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GI Israeli and Palestinian Coheads Address the Role of the International Community on the Road to September

On Sunday, May 22, Geneva Initiative's Israeli and Palestinian coheads addressed a conference hosted by the Global Strategy Forum in London.

The conference, held at the House of Lords in London, addressed the topic, "Looking to September: What Role Can the International Community Play in the Middle East Peace Process?"

 

The Geneva Initaitive made a panel presentation entitled "Getting Yes to an Agreement: Next Steps." Speakers included Nidal Foqaha, Director-General, The Palestinian Peace Coalition – The Geneva Initiative (Ramallah); Gadi Baltiansky, Director-General, HL Education for Peace – The Geneva Initiative (Tel Aviv); Israela Oron, Retired Brigadier General in the IDF and former Deputy National Security Advisor, and member of the Geneva Initiative; and Nazmi Jubeh, Member of the Geneva Initiative and expert in Jerusalem affairs.

Conference participants at the House of Lords in London

An excerpt from the meeting summary follows:

 

The Seminar's Purpose:

Introductory speakers traced the origins of the Geneva Initiative as a joint Israeli-Palestinian endeavour with offices in Tel Aviv and Ramallah to give practical shape to the accumulated search for peace represented by initiatives like Oslo, Taba, and Camp David. Its basic document issued in 2003 sets out a fully developed model for peace including all controversial issues such as Jerusalem, land exchange and refugee return. The Geneva Initiative articulates a vision of a two state solution in which Israel remains both Jewish and democratic and Palestine emerges as a contiguous state. Acknowledging that, so long as the peace debate is rooted in the past and in fear, no agreement will be possible, the Geneva Initiative is strictly oriented toward the future. For example, the Geneva Initiative hopes that its fostering of public debate will mitigate the fears and narrow the gap between the extremes of Israeli and Palestinian public opinion.

 

The Role of the International Community:

The Geneva Initiative welcomes an active role for the international community but stresses that this should be supportive rather than coercive. The Geneva Initiative believes that the 'international community should bring the moment, we will bring the truth.' There was some discussion of the proposal that a vote be held in the September session of the UN General Assembly to recognize Palestinian statehood. While speakers disagreed on the advisability of this course, all were agreed that the concept could 'concentrate minds' in the run-up to the vote. It would be important to ensure that any vote was not seen as closing the door to further negotiation. Some speakers were concerned that an affirmative vote could be a tactical victory but strategic defeat for Palestinian interests. There was agreement that unilateralism on this issue would be counterproductive in Israel.

The Opportunity:

Several speakers made a connection with the 'Arab Spring.' Far from being a casualty of this, the peace process has gained added relevance. Several speakers emphasized the importance of returning to the Arab Peace Initiative of 2002 to take advantage of the new conditions among leading Arab nations, especially Egypt. Israel was advised not to fear that Egypt would emerge as hostile to the peace process. Similar opinions were also expressed in relation to Syria and Lebanon. The changed situation in the Golan Heights was singled out as a reason to take negotiations forward.

British Policy:

Speakers agreed that the UK would remain actively engaged in the peace process and continued to press both sides to return to the negotiating table. The UK is also providing active support for Palestinian state-building through programmes administered by DFID. Speakers cited national security, the proximity of the problem and historical reasons for a continuing active UK engagement. The UK wants negotiations to be based on clear parameters. It wishes all parties to be clear about negative actions like expanded settlements and flotillas. The UK will tend to work closely with EU partners and the US rather than unilaterally. One speaker warned of a 'third intifada' if talks failed. The UK welcomes recent signs that the US will resume a more active role in the search for peace. The UK will urge both sides to be forthcoming an d will make the case that neither side should expect external factors to deliver victory to them.

Israeli Policy:

There was some sharp criticism of Israeli policy on settlements, with one speaker likening this to an 'addiction’ which Israel needed help to cure. Some spirited rebuttal was voiced, with some vigorous discussion ensuing. Some speakers regretted the early emphasis by the Obama Administration on settlements as a misplaced priority. Overall, however, speakers tended - in keeping with the spirit of the Geneva Initiative - to steer clear of specific criticism of one side or the other. There was some discussion of internal Israeli politics with some hope expressed that the current coalition might yield to one more sympathetic to the peace process.

The Hamas Factor:

The agreement between Fatah and Hamas evoked differing comments. There was some criticism of the early Israeli rejection of allowing any role for Hamas and some concern was expressed that the agreement should not be a pretext for delay. However,speakers also expressed disappointment that Hamas has not quickly acceded to the longstanding principles of mutual recognition and non-violence underlying the peace process. It was suggested that Hamas should, in a gesture of good faith, release Israeli soldiers in its captivity. A consensus emerged that it was necessary to talk to all parties. British speakers drew attention to British experience in talking to the IRA in Northern Ireland. It was suggested that the EU should adopt this position even if the US disagreed. For aid purposes, however, British speakers drew a clear line between the Palestinian Authority and the West Bank.

The EU-US Dynamic:

A spirited discussion of how far EU policy should adhere to US leadership took place. Some speakers urged that the EU should distance itself from what they saw as over close US support for Israel. Speakers suggested that the EU interest in regional peace was greater than that of the US and that EU knowledge of the region was also superior. A clear difference with the US over relations with Hamas emerged and it was noted that the EU had voted differently from the US in the UN over settlements. However, EU and US attitudes on the 1967 border question were closely aligned. Overall, the EU would not seek to usurp the US' leadership role by putting forward an independent peace plan.