Kick-starting the Peace Process
US Secretary of State John Kerry must be very pleased with his success in bringing Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table.
It took six visits and hours of arm twisting behind the scenes to restart the peace talks that broke down in 2008. According to press reports; the State Department said Kerry called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after the Cabinet vote and invited them to send teams to Washington. Earlier Sunday 28th July, the Israeli Cabinet voted 13-7, with two abstentions, to approve in principle the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners. The release is a key part of the Kerry-brokered deal to restart peace talks. It is expected that the talks on a final peace deal would last six to nine months. Of the 104 prisoners, 26 have been released.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Abbas aide Mohammed Shtayyeh will represent the Palestinians, and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and adviser Yitzhak Molcho will attend for Israel. John Kerry the US Secretary of State appointed Martin Indyk a former ambassador to Israel and a vice president of the Brookings Institution, as a full-time envoy to oversee negotiations and help the parties to reach a compromise.
It will remain to be seen whether the talks will succeed. Cynics on both sides predict an early failure.
Economic Peace Not An Alternative To Political Solution
Just over two months ago, 26th to 28th May 2013, I attended a conference at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East and North Africa at the Dead Sea, Jordan, and listened to a group of Israeli and Palestinians businessmen urging the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships, with the active support and encouragement of the international community, to take urgent action to renew the political process in order to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The group calls itself the BTI (Breaking the Impasse) said: “The current situation endangers the economy and the social fabric of both nations, and may render the two-state solution unattainable.”
The BTI also stated: “Therefore, we call on the political leaders to move forward with boldness, courage and a sense of historic mission – to provide a comprehensive vision necessary to resolving all the final-status issues, ending all claims and securing peaceful and good neighbourly relations between the two states.”
The Initiative was launched jointly by Munib R.Masri, Chairman, PADICO Holding, and Yossi Vardi, Chairman, International Technologies Ventures, in May 2012, and has been facilitated by the World Economic Forum. Masri and Vardi demanded that the leaders of the two countries to be bold and to move forward with an agreement to end the conflict seizing on the historic Arab Peace Initiative and work toward a historic end to the conflict. Their joint cry was strongly supported by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.
In the Press Conference, I asked Mr. Masri if the so-called economic peace is a trick to perpetuate the occupation. Mr. Masri categorically refuted this by saying the economic peace will not be at the expense of the political peace. This point was reiterated the same evening by John Kerry addressing the 900 plus delegates at the conference.
The London Financial Times reported on 26th May that in South Africa, whose past racial conflict many analysts have compared with the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, similar interventions by business in the 1980s are widely credited with having prepared the path for the transition to non-racial democracy.
A New York Times editorial on Thursday 25th July sounded upbeat and reminded its readers that:
“Half-measures will not do. To be fruitful, negotiations must proceed quickly to core issues. Palestinians need to have the borders of their state defined, and Israelis need to know that the new state will not threaten their security. But other critical issues – Jerusalem’s future and the fate of Palestinian refugees – must also be addressed.”
A One-State or a Two-State Solution?
In my view, the options and choices are limited. In one option, both sides sit tight, do nothing and maintain the status quo which means continued occupation and more settlements. The second option is to embrace the two-state solution with mutually agreed border adjustments. However imperfect, the second option is preferable to the first. A third option is a one-state solution for the two peoples. Israel has so far paid lip service to the two-state solution and has been busy creating facts on the ground to prevent the viability of a future Palestinian state. The Palestinians and their Arab supporters want the two-state option.
Israeli actions on the ground are in fact paving the way for a one-state solution, which could be a democratic state for all Israelis and Palestinians, in which case the Jewishness of the state would be gradually diluted. Or worst of all, an apartheid state with all the implications and ramifications that would entail. We don’t need a genius to tell us which is the most practical and least damaging option.
As for the question of Jerusalem, the whole city can be placed under UN supervision until both sides reach agreement on how to run the city and who is to be responsible for what and which parts of the city.
Regarding the refugees, despite the slogans, most Palestinians and Arabs recognize that only a limited symbolic number of refugees can return to Israel proper and perhaps larger numbers can go to the new Palestinian state. Prominent Palestinians, with a few exceptions, are vague on this thorny issue for fear of being accused of betrayal. The overwhelming majority of the refugees are settled in Jordan and agreement on how to resolve the issue must be agreed with Jordan.
Settlements Are The Biggest Stumbling Block
The London Independent Newspaper reported today, Wednesday August 14th, that close to 560,000 Israeli nationals now live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Israel occupied those areas in the 1967 war and considers its rule of East Jerusalem as reflecting a “liberation” of the area and its Jewish holy sites.
The surge in construction plans is intensifying Palestinian criticism of President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to return to peace negotiations with Israel without securing a freeze on further settlement.
The 900 homes will include an extension of East Jerusalem’s Gilo settlement towards the West Bank town of Beit Jala. Israel considers Gilo, which is built on land expropriated from the Palestinians of Beit Jala, an integral part of its capital. The negotiations may break down because of this reason only.
It is in Israel’s long term interests to reach agreement with a moderate and pragmatic Palestinian leadership.
Will the vision of business people like Masri and Vardi become a reality?