet of the issue, he said that for many people, Jerusalem had a symbolic meaning whether they were Muslim, Jewish or Christian. “Indeed, for people of many faiths, Jerusalem is the most important city on Earth”, he said, adding that all people saw it as a place of peace. Yet, as things stood today, he warned, Jerusalem could become a symbol of protracted conflict. But even with all the complexities and troubling facts on the ground, he was optimistic: “We will have viable Palestinian State soon […] and on that day, we will have a similar meeting in Jerusalem, with the participation of all Muslims, Christians and Jews,” he declared.
ROBERT SERRY, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, delivering a message on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said he was pleased that after a period of prolonged delays and setbacks, the proximity talks were finally underway. He commended Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on that step and urged them to engage on the core issues in earnest, with a view to moving to direct negotiations as soon as possible. He also appreciated the role being played by the United States and pledged his full support to that effort.
“As the talks proceed, we must work with the parties to ensure that further steps are taken to build mutual trust and more positive conditions on the ground,” he said, stressing that the parties must avoid provocations or breaches of the Quartet-backed Road Map or international law, which would only create new crises of confidence. He said Israel must exercise particular restraint in East Jerusalem, where demolitions, evictions and settlement expansion should be halted, and added: “Jerusalem remains a permanent status issue, vital to both parties, and a way should be found for the city to emerge from negotiations as the capital of both Israel and Palestine, with arrangements for the holy sites acceptable to all.”
The Palestinian Authority must, for its part, continue its positive efforts in fulfilling obligations under the Road Map to build institutions and promote security in the context of its widely supported State-building programme. Continuing, he said that in Gaza, all actors should support measures to promote calm, end the closure, prevent illicit weapons smuggling and achieve Palestinian unity within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority and the commitments of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
“I am particularly concerned that the current closure creates unacceptable suffering, hurts forces of moderation and empowers extremists, and call for the closure policy to end,” he said. And while he welcomed the “modest progress” that had been achieved with the Israeli Government in facilitating a number of priority United Nations projects and widening the list of commercial goods allowed into Gaza, he stressed that so much more must be done, and that he would continue to press hard for that objective.
Finally, he urged everyone to recognize that Israeli-Palestinian peace would be boosted by a favourable regional environment, including a comprehensive approach to peace, including support from all regional parties for talks between the two sides, a resumed political track between Israel and Syria, and full realization of the Arab Peace Initiative. “The United Nations remains committed to the end of the 1967 occupation, the creation of an independent Palestinian State, and a just, lasting and comprehensive regional peace, in accordance with Security Council resolutions, previous agreements and international law,” he said.
Next, Mr. TANIN, speaking on behalf of the Committee, welcomed the participants and reiterated the Committee’s appreciation to the Turkish Government. Holding the Meeting in Istanbul was very important, as all were aware of Turkey’s foreign policy dynamism and the leadership role it had been playing in the region recently on many issues. Saying that Turkey had contributed to the quest for a peaceful settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict for many decades, he recalled that it was one of the founding members of the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, established in the wake of the 1948 war.
He went on to say that the Committee, established in 1975 as the only United Nations organ exclusively entrusted with the political aspects of the question of Palestine, attached great importance to the meeting and the discussions that would be held. “However, I would not consider our mission accomplished if this Meeting solely provided a platform to restate our long-held positions, important though they are,” he said and added that the Committee hoped the meeting would move the participants towards a critical re-examination of some of the long-held assumptions and old patterns regarding the peace process.
With the twentieth anniversary of the Madrid peace conference coming up next year, all stakeholders needed to take a hard look at what had gone right and, more importantly, what had gone wrong in the two decades since that landmark meeting had ushered in the peace process.
“The sovereign State of Palestine, free from occupation, is still just a vision,” he said, emphasizing that the sense of frustration was palpable, among Palestinians and throughout the region, both with the “open-ended Israeli occupation” and with the on-again-off-again nature of the peace process. Indeed, Palestinians’ patience with the peace process, and with the two-State solution in general, was wearing thin.
Continuing, he said that by many significant measures the Palestinian people were worse off today than they were twenty years ago. As two decades of talks had come to nothing, one of the obvious casualties was the Palestinians’ freedom of movement: two thirds of Gazans under 30 — those that grew up during the peace talks – had never set foot outside the Gaza Strip. Moreover, the unacceptable blockade had reduced Gazans to building houses out of mud to replace those that had been destroyed during Israel’s Operation Cast Lead, launched at the end of 2008.
The situation in the West Bank was not much better, with the separation wall and “settlers only” criss-crossing land that was also dotted with Israeli checkpoints. “The end result is geographical discontinuity, which is discouraging investment and choking off meaningful economic activity, leaving the Palestinians massively dependent on foreign aid,” he said, adding: “Needless to say, humanitarian assistance and budget support by donors, mostly going to pay civil servant salaries, are hardly a sustainable basis on which to build a viable State.”
Against that rather bleak backdrop, the United States-mediated proximity talks between the Israelis and Palestinians offered some encouragement, he said, adding the Committee welcomed the start of those talks and hoped they would lead to tangible results on the ground, such as unobstructed movement of persons and goods in the West Bank and the end of the blockade of Gaza, release of Palestinian prisoners and enlargement of the Palestinian Authority’s area of control. All parties should refrain from any unilateral actions on the ground and refrain from incitement that could jeopardize ongoing efforts. Such steps would create the required atmosphere for direct negotiations between the parties that would tackle all final status issues without exception.
Unfortunately, the initial signs were far from encouraging, as on the ground “new, massive settlement projects are awaiting the end of the 10-month settlement freeze.” Further, he said that the demolition of Palestinian homes continued unabated and top Israeli officials had been signalling an intention to continue to depopulate East Jerusalem of its indigenous Palestinians, in defiance of the international community, international law and the Quartet. Equally disturbing were the new Israeli military orders threatening thousands of West Bank Palestinians with deportation. “Labelled infiltrators in their own land, these Palestinians can be arbitrarily deprived of their right of residency and summarily deported at the whim of a military commander,” he said.
Still, the Committee had championed the comprehensive blueprint for a Palestinian State within two years, unveiled by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad last August. Aiming to end the Palestinian economy’s dependence on Israel, harmonize the legal system and streamline governance, the plan also involved building infrastructure, harnessing natural resources and improving housing, education and agriculture. “The Plan aims to end the occupation by creating positive facts on the ground,” he said, adding that the State-building agenda also complemented the negotiating process. That bold initiative demanded an equally bold response by the international community.
At the time of the Plan’s expected conclusion in August 2011, it would be time for the other countries supporting the Palestinian right to self-determination “to stand up and be counted” and recognize Palestine as a responsible member of the international community. He was pleased to note that Turkey had been one of the first countries to recognize Palestine and he encouraged other countries represented at the meeting to do the same. At the end of the two-year process, the Security Council should adopt a resolution determining the borders of the Palestinian State based on the pre-1967 lines. By backing the Plan, the Council would create the necessary political framework for ending the occupation and implementing the two-State solution, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.
NEMER HAMMAD, Special Political Advisor to the President of the Palestinian Authority, said the meeting was especially important because it was being held in Turkey, which had a strategic and vital position with regards to the Middle East. Palestinians, from besieged Gaza to tormented Jerusalem, looked with hope to the outcome of the meeting. Turning to the current situation on the ground, he said that the United States Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace had begun the shuttle diplomacy that had ushered in the proximity talks. Under the framework of that agreement, the start of the talks meant that there should be a new situation on the ground and that all provocative acts on both sides should stop.
That would provide the opportunity, within the agreed four-month timeframe, to pave the way for direct talks that would in turn lead to a comprehensive settlement and creation of a Palestinian State within two years. Yet, he said, from the Palestinians’ viewpoint, nothing had changed. They continued to hear daily provocative statements from the Israeli Government, especially regarding occupied East Jerusalem. Those Israeli officials had begun to use religion and a fabricated reality to continue their policy of “ethnic cleansing”. Palestinian homes were being demolished, high taxes were being levied, and a racist military policy that allowed people, whether Palestinian or not, to be evicted at the whim of any Israeli military officer had been put in place. The impact of that policy had recently been witnessed by the world when distinguished American writer and professor Noam Chomsky had been prevented from entering Israel and the West Bank.
As for the West Bank, he said that illegal settlement activity was continuing there. Peace activists who demonstrated in response were routinely subjected to vicious repression. Israel continued its blockade against Gaza and “responded by force” to all humanitarian initiatives, including against convoys containing relief aid and goods for the suffering Palestinian people.
He said that the commitment of President Abbas and the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to attain peace with Israel through negotiations was “genuine and unwavering.” All efforts to that end were based on the principle of land for peace, on ending the occupation and on building a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital, living side by side in peace and security with Israel. “The State we will build will be a peaceful State,” he said, adding that the Palestinian Authority would accept any international presence on its territory “but not one Israeli soldier”. Returning to the proximity talks, he said the initial focus would be on borders and security. Other issues, including Jerusalem, would be taken up in turn.
Israel had always said that Palestinians spoke “many languages and had many positions,” but in this case, all Palestinians were speaking in one voice. Indeed, on this matter, it was Israel that seemed to have many positions. Sometimes its officials expressed a desire for a two-State solution, at others times, they intimated that the only solution was the expulsion of all Palestinian people from their own lands. “Let the negotiations begin in earnest and on an equal footing,” he declared, calling on the international community to help the process continue quickly but fairly and without provocations. Indeed, he said, if religion were allowed to interfere, it would undoubtedly lead to dire global consequences.
Delivering the Meeting’s keynote address on the “Path to a Palestinian State”, Mr. SERRY said he realized that path had been long, winding, painful, and, at least thus far, elusive. While polls continued to show that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians continued to support the two-State solution, they knew that time was not on the side of peace, and that the longer the wound of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not healed, the harder it would be to find a permanent cure. Moreover, he said that as the only Quartet Envoy based permanently on the ground in Jerusalem, he was acutely aware that Israelis and Palestinians actually had increasing doubts that the two-State solution was achievable.
Continuing, he said many Palestinians doubted that Israel had the will or capability to roll back the settlement enterprise, end the occupation that began in 1967 and share Jerusalem. Many Israelis, for their part, doubted that the Palestinians had the will or capability to confer the kind of recognition that Israel sought, ensure a continuing commitment to peace and security and put a permanent end to the conflict. “Each side can point to evidence which backs up their claims,” he said, noting that Palestinians felt that the separation wall and settlements circling Jerusalem, spoke louder than any Israeli claims that they were prepared to end the occupation.
At the same time, Israelis looked at the aftermath of withdrawals from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005 and said that that demonstrated the danger of leaving territory unless there were real guarantees that they would not become sources of greater threat. Yet, while many had come to doubt the feasibility of a two-State solution and the challenges had become enormous, he believed that, at least for the foreseeable future, there was no alternative. “For Palestinians, it is the only political way forward to genuine self-determination and freedom and the only framework to bring about the unity of the West Bank and Gaza, a resolution of the refugee issue and to end the daily restrictions of occupation.”
For Israel, the two-State solution would allow it to keep its democratic character and its identity as homeland for the Jewish people while gaining security and legitimacy in the region. Alternatively, as Israeli Minister of Defense and Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Barak had recently stated, Israel risked becoming an “Apartheid State” that would have to make more and more compromises over the basis on which it was founded, and lose legitimacy in the world at large. He asked: How do we overcome a situation that was neither acceptable nor sustainable in the long run? How can we build the only future that can work? The answer was through the pursuit and promotion of five vital aims: real negotiations; responsible actions on the ground; relentless Palestinian State-building; effective crisis prevention and intervention in Gaza; and a comprehensive regional approach.
Briefly highlighting each of those elements, he said that, regarding negotiations, he was pleased that after many setbacks and delays, proximity talks between the two sides were now underway. The League of Arab States had given its support for the four-month duration of the talks, and President Abbas’ engagement had been backed by the PLO. Further, Benjamin Netanyahu was the first Likud Prime Minister to openly commit to the two-State solution and to state his readiness to discuss all core issues. Both leaders had shown courage in getting to this point by braving much criticism from their respective constituencies.
Their courage would be tested anew at the negotiating table and the early challenge would be to reach enough substantive progress between now and September, when both the settlement freeze and the Arab-authorized timeframe for the proximity talks were expected to expire. “There are no guarantees of success, but without negotiations, there is no chance whatsoever of a breakthrough,” he continued, and welcomed the United States’ active mediation of the proximity talks. He also acknowledged the support and close engagement of the wider Quartet, saying that the goal for everyone remained the achievement of a comprehensive agreement within two years.
Turning next to the need for responsible actions on the ground, he said it was clear that gaps in confidence remained and at this fragile stage, it was important for both parties to adhere to previous agreements and obligations, especially the Road Map, to promote an environment conducive to successful negotiations. “In short: stop doing negative things and start doing more positive ones,” he declared. In the West Bank, Palestinians should continue and intensify their security efforts and Israelis must freeze settlement construction in line with their Road Map obligations. Meanwhile, he was extremely concerned by the recent rise in violence from extremist settlers. While he had been encouraged by Israel’s condemnation of such acts, sustained steps were required. “Both Palestinians and Israel must act against extremists on their own side who seek violence.”
As for the need for the relentless pursuit of Palestinian statehood, he said that in recent years, the world had witnessed a near transformation of the situation within Palestinian towns and cities in the West Bank, where, despite the occupation, the Palestinian Authority had delivered security and services, built new confidence in its finances and commitment to reform, and helped the economy to grow. Those achievements, due largely to the commendable efforts of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad, had built new confidence among Palestinians and their international partners – and in Israel too, he believed – that there was a genuine and able Palestinian partner for peace.
The goal was to be institutionally ready for statehood by the second half of 2011, and in that aim, the Prime Minister had the United Nations’ full support, he said, stressing that the world body aimed to be a “force multiplier” of the Palestinian-led effort. As for Gaza, he said the main challenge was ensuring that the security, socio-economic and political issues were adequately addressed. No one said it would be easy, but it was clear where a different strategy would start: with a fundamental easing of closures and an end to the blockade. He had witnessed himself that the only people thriving now in Gaza were smugglers and militants who controlled the illegal tunnel trade under the border with Egypt. Those being disempowered were those that promoted moderation and legitimate commercial activity. And whatever Israel’s concerns about Hamas, that they did not make it acceptable to impose a closure on an entire population for years on end, he said.
Still, he wished to report a small but important piece of good news: In March, the Israeli Government had agreed with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to facilitate the implementation of a number of priority reconstruction projects in Gaza. He had been able to inform the Security Council in a briefing last week that trucks had been allowed into Gaza to complete a small water treatment project this month and to begin completion of 151 housing units by September. In addition, wood, glass and aluminium were being allowed into the market.
However, that was nowhere near enough and the United Nations, with the Palestinian Authority, was seeking larger and more strategic interventions to address needs in Gaza. For example, he said that major water and sanitation interventions “cannot wait,” as the major aquifer under Gaza was collapsing and was expected to be unusable within two years. Furthermore, 100 schools needed to be built over the medium-term and 15 right away, vital health sector needs had to be addressed, and there needed to be a significant increase in the range and quantity of commercial traffic in and through Gaza.
He said the United Nations was pursing that agenda while being aware that political issues remained. Hamas was largely sticking to a ceasefire but did not de-legitimize indiscriminate violence against civilians. Moreover, Fatah and Hamas needed to complete an agreement on Palestinian unity based on the principles of the PLO, as proposed by Egypt. A united Palestinian Authority must be in a position to support a negotiated two-State solution. Continued division only played into the hands of those opposed to the creation of the Palestinian State. Hamas needed to take steps on its own if it wanted to become part of the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
as for creating a conducive regional environment, he said frankly: “Everyone needs to play their part in ensuring that regional dynamics help the Palestinians unite on sensible terms, help the Palestinians build State institutions, and help Israelis and Palestinians negotiate on all core issues. The search for Arab-Israeli peace must be inclusive and comprehensive and the Syrian and Lebanese tracks, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative, must be integrated into the overall effort.
Wrapping up, he said: “After many setbacks and delays we are now entering into what may be our last opportunity to reach a just, lasting and comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, based on a two State solution.” And while that path to a Palestinian Sate would be fraught with challenges, it was still achievable. “But we do not have the luxury of time. We cannot afford to waste our time in the 24 months ahead. It is too late for yet another incremental approach to peace”, he said. That was why the negotiations needed to address the core issues and could not be allowed to stagnate. The overall agenda was ambitious and should be pursued vigorously. “The consequence of failure is only likely to increase the risk of the region sliding backwards into conflict,” he warned.
HISHAM EL-ZIMAITY, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement said his delegation, which was comprised of 132 States, was keen on reinforcing its position on the rights of the Palestinian people, including through ensuring that they were able to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and to build a viable State. The Meeting was being held at a difficult time, when the Israeli Government was sending “mixed messages” about whether it would live up to long-agreed obligations. Moreover, the people of Gaza and the West Bank were still suffering. The Movement reiterated its call on Israel to end its unjust blockade and to abide by international humanitarian law.
He also reiterated the Movement’s call on the international community to press for an end to the mounting Israeli provocations in the West Bank, including in and around East Jerusalem, such as the announcement of new settlements, home demolitions, evictions and excavations of religious sites. As for Gaza, which was an integral part of the Palestinian Territory, he reiterated his call on Israel to open crossing points and allow access. Finally, he highlighted key issues that the Non-Aligned Movement believed were preconditions for negotiations, such as an end to settlement activity; support for Palestinian institutions so that they could put in place the foundations of a viable State; and full implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative. Speaking in his national capacity, he highlighted Egypt’s ongoing efforts to achieve peace and especially to remedy the unjust situation in Gaza by working hard to ensure that suffering Gazans received the food and other humanitarian goods they needed.
SAMIR BAKR DIAB, Assistant Secretary-General for Palestine of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), said that 62 years ago, the Palestinian people had been “diasporized” as a result of one of the most dreadful crimes in contemporary history. After more than six decades of dispossession, the majority of those people, who had been ripped from their families and expelled from their homes, still lived as refugees. “We are meeting today at a time when the situation in [the Occupied Palestinian Territory] is becoming increasingly difficult, due to Israel’s continuing grave violations of international law,” he said, citing the “inhumane” blockade on Gaza and Israel’s systematic adoption of political, demographic and economic measures aimed at altering the identity of East Jerusalem.
Continuing, he said that it had become very obvious that there was an overwhelming international consensus for supporting the right of Palestinians to establish an independent, contiguous and viable State, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on the basis of 1967 borders, and with a just solution for refugees. OIC, which had endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative and had always supported resolving the Middle East conflict through negotiations, believed that the ongoing Israeli violations made it difficult to conduct successful negotiations. “The international community therefore, has a duty to compel Israel to stop its violations, and in particular, desist from building or expanding settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,” he said.
He said the Palestinian leadership, which had extended its hand for peace, and had agreed to start the proximity talks, enjoyed the support of the international community. That support should also be extended to Palestinian State-building efforts, which had been underway since last year. The OIC stood behind that plan, which aimed to develop institutions and strengthen the foundation of the future Palestinian state. “Justice cannot prevail in the Middle East without enabling the Palestinian people to enjoy their national rights, mainly the right to self-determination and the return of refugees,” he said, adding that his delegation was ready to join all sincere efforts aiming to end the ongoing tragedy of the Palestinian people and empower them to realize their aspirations of independence and statehood. He hoped the Meeting would help towards achieving those goals.
SUHAIR BSEISO, Director of the Department of Arab Occupied Land of the League of Arab States, said the Middle East had been witnessing strategic and political developments that were exacerbating tensions among States in the region. Most of the critical sticking points were the racist policies of the current Israeli Government, which had imposed a military initiative by which it could expel people at will from East Jerusalem. Another such policy was Israel’s apparent insistence on an entirely Jewish State. Despite wide condemnation of its actions, Israel continued its racist actions because it was consistently given the “green light” by many countries.
Indeed, Israel continued to deny the return of Palestinian people and to build its separation wall. She said the issues of Jerusalem and refugee returns were crucial to the overall peace process. The Arab League had rejected what Israel called “a provisional Palestinian State” and had continued to press for full implementation of the Arab Peace Initiative, the freezing of settlement activity and the resumption of negotiations from the point at which they had been called off. The League had also been exerting significant pressure to get the current proximity talks off the ground and had stressed that even though Israel did not appear sincere, those negotiations should proceed, under the United States’ mediation for four months.
She went on to say that Israel’s disdain for the international community and for international humanitarian law had gone too far and that civil society organizations and other groups must mobilize to end human rights violations against the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank. Israel was also “feverishly” pursing its policy to change the demographic and historic character of Jerusalem. Those acts starkly revealed the reticence of the extreme rightwing Israeli Government to live up to its international obligations. As that was the case, she called on the global community and the United Nations to press Israel to carry out its obligations under relevant Security Council resolutions and international law.
The Meeting next heard expert presentations on the state of the political process and prospects for peace in the Middle East. The ensuing discussion touched on that issue as well as on matters regarding resetting the political dialogue and the question of Jerusalem.
Speaking first, Mr. HAMMAD recalled his earlier statement, in which he stressed that the United States-mediated proximity talks were supposed to lead to a sense of trust and conviction among the Palestinian people, Arab States and the wider international community. Yet, Israel’s policies continued as before. As for the Palestinian people, the real question was when a viable State was going to be achieved. For decades, Israel’s position had been favoured and the country had been protected by a powerful, veto-wielding member of the Security Council. And even though that had begun to change with the Madrid conference, Israel continued to create facts on the ground, taking a “do whatever we say” stance.
The Palestinian people were well aware that the original resolution that had created Israel had called for two States – Israel and Palestine. Yet, it was the Palestinian people who were today dispossessed and living under occupation and forced to recognize Israel as a State. With all this in mind, he said the Palestinians had accepted the arrangements set out for the current proximity talks, including key discussions on borders and security matters. Any changes should not bifurcate Palestinian lands, which must be viable and contiguous. The United States had said that neither side should carry out any provocative acts, yet Israel was deporting Palestinians at will.
“So, the international community must exercise its role as mediator and arbitrator, as well as play the role of monitor of any agreement reached,” he said, adding that Palestinian officials would continue to stand by their decision to follow through with the four-month talks. While he did not hold out much hope that Israel would do likewise, he did hope that the international community would press Israel to stand by its obligations. He was very concerned by the rise of religious extremism in Israel and he hoped that more moderate and liberal voices would carry the day in that country, as they had in the United States and Europe.
RICHARD W. MURPHY, Adjunct Scholar, Middle East Institute, said few peace negotiations in our time had been as exhaustively dissected as those between Palestinians and Israelis. Many of the principal actors had been quick to publish their own thoughts in analyses filled with blunt comments on the errors made by others and by themselves.
The passage of time had complicated the efforts of those trying to advance a peaceful settlement. Palestinians and Israelis alike had lost faith in the process. For Israelis the Palestinian call for the right of return had always been heard as a coded signal for the destruction of Israel. Palestinians saw tightening controls over who had the right to live in Jerusalem and the West Bank as proof of a plan to block their aspirations for a sovereign State and, ultimately, to achieve their mass expulsion. “In a word, today’s atmosphere for would-be negotiators is poisonous,” he said.
The scepticism of the Netanyahu administration about peace prospects was increasingly shared by the Israeli public, which often cited Gaza as an example of Palestinians showing bad faith. The Israeli narrative asserted that the withdrawal of the Israeli Defense Force and settlers from Gaza five years ago had been rewarded by rockets, he said. Meanwhile, Palestinians felt that the withdrawal had only brought increased Israeli controls over access to Gaza by land, sea and air and had been accompanied by their exclusion from the Israeli labour market.
Palestinians also believed that the Israeli closure was an effort to “divide and conquer” the Palestinians and force Egypt to take responsibility for Gaza. “They see Israel’s unilateral withdrawal as a deceitful move designed to cultivate good will abroad which left Gazans worse off than before,” he said, adding that Gazans argued that Israel’s closure of Gaza’s borders was an act of war that justified a Palestinian response.
On 9 May 2010, a milestone had been reached when Israel and the Palestinians agreed to start proximity talks under the auspices of the United States. “This was scarcely a dramatic achievement, however, since there had been sixteen years of direct talks before they collapsed with the  Gaza offensive,” he said, and added that Washington had correctly cautioned against high expectations or rapid progress. Nonetheless, as one observer had noted, “despite denials, the key element of the resumption is the de facto suspension of new Israeli construction activity in East Jerusalem, a necessary step to bringing the Palestinians to the negotiating table.”
“The potential impact of a fresh American approach to the peace process may be diminished by attitudes in the region,” he continued, noting that neither party felt sufficiently pressured either by exhaustion or a sense of urgency to reach a settlement. Israelis were economically prosperous, well armed, and relished the protection of the West Bank wall. “For them the status quo, if not ideal, is relatively comfortable. Their economic and military power has fed their readiness to retaliate massively against any level of Palestinian violence,” he said, adding that Israel justified that policy as the only way to avoid any appearance of a lack of will to survive in a hostile environment.
Asking if there was any appetite for a mediation effort broader than the one led by the Americans, he said that during his recent visit to Damascus, the Russian President had asserted his country’s desire to play a role. Also, the creation of the Quartet during the Bush administration suggested that there might be a new American readiness to work with other partners. However, signs persisted that the United States remained possessive of the mediator’s role. That said, no one disagreed that a settlement would have to be internationally blessed, and there were two major platforms to build on: the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 and the Clinton Parameters.
He went on to say that there were several general principles which Palestinians and Israelis, as well as any external mediators, should keep in mind: the Palestinian and Israeli people in the end must want to reach agreement. Peace could not be imposed; most successful negotiations had involved progress in secret Arab and Israeli meetings before an external power could be an effective mediator; mediation would not succeed if it gave priority to the needs of one side over the other. “The need to assure Israeli security and achievement of Palestinian rights are equally compelling”, he said, adding that external mediation needed to focus immediately on the Israeli-Palestinian process but, in order to succeed, at some stage, must be expanded to include Syria and Lebanon, which otherwise might disrupt negotiations. They too must be part of a regional peace. An accompanying resolution of Iran’s conflict with Israel and the West should also be a goal, but the process should not be held hostage to Iranian policy, he added.
As for what might work in such circumstances, he said precise agreements were much better than framework accords involving broad and vague principles, which would not be enough to motivate and sustain the energies of negotiators. He also said negotiations must lead to decisions that were “clear about the end game”. They must be specific about what each party saw as the contents of peace and what compromises each would have to offer to achieve it. There must be agreement on mechanisms for implementation and monitoring; and on holding the parties accountable for violating undertakings.
As for past policies and initiatives which had not and would not work, he cited the exclusion of principal players from the negotiations as one key misstep. Attempts to impose peace had also yielded poor results, he continued, recalling the Rogers Plan, the Reagan Plan and that of Bill Clinton. Palestinian violence had also failed to bring change because Israel had long operated on the assumption that its Arab adversaries respected force and that it must respond massively to any physical violence perpetrated by Arabs.
The Obama administration had undoubtedly thought about the different scenarios even before the proximity talks got underway. The options could range from promotion of a comprehensive regional peace plan, including Israel and Syria and implementation of the 2002 Arab Peace initiative; a comprehensive plan for Israeli-Palestinian agreement addressing all core issues; or a deal just on security arrangements, deferring agreements on refugees, Jerusalem and borders. While a new dynamic could emerge from the proximity talks, it was most unlikely that the US would produce its own ideas until proximity talks and a period of direct talks had taken place, he said.
For that reason passive resistance might be the better course for the Palestinians to follow although in the face of so much resentment and built-up hatred it may be too late for this. It was worth noting the protest by the Israeli Foreign Ministry which described Ramallah’s call for a boycott of Israeli goods produced in the settlements as “incitement and an effort to delegitimize the State itself.” This reaction had bemused foreign observers and suggested that even so minor a Palestinian boycott action, along with other forms of passive resistance, might have a positive influence on Israeli policy.
Next, MICHELE DUNNE, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Editor of the Arab Reform Bulletin, noted that in the wake of Washington’s demand for a settlement freeze, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s initial refusal, President Abbas’s refusal to resume direct talks without a freeze and the subsequent lowering of expectations in the United States from direct talks, indirect or “proximity” talks were now underway.
Sketching out how she thought the talks would play out, she said there was always the possibility of a major disruptive event, for example a violent attack causing major civilian casualties or an internal political crisis. Barring that, the current proximity talks might continue for the next four months. Right now, however, the two parties claimed the talks were about different things; President Abbas said he and United States Special Envoy George Mitchell had discussed final status issues such as borders last week, whereas Prime Minister Netanyahu said they had discussed practical issues such as water and confidence-building measures. “Perhaps the talks will go on in that fashion or perhaps an actual agenda will become clearer at some point, particularly if Senator Mitchell chooses to speak publicly about the talks,” she said.
In any case, she assumed there would be no major breakthrough in the next four months. That would take us into September, at which point the Israeli 10-month moratorium on West Bank settlement building and the Arab League agreement to bless Palestinian involvement in proximity talks would expire. September would also bring the General Assembly meeting, which last year had been a crisis point in the Obama administration’s peace efforts. “So September will be an important moment to reassess how far the United States has gotten with its current efforts,” she said.
“If there has not been enough progress to merit moving to direct talks by that point, it is not yet clear what President Obama will do,” she said, noting that some had called for him to unveil a plan or statement of some kind that would lay out the United States’ views of what a final status solution might look like. But it seemed unlikely that he would do that on the eve of Congressional elections, which would take place in early November. An Obama Middle East peace plan undoubtedly would provoke some discomfort among strong supporters of Israel in the Democratic Party, putting them in a difficult position. Many Democrats already faced strong challenges in this year’s elections and Obama would not want to make things more difficult for them.
Continuing, she said she was concerned about the lack of strategic thinking behind the United States’ approach. In an interview with Time in January of this year, President Obama had attributed his administration’s inability to get direct Israeli-Palestinian talks going to a lack of consensus on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides. “I think he was correct about that,” she said adding that the Israeli Government did not have a consensus on negotiating with the Palestinians or a willingness to take steps to facilitate success in negotiations. The Obama administration had tried to apply pressure on Israel at certain points, but without a clear strategy or sense of how such pressure might play out.
“I think it is time for the United States to start thinking and exploring quietly whether it could deal more constructively with a future Palestinian reconciliation — or perhaps just a power-sharing arrangement — that would allow the West Bank and Gaza to come closer together and for Palestinian electoral politics to resume,” she continued. That was inevitable if there was to be a Palestinian state, “unless we accept the premise that the state will be in the West Bank only and that Gaza will continue to go off in another direction entirely.”
In order to have progress in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, there would need to be leaders on both sides who had a strong interest in reaching a negotiated solution and enjoyed enough support within their own systems to allow them to negotiate. “In my judgment, right now we have an Israeli Government that enjoys enough support but is not particularly interested in negotiating, and a Palestinian Authority that is interested in negotiating but does not have a strong enough mandate due to the rift with Gaza.” That did not mean that the United States and other actors should abandon negotiating efforts, but it did mean that they should do whatever they could to help the parties get to a place where they could make progress.
JAD ISAAC, Director General, Applied Research Institute – Jerusalem, agreed with others that Jerusalem was the key to the peace process. Using a power point presentation, he traced the history of that city from the 1940’s, through resolution 181 (II) of 1947, which he called “the partition resolution”, and up to today. Jerusalem had been a relatively mixed city until 1947. In 1968 Israel had frozen land registration and pressed ahead with settlement construction. He noted that through the years, Israel had put forward all sorts of ideas, including leasing land back to Palestinians.
“We hear from the Israeli Government now that nothing will stop their expansion,” he said, noting that Israel was pushing further into Palestinian territory to cut off access to Jerusalem. “Who wants to live next to a settler?”, he asked, adding that the separation wall made matters worse, as it sliced through the area and closed some Palestinians off in “ghettos.” According to Israel’s “Jerusalem 2020” plan, only 13 per cent of East Jerusalem would be set aside for Palestinian expansion, he added.
He said that there was already a housing shortage in the area, so with so little land set aside for Palestinians, some 9,000 people would not have anywhere to live. Essentially, Israel was pursuing a policy of “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine, too”. There would be no solution if only one religion had a monopoly over Jerusalem, he noted, adding that the international community must stand against any attempt to “de-Palestinian-ize” Jerusalem and pre-empt Palestinian resolve to have East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Further, he stressed that it was time for the United Nations to take control of the peace process.
The final presenter, DANNY SEIDEMANN, Legal Counsel, Ir Amim, said that Jerusalem was currently the centre of a great drama, the contours of which were now starkly clear: there was a race going on between facts and cognition. He said that Prime Minister Netanyahu had chosen Jerusalem as the point and place where he would take a stand to derail a political process. The Israeli leadership was settling in to tussle over the issue, even to the point of angering the President of the United States.
Yet, there was no alternative to the two-State solution, and such a solution could still be attained in Jerusalem. It would be a painful division, he said, because, bluntly, the current generation of Palestinians and Israelis could not live together and nor did they want to. “The Palestinians and Israelis are headed for a bitter divorce; Israelis would love to drive Palestinians into the desert and Palestinians would love to drive Israelis into the sea. Peace is the default option”, he said.
Continuing, he said that facts on the ground, including continued settlement activity, the morphing of a manageable political conflict into a completely intractable religious one, and the fact that Jerusalem was being turned into the arena of choice for spoilers, could all have dire consequences to the effort to preserve the two-State solution. At the same time, the feeling that the two-State solution was slipping away was growing at this moment of unprecedented consensus as to what was required to conclude a final status agreement regarding Israel.
He said the settlement activity in and around Jerusalem, the zero-sum combination of a War of Mitzvah, Jihad and Armageddon “that is happening right before our eyes,” and the status of Jerusalem were all creating “drama of the highest order and we are running out of time.” He added that there was real concern in Washington about what would happen when the proximity talks ended in September and the moratorium on settlement construction expired. But “that concern seems to miss the fact that it is highly unlikely that the proximity talks can even survive until then,” he said, stressing that if the situation in Jerusalem was not alleviated immediately, another significant event, one that threatened to scuttle those talks, could be perhaps only weeks away.
While things seemed bleak today, he urged the meeting to look into the near future, because he believed that President Obama “has a musical ear for this conflict” and the ability to address it as well as or better than any of his advisors. He believed that after the November elections, the international community would see a resolute move by President Obama towards a final status that would address all outstanding issues. There was a possibility that the people in this room would be part of the negotiations with a United States President that wanted to see a final settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian issue before the end of his term in office, he said.
He foresaw the necessary political division of Jerusalem, under which not one Palestinian would see an Israeli military officer when they went home at night, and where “Al-Quds” would be the capital. As for Israel, such a political division would give that country what it needed most: recognition. “Israel does not need demographic superiority in Jerusalem, it need recognition.” If that sounded familiar, he said that it should, because it was what the Arab Peace Initiative had always offered: withdrawal, a divided Jerusalem and the management of holy sites in a way that was acceptable to all.
Looking ahead to action by President Obama regarding the final status of Jerusalem, he said it was imperative that all stakeholders, not just Israelis and Palestinians, prepare themselves for that reality. Preparing for the final status “end game” would be essential and that would require bolstering support for the Arab Peace Initiative. Indeed, implementing the principles of that accord was absolutely critical to any agreement on Jerusalem. He said that in the Arab Peace Initiative, Arabs and the wider international community had a powerful weapon. As a weapon against Israel, it would be stillborn, but as a tool to bring Israel to the negotiating table, it was powerful.
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