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Zakout: "Wasting time on the way to peace is a crime"

Advisor to PM Fayyad: "Allowing any Israeli or Palestinian leader to waste another hour on the way to a two-state solution is a crime."
Date: 27.06.08

On The weekend of June 27th-29th, Geneva Initiative held a joint Israeli-Palestinian seminar in Jordan for students and young leadership. 25 youths attended the seminar, organized by the Palestinian Peace Coalition and held with the support of the European Union.

Accompanying the students were GI signatory Mr. Jamal Zakout, Senior Advisor to Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and Dr. Yuval Benziman, Director of Reseach and Policy Planning for GI-Israel.

The two-day seminar consisted of lectures, discussions, and group activities, allowing participants to get to know the other side and its narratives and to learn about the situation on the ground, developments in negotiations, and GI's solutions.

The seminar opened with an introduction and ice-breaking activity, following which Mr. Zakout and Dr. Benziman gave a lecture on the core issues of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, discussing progress made on these issues in the past and the solutions offered for each issue in the Geneva Accord. Mr. Zakout opened the lecture by asking the participants several questions:

  1. What reasons would an Israeli have to support a full Israeli withdrawal from the area occupied in 1967?
  2. What reasons would a Palestinian have to accept a state confined to the 1967 borders?
  3. Can an Israeli believe a Palestinian would agree to less than the 1967 borders?
  4. Can a Palestinian believe an Israeli would agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 without receiving security guarantees?
  5. Is the solution to the conflict political, national, or religious?

He used the participants answer to illustrate how the leaderships of both sides have been misleading the two publics by offering one-sided solutions when an agreed negotiated solution was highly feasible. Mr. Zakout explained that only through a mutual recognition would the two states be able to cooperate and coexist.

He stressed that the window opened in Annapolis must not be allowed to close, as hope for a two-state solution needs to be maintained. Therefore, he said, "allowing any Israeli or Palestinian leader to waste another hour on the way to a two-state solution is a crime."

Dr. Benziman presented the various reasons why it has never been the "right time" to reach an agreement, but said that despite the ever present existence of obstacles, the longer the sides wait the more powerful extremists get. Therefore, he explained, waiting for the "right time" only reduces the chances of arriving at an agreed solution to the conflict.

He presented the participants with figures according to which that has been a steady majority supporting a two-state solution on both sides, and explained that even rightist leaders in Israel such as Avigdor Lieberman have voiced a willingness to withdraw from the West Bank. Nonetheless, he said, any unilateral withdrawal is doomed to empower the extremists, therefore failing to solve to conflict.

On the second day of the seminar, the two speakers presented participants with a grim view of a future in which no agreement is reached. In the event either leadership chooses to address the conflict unilaterally, violence would escalate, indirectly leading to the rise in support for extremist forces such as Iran and Al-Qaida. They explained that while the experience of the past 15 years, in which negotiations failed to conclude with a final status agreement, is not encouraging, a two-state solution is within sight.

Next, the participants were divided into groups, with the Israeli group attempting to identify "simple" gestures the Palestinians can make towards Israel and vice versa, which would act as win-win situations. The groups raised several ideas, including Israeli efforts to ease conditions in checkpoints, the implementation of more objective curriculums in schools, the establishments of "peace camps" and social networks, economic cooperation, housing development, empowerment of rule of law in the West Bank, ecological projects, police cooperation, public petitions, etc.

Later, mixed groups of Israelis and Palestinian discussed possible "spoilers" that could hamper negotiations, and brainstormed ideas for preventing such spoilers or dealing with them if they arise. Among the ideas presented were a joint spokesmanship, approaching the U.S. presidential candidates to ensure support for the process, establishing committees in charged of managing crises and consoling victims of violence on behalf of the negotiators, and more.

During the closing session, several participants said that the seminar was the first opportunity they had to meet their peers on the other side of the conflict and that it changed the way they saw the other side. Many participants voiced ideas for future joint activities and their desire to get the word out on the urgent need for peace.