UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE IN SUPPORT OF ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN PEACE PANEL 3

Peace is possible – frameworks for a way forward – United Nations Office at Geneva, 29 and 30 June 2016

30 June 2016


Speakers Discuss Emerging Approaches to Resolving Israeli-Palestinian Conflict as the UN Conference on Israeli-Palestinian Peace enters second day


(Issued as received)
GENEVA, 30 June — Because the Palestinian-Israeli peace process has apparently stalled over the last decade, the search for new approaches has taken on a renewed importance, according to the speakers at the Plenary II discussion, entitled “Emerging approaches to resolving Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.  The Plenary II discussion was part of the United Nations International Conference in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace, taking place on 29-30 June, 2016.

The plenary featured presentations by Mr. DENIS BAUCHARD, former Ambassador of France to Jordan and advisor for the Middle East at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris; H.E. Mr. Nabeel Shaath, former Chief Negotiator and Member of the Fatah Central Committee;  Mr. Nathan Stock, Israel-Palestinian Field Office Director at the Carter Center in Jerusalem; Ms. Galia Golan, Professor of Government and Chair of the Program on Diplomacy and Conflict Studies, School of Government, Diplomacy and Strategy, Interdisciplinary Centre (Herzliya, Israel); 

Speaking about the French Initiative of 2016, Mr. Bauchard emphasized how dire the situation was becoming.  The international community, he said, must press ahead and re-open negotiations.  Indeed, he worried that the two-State solution might soon become impossible without immediate concerted action of the international community.  To move ahead, he suggested a mix of initiatives including regional security measures, economic development, and the unification of Palestinian factions.   

Mr. Stock offered suggestions on how to revitalize the Quartet for Middle East Peace.  He criticized the “ineffectiveness of the Quartet”, which he thought was due to a number of factors. US leadership was essentially acquiescing to Israeli settlement policy without the possibility of sanctions or other realistic consequences.  Meanwhile, the election of Hamas to head the Palestinian government in Gaza had created its own problems: not only did it generate a new set of pre-conditions demanded by Israel, and endorsed by the Quartet, but it led to disunity and even civil war.  He suggested that increasing membership – turning Quartet into an Octet, principally by adding major regional actors – would improve the multi-lateral process.  The articulation of clear standards as well as a new framework, perhaps in the form of a new Resolution by the UN Security Council, could also help the peace process; this must include real sanctions, he argued.

Mr. Shaath provided an inside look at the Arab Peace Initiative which he claimed had brought positive results – diplomatic recognition of Israel by a number of Arab States, promises of peaceful relations to mutual benefit – in exchange for key Israeli concessions, such as ending the occupation of Palestinian territory, allowing the establishment of the Palestinian State, and a solution for the refugee issue.  However, he argued that Israel has demanded these rewards as a precondition to beginning negotiations, an approach that he believed had repeatedly failed in the past.  A more realistic approach, he concluded, would use both carrots and sticks:  reward for progress, but sanctions for continued settlements or other violations of the fundamental principles of the peace process.

Ms. Golan offered suggestions on how to revitalize the Arab Peace Initiative.  She noted that, while there was widespread agreement that a military solution could not resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it sometimes appeared as if the current Government of Israel did not subscribe to this belief.  Though the situation appeared intractable, particularly given the size of the settlements, she saw several potential areas of agreement that could be negotiated.  They included land swaps, the sharing of Jerusalem, and the resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue.  While none of these solutions was ideal, she argued that it was time to move on, that the differences between the parties were not as great as supposed.  The Arab Peace Initiative, she believed, offered the basis for a peaceful solution.

Plenary II presentations

Mr. BAUCHARD stressed that he was not an official representative of the French Government, only an advisor and observer.  He wished to reflect on what has occurred and what it could be expected in the future.  His first contact with the region was in 1966, he recalled.  Since that time, first as a diplomat, he had observed the evolution of the conflict in great detail. 

The two-State solution, he believed, was important in that it allowed the possibility of a peace that would guarantee security in the region and Palestinian rights.  Unfortunately, as time passed, the two-State solution has resulted in a paradox: while it became universally accepted, its implementation became more and more problematic.  The risk of new violence has arisen, demonstrating that the status quo was no long tenable.  However, there were no negotiations underway at this time.

There were many political problems that must be addressed, he stressed.  For example, Israel claimed that it was in favour of talks without pre-conditions, but in reality it imposed preconditions of its own with escalating requirements.  Recently, the Palestinians were requested to recognize Israel as a Jewish State and to renounce the right to keep an army.  In violation of previous agreement and international law, Israel continued to establish new settlements, and claimed all of Jerusalem as the capital of the country. Meanwhile, Israel engaged in a low-intensity level conflict against Hezbollah and Hamas, launching numerous dissuasive interventions.  Many viewed the Iran nuclear accord as a potentially positive development, yet Israel considered it a threat. Finally, the Palestinian Authority was losing influence, particularly since Hamas won a majority of seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006. 

There were also many obstacles to the establishment of a Palestinian State.  The rising number of Israeli settlements had divided the West Bank into fragments, to such an extent that in the future, it would be difficult to establish a coherent state.  At this time, there were approximately 700,000 settlers, many of whom violently opposed the concept of a Palestinian State.  If allowed to continue the settlement project risked to become a fait accompli, enabling Israel to effectively control the land.  This increased, he noted, the despair of many Palestinian youths, and accelerated the cycle of violence:  knife attacks led to repressive counter-attacks, further worsening the situation.

The French Initiative reflected a sense of alarm, an attempt to resume negotiations before the two-State solution became impossible.  It was, he emphasized, the only viable solution. “No alternative scenarios exist,” he explained.   

Mr. Bauchard argued that a number of steps could lead to the resumption of negotiations to resolve the conflict.  “We need direct negotiations,” he said.  For its part, the international community could help to create favorable conditions for the negotiations on many levels.  As the region’s largest trading partner, the EU could use its economic leverage to enhance the living standards of the region as well as influence the behaviour of the negotiating partners.  Regional security systems should also be examined.  “We should invite all interested countries and actors in good will,” he said.  “To refuse would be fatalistic; the status quo cannot be maintained – the only alternative is chaos and even war with neighboring countries.”  In addition, the Palestinian Authority needed to be strengthened.  

Mr. STOCK offered his assessment of the Quartet, which consisted of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.   The long-expected report by the Quartet was apparently forthcoming, which he hoped would offer constructive criticisms of how the group functioned.  

The original vision of the Quartet, he said, was to:  “bring together power of United States, the money of the European Union, and the legitimacy of the United Nations” to seek solutions in the region.  While it was a good idea, he believed, multi-party mediation was more successful when centered on a lead mediator.  Unfortunately, because it was hostage to limits of US policy, the Quartet did not live up to its promise.  Other Quartet members failed to seriously challenge the United States.

The biggest problem, in his view, was that the United States continued to acquiesce to Israel’s demands, by allowing it to refuse public monitoring of its Road Map compliance and not holding it accountable for settlements.  The failure in 2006 was the worst, he said.  Because Hamas won a majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council, the United States pushed for the adoption of the Quartet principles embodying “a maximalist approach”:   Hamas had to recognize the State of Israel, renounce violence and accept previous PLO agreements.    However, he believed that compromise could have been found, without formally conforming to the Quartet principles.  He explained that “Hamas participation in elections signaled it could live with the Oslo Accords:  Hamas maintained long-term ceasefires, and accepted the need for a national consensus regarding the Palestinian State.”    As it turned out, external pressure and sanctions on the Hamas government may have contributed to the civil war that erupted later.  This was a lost opportunity, he said.

Finally, he asked, what could be done.  He suggested reconfiguring the Quartet, by adding key European and Arab States, even if such moves would run into opposition from some existing members.  As the United States is unwilling to pressure Israel in a meaningful way, the best case scenario is that the forthcoming Quartet report would include serious criticism of the settlements. Ideally, such a document could help lay a foundation for a Security Council resolution on parameters for resolving the conflict, to be issued after US elections in November. Then, France, the United States and the rest of the Quartet could rekindle a new multilateral approach to the conflict.  

Mr. Nabil SHAATH offered an insider’s view of the Arab Peace Initiative.  The Quartet, he noted, was based on unanimity, which led to its impotence.  “The United States takes the Israeli position in all meetings, leaving others only the possibility of vetoing.”  Moreover, the other Quartet members never participated in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which hindered it from achieving anything meaningful. 

In 2001, he recalled, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah canvassed US President Bush and other Arab states, suggesting that if the peace process led to an independent Palestinian State and the occupation ended, the Arab States would normalize relations with Israel.  The proposal was adopted at the March 2002 Arab Summit, and later by other Islamic nations members of the OIC.  Some Israelis were also willing to support it, though it was never accepted by Israeli government officials.  Unfortunately, Israel has “turned it around”, demanding recognition as an encouragement for it to join the peace process – a first step for which the Arab states would gain nothing.  

He advocated that the international community apply pressure on Israel while promising rewards for results.    There were, he explained, no moves from Israel to deliver on the Oslo interim promises. In his view, the French Initiative was now the only game in town.  “We should link it to the Arab Peace Initiative”, he suggested.  

Ms. GOLAN offered her perspective on the Arab Peace Initiative.  Within the framework of the Oslo Accords and UN resolutions, prospects for peace were strictly limited to the two-State solution, and peace remained possible.  It must be accomplished so that both states can be independent and secure, on terms that do not threaten the freedom or security of either state.  The military option would not lead to peace. 

The settlements, she observed, were designed to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian State, but that need not be the case.  She believed that land swap could go a long way to resolve the problem, if equitably negotiated. It was not an ideal solution, but a serious effort to deal with an illegal reality.  Sharing Jerusalem should also be possible.  Finally, some solution must be found to the plight of Palestinian refugees, in particular in such a way that they would not challenge Israeli democracy by their sheer demographics. 

In the end, she concluded, the negotiations must result in peace and security for all, mostly based in the pre-1967 borders but not as militarized ones – they should be peaceful and open.  There should be no return to the pre-1967 reality when Jerusalem was divided by a no man’s land where snipers could shoot across.  Ms. Golan stressed that this was not a utopian dream, that it was time to move the process on, though disenchantment in the process was growing.  Extremists, including some in the Israeli government, were seeking to stall the process.  But with peace in sight, she believed, the spoilers would not prevail. The Arab Peace Initiative should serve as the basis for a peaceful solution, perhaps in concert with French Initiative. 

Discussion

The International Lawyers Organization advanced the suggestion that the Conference committee should label Israeli actions toward the Palestinians as genocidal in character.  

This claim was refuted a panelist as both untrue and counterproductive.  “The occupation,” Ms. Golan said, “is bad enough”.

An independent Consultant asked about the role of women in the peace process.  Panelists acknowledged that many women were actively and constructively involved. 

The United National Organization for Human Rights from Egypt spoke of non-violence as it appeared in the Bible, the Koran, and other religious texts.
 
Mr. Shtayyeh cautioned that momentum may be difficult to build given the approach of the US elections in November and the French elections slated for May 2017.  He feared that nothing would happen before.  While acknowledging these problems, the panelists argued that everyone must try to advance the peace agenda in spite of these unavoidable delays.  

The Permanent Observer of Palestine hoped that cynicism would not prevail among Palestinians vis-a-vis the French initiative and the Quartet report. He offered appreciation for the role that France was playing with its initiative, and expressed hope that it would lead to tangible results. He challenged the conventional wisdom that nothing could be done before the US elections.

NGO Scales for Justice also expressed hopefulness in light of the discussion. 

Responding to a question about how US policies could be changed, Mr. Stock stated that while the Israeli Government was unhelpful, groups were arising in the United States, such as the lobbying organization J Street, which sought to moderate US policies of blanket support for Israel. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was taking hold on campuses, but these processes took time so little could be changed in the short term. 

For use of the information media; not an official record

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