Dead Sea, Jordan - The following article summerizes the main points during the speeches delivered Monday at the opening of the Valdai International Discussion Club in Jordan on the Dead Sea (December 20-22, 2009). The event is being organized by the Russian News & Information Agency RIA Novosti and the Russian Council for Foreign and Defense Policy.
Valdai club brings together academics and political leaders in various regions of the world to convene high level "thinking" discussions aimed at breaking new ground in the public discourse looking to bring fresh ideas and new thinking in particular in conflict areas of the world.
Evgeny Primakov – former Prime Minister and top expert in Russia on the Middle East.
We all have expectations for an improved international climate after the election of Barack Obama. Iran is causing us to focus more and more attention on it – Iran has acquired the status of a Middle East state that must be taken into account. I do not believe that Iran has made a decision to acquire nuclear weapons. Russia has not concrete information that Iran is planning to construct a weapon. It may be more like Japan which has nuclear readiness but does not have a bomb. There is no doubt that the Iranian program and un-clarity about it has caused great nervousness caused in Israel. If Israel attacks Iran it will cause great instability and will only postpone the Iranian program not end it.
Iraq is in stalemate. It is hard to imagine Iraq as a state that it once was – secular and united. Without defending Sadaam Hussein, under his rule it was a united secular state which could serve as a counter-balance to Iran.
Afghanistan future is still unknown and the Taliban is still quite strong there. This area produces most of the world's drug trafikking which causes great trouble to the whole world.
The Middle East and Afghanistan and the unsettled Middle East conflicts produce terrorism and fundamentalism which is a threat to the whole world.
The situation right now is "dead lock". Obama factor – Obama first tried to freeze Israeli settlements, but later backed down from his demand. Obama stated that the US will change the way it votes in the UN. He has also stepped back from this. American behavior is a contributing factor to the deadlock.
Israel's foreign minister Lieberman has stated that holding onto the status quo (of no forward movement) is an Israeli interest. There is also a passive attitude of the Quartet. No there is also no shift in the Palestinian divided political house. All of this is what has caused the deadlock. It is not possible to re-establish an Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process.
It seems that the Obama administration would like to restart the talks at the zero point. This puts them very far away from the ability to even begin the talks.
Without serious moves towards resolving the conflict means that there the Palestinian position will harden. Why did the US push Karzai to talk with Taliban but act differently with Hamas. Taliban is more religious than Hamas which is more nationalistic. Isolating Hamas will make it more difficult to resolve the conflict and will increase the possibility of a new intifada.
Fortification of radical elements in Iran will also prod an Israeli attack in Iran which will bring great destabilization of the region and increase the power of the extremists throughout the region.
Is there a possibility of a different future? Yes, if Israel freezes settlements. If the US acts to move forward. If there is activation of the Quartet. The Quartet should work on a framework document for the parameters of all of the issues, creating the Palestinian state, on which there is international consensus. Its borders are based on the 1967 borders with agreed rectification. Refugee issue dealt with through compensation and return to the Palestinian state and agreement of quotas to the State of Israel. Jerusalem will be the capitals of both states. There is now an EU position on this and even President Clinton had agreed to this and it was discussed with Yasser Arafat and the current Palestinian leaders. The Clinton parameters was a good plan but unfortunately it was not accepted.
The framework format of the Quartet would serve as the basis for the negotiations which should be limited in time. PM Netanyahu has stated his willingness to enter into negotiations but without a time limit. There must be a time frame. Russia thought that after Annapolis there would be real progress and that there would be an international conference convened in Moscow to continue with the process. This was in agreement with Secretary Rice. Russia made all of the preparation for this conference. I met with the leaders of the region and President Assad agreed to send delegates. But nothing happened after Annapolis because President Bush monopolized the process and the Quartet withdrew. The needed monitoring process was not set up and this needs to happen to monitor the negotiations and the implementation of obligations.
Palestine – Israel is one sphere but we must also pay attention to the other conflicts. The Syrian track – Hafez al Assad told me that he would make every effort to reach bilateral peace with Israel. Syria must be included in the process or else Syria will move even closer to Iran. Syria must be included and our Israeli colleagues must understand this.
Ahmad Quria (Abu Ala) - Former Palestinian PM
Mr. Primakov address us talking about the greater Middle East, but I will talk about the epi-center of the Middle East – is the Arab Israeli conflict. This makes itself hyper-present in every other issue concerning the Middle East. We are here to address the big question – is there a possibility of achieving a settlement? Is it still possible? A settlement for the Israeli-Arab conflict – following all of the attempts, negotiations, setbacks, intifadas – is a settlement still possible? There is a lot of skeptics and despair but also a real desire to keep the window of hope open. The choice of peace is ours – a strategic choice. There is still a candle of hope giving light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps today's gathering of leaders, thinkers and activists encourage us that we who are living in this conflict under occupation means that we must continue to hold on to this strategic option of seeking peace to overcome all of the obstacles we face. The belligerent and colonialist policies of Israel have never ceased, not in Jerusalem or elsewhere in the occupied territories.
We know that every problem has a solution and that every conflict will come to an end. For 6 decades must blood has been shed and much suffering but it will eventually find its way to a solution. When the parties will show good faith and good intentions to overcome the mutual fears and suspicions. When the active international community will show good intentions and good faith when there is justice and international legitimacy in ending the conflict and the occupation. Occupation, land theft and settlement policies must end. This choice of real peace and justice remains a viable option.
There are international decision, resolutions, decision, papers, recommendations, conferences which collectively put forth the basis to make progress as we have made partial progress until now. The current circumstances regarding the negotiating environment since the concluding the first Israeli-Palestinian agreement 17 years ago is very difficult, but we remain resolved to reaching a final agreement. We have had serious failures in the process and difficulties. I don’t want to assign blame and there is no need to go over all of the history.
From my experience in participating in all of the negotiations for the past 18 years I can tell you with full responsibility the Israeli side has only worked to buy time while imposing new facts on the ground, particularly with settlements and separating Jerusalem from Palestine and with the separation wall as a unilateral solution making it impossible to reach an acceptable fair balanced and just peace that we can accept and market.
Just a brief look at all of the stations of the process – Stockholm, Oslo, Sharm el Sheikh, Annapolis, we see a continuation of the use of the language of force in order to impose a peace settlement which can only be described as surrender. This is further complci9cated by the radical right wing government in Israel and the settlers represented by 9 ministers in Netanyahu's cabinet. They make the major the momentum in this radical government in its policies towards to the Palestinian people. They are trying to buy more time. The so-called ten month settlement freeze but in reality the settlement building is continuing and the demolition of homes in Jerusalem is continuing, and then they claim that the Palestinians are not responding to the "unprecedented" Israel offers.
We know that the internal division in Palestine is another obstacle to take control over the process. We also realize that Israel's continued settlement policy is the real obstacle to achieving the desired breakthrough.
We rely very much on the will and the steadfastness of our people and their peaceful resistance to racial discrimination and occupation, we also rely very heavily on the international community based on international law and legitimacy to make sure that the answer to the question of the viability of peace must be yes,. Peace is our choice with justice, equality. Peace is possible when certain political pre-requisites are met – there must be a prior recognition of the legitimate mutual rights of both sides including recognizing the principle of the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by force. Ending the Israelization of Palestinian Jerusalem, the confiscation of homes, and the building of the separation wall. Everyday there is a new reality on the ground – how can we go to negotiations which this occurs. Reframing from calling on the parties to return to negotiations as if this was the end – the goal. This is not the goal –they are a means to reach the goal. We have been negotiating for 18 years, there has been some progress but now the negotiations have become a means to waste time and to change the reality on the ground. If the negotiations do not include the explicit goal of reaching a just settlement we do not need negotiations for negotiations sake.
Obama's call for negotiations without making the preparations for them, meaning stopping all unilateral steps that undermine the final status negotiations. If Jerusalem is annexed and everyone accepts that this is Israeli sovereignty then there is no chance of peace – what can we negotiate about. I say that just calling for negotiations is misguiding and misleading aimed at more violations on the ground. We want to go back to real negotiations. We want to achieve the goal of peace in negotiations with a time line.
The Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem must be reopened, the Orient House, the Chamber of Commerce, release of prisoners, stopping the separation wall – this must all be done – these are confidence building measures.
I want to warn against certain ideas that we here in Israel to replicate the unilateral disengagement plan that was done in Gaza, whether based on the Mofaz plan or the Barak-Peres plan of changing territorial definition of a and b and to withdrawal behind the separation wall while leaving Jerusalem and refugees and thereby adopting what Lieberman calls the Cypriot plan – this will put a death to the peace process. The only solution is the two state solution based on the 196y borders, east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine,. A just solution to the refugee issue based on Un Resolution 194 – this is what is required.
Andrei Baklanov – Chief, International Relations department, Staff of the Council of the Russian Federation
Russia is thinking about convening a Moscow summit. The Madrid process created the multi-lateral track with Russia part of the steering committee of the process. Israel and Palestine had their secret track in Oslo and reached an agreement but it proved difficult to implement. We need to return to the original thinking of a multi-national process through the Quartet. I support the idea of returning to a more general format. In Madrid and after Madrid we had a classic conflict in the Middle East but now the parameters of the conflict has grown – Iran, the war in Iraq, Somalia, etc. We need to pay attention to the fact that the spectrum of problems has grown. We need to talk about region security on a broader basis.
We need to deal with the new radical groups in the region as well. It is hard to include them in negotiations with Israel, but we need to have a dialogue with them. Hamas has some legitimate elements.
There must be 2 layers of negotiations – the official layer and the second would be the community and political and social caucus where we could bring in the more so-called radical groups and to bring in the more practical elements amongst them.
We need to renew the multilateral process as well – arms control, water, economic development. We tried to renew this in January 2000 – the first international action of President Putin, but it was not successful. Here we need to think about how to re-start this process.
Web must recall President Saadat and the initiative of then Crown Prince Abdallah from Saudi Arabia and then I suggested to him to invite some Israelis to visit in Saudi Arabia – but it was then premature. We need some new and strong initiative like that. Maybe someone would invite some representatives of Israel to start a new initiative. We must encourage them and show them the way to move forward.
There can be must better economic cooperation, working on developing cooperation, customs unions, etc. Not only working on dividing but also bringing together.
We also need to advance more Track II work to bring together thinkers from the region who are experts and can develop creative new ideas.
Dr. Taha Abdel Aleem – Al Aharam Center – Egypt
The conflicts in the Middle East are not isolated from the Israeli-Arab conflict. In my view what was called Islamic wars and then the war on terror – as it is called – this is not isolated from the Israeli-Arab conflict. The extremists – there are Muslims, Jews, Christians, Marxists, and others amongst them. When we say that there is no alternative to peace, this is the attitude of rational and logical people. The alternative exist and it is extremism who take measures such as blowing themselves up. Israeli aims of gaining one more kilometer will not give Israel security. This is greed not sense. Time is working against Israel because of the extremism. I say this as an Egyptian who has made peace with Israel, a country of tolerance which made peace as a strategic choice. The sun of justice rose in Egypt and the Jews brought it to the world. In Egypt the commitment to justice and peace is clear. There is a peace equation the demands of the Arabs is for Israel to withdraw not to the 1947 borders, we are talking about 22% of historic Palestine. The 1967 borders are accepted by the Arab world. This we will not give in on. This is less than fair because the Palestinian deserve more, but this is our demand. The Palestinians want an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel has to chose if it accepts these demands – it will not be able to stay hated by 1.5 billion Muslims. You cannot live with me when you hate me. I am not less than you. This is the land of the worlds civilizations. One piece of land or that will not protect Israel. Israel has the willingness to all the Arab countries to make peace with it, but there must be reciprocal security not just security for Israel.
An Israeli attack against Iran will jeopardize the whole region. I think that Iranian nuclear weapons are dangerous. I think that Israeli nuclear weapons are dangerous. I want a region clean of nuclear weapons. How can I accept Israel as a proponent of peace when Israel did what it did in Gaza. The failure of Oslo is what created Hamas and if you don’t have Hamas you will get al Qaeda.
Gershon Baskin, Co-Director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information
There is no bilateral solution but the conflict is resolvable. 2010 a critical year – ripe for agreement, ripe for an explosion – only Israeli-Arab and not Iran.There is no solution except a two states for two people solution which recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and all of its citizens just as Palestine will be the nation state of the Palestinian people and all of its citizens.
There is no bilateral process, it has failed until now and there is no reason to believe that it will now suddenly succeed. There is a zero chance of a bilateral negotiated agreement between the parties. Simply coming back to the negotiating table will not bring about an agreement. At the same time, the parameters of the solution are well known and there is international consensus on the agreement.
There is a willingness of the parties to make the concessions necessary for peace if what is needed is guaranteed not on a bilateral basis. Israelis and Palestinians can not provide each other with what is needed. The guarantees and assurances must be provided by the international
The parties should no longer have the right of veto an agreement. It is not just what the parties want anymore. The resolution of the conflict is an international security and strategic interest. The international community must deal seriously with the threats and obstacles put on the table by the parties and then there must be international solutions.
We must also recognize and support the positive steps on the ground taken by the Palestinian Authority. We must also put pressure on Israel to change is failing current policy on Gaza.
Nimer Hammad – Advisor to Palestinian President Abbas
What is the future of this region? I wish to concentrate on one aspect that is core to this conflict and the region. Those who think that the Israeli-Palestinian is not central to the peace of the region are mistaken. We face this with those who wish to present the image that there are other regional threats and that the Palestinian issue should be side-lined. Once it was Sadaam Hussein. Today it is Iran. One of Barak's former advisors said if we don’t face the issue there will be a comprehensive war in the region. Israel is acting on the basis that it is above international law. International decisions are not implemented by Israel. Racist decisions are made in the Israeli Knesset and then Israel brings up claims of anti-Semitism. The world has been very generous with Israel, it has received more money and more arms than any other country in the world. What is the result of the spoiling of Israel? Israel believes that it is above international law.
The failure of the process has been felt on both sides. We have all paid the price. In Israel the extremists rule today but in Palestine there is a real partner for peace. The Palestinian Authority is the party responsible and it wants peace. We all know what the peace looks like. We know what is needed on both sides. I don’t think that the issue of security constitutes and obstacle that cannot be overcome. We understand Israel's need for security. There might be a 3rd party to guarantee Israel's security. Palestine does not want an army that would threaten anyone.
We must keep this is a conflict based on national and territorial issues and not religious issues. In Israel there are those who are pushing the conflict to religious grounds. The demand to recognize Israel as a Jewish state while Israel has not managed to define who is a Jews – this constitutes an obstacle that complicates issues. If we continue this way we will head towards more extremism. Both sides are not capable of resolving the conflict. The international community must play the role, but not one country has done this. The US with its internal concerns and the powerful Jewish lobby in Washington prevent the US from doing it. There must be real international participation of the Quartet.
We hope that the Moscow conference will be organized and held as soon as possible. It will be an opportunity for both sides to move forward towards the resolution of the two states solution. The international community must take on its responsibility for the security and stability of the world.
Prof. Tayseer B. Al-Khunaizi, Saudi Arabia
There is not alternative but to move forward for peace. Yes the Israelis want peace but there is a price for peace. We have the Arab Peace Initiative of King Abdallah – land for security. That is the formula. The Arab Peace Initiative provides the formula for a stable Middle East and for the resolution of all of the conflicts.
Ishmael Musaba Waeli – Iraq
Recently Iran occupied an Iraqi oil well. This reflects the complex reality on the ground now in Iraq. The core of the matter regarding the future of Iraq, which has been rendered unbalanced by the US-UK led war in Iraq. Iraq is facing the possibility of being divided into two state-lets. The people of Iraq are being denied the right to use their natural oil assets.