15 June 2005
International Media Seminar Discusses Security, Palestinian Institutional Reform and Economic Support
(Received from a UN Information Officer.)
CAIRO, 13 June -- The International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East this afternoon held a panel discussion on security, Palestinian institutional reform and economic support, hearing from panellists who addressed the relationship between these issues and spoke about various factors affecting them.
Shashi Tharoor, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and the moderator of the panel, said the cycle of violence that had plagued both Israelis and Palestinians had undermined the security of everybody, but most particularly of innocent civilians on both sides of the divide. Also, reforming the institutions of Palestinian self-rule was a formidable challenge as the Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves had been hampered over the past few years by economic stagnation, particularly after the sustained closures and the consequent difficulties Palestinian workers faced.
Abdallah Al-Ashaal, former Assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and a professor at the American University in Cairo, said Israel believed that the Arab world could not start a real peace process because it said it was not democratic. That was purely an Israeli concept, which had benefited from actions by the United States, which believed that terrorism should be changed by direct intervention and by changing the Arab culture. In his view, there was no relationship between the peace process and democracy.
Chinmaya Gharekhan, Special Envoy for West Asia and the Middle East Peace Process and former United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, said that security, Palestinian institutional reform and economic support were really important components of the peace process, especially for the security of the two peoples. He was convinced that the extremists on both sides could be marginalized. The Palestinian leader needed support from the Israeli side to help him stand on his feet. Unless Mr. Abbas could show the Palestinians that his moderation produced results, his task would soon become impossible.
Yossi Katz, former Member of the Israeli Knesset, said he had told his Palestinian friends two years ago that Sharon was about to change his policy and many of them had been sceptical. Last year, he had said that the disengagement plan was the only track that would change the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. People doubted whether Sharon had changed his policies, or was just trying to overcome his political problems. He was not a “Sharon lover”, but if he wanted to be realistic, he must convince the participants that the disengagement plan was the best way to lead to dealing with the hard-core issues and the final solution.
Amin Al-Hindi, Adviser to the President of the Palestinian National Authority and former head of the Palestinian Intelligence Apparatus, said that, according to the Palestinians, security should be provided for all the parties and the Palestinian Authority rejected Israel’s concept that only Israeli security was to be provided for without Palestinian security. Security was very much related to the economy. It had been proven that there was no real security without a secure economy. The security reform process in Palestine had scored quite a success.
After the introductory statements, a question-and-answer session was held.
When the Seminar reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 14 June, it will hold a panel discussion on “International and Regional Efforts for Constructive Change in the Middle East: Is the Road Map the Answer?” The Seminar will conclude its work at the end of the day.
SHASHI THAROOR, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said this panel would deal with three issues: security, Palestinian institutional reform, and economic support. Security was paramount to both Israelis and Palestinians. The cycle of violence that had plagued both peoples had undermined the security of everybody, but most particularly of innocent civilians on both sides of the divide. Since September 2000, nearly 4,000 Palestinians and nearly 1,000 Israelis had been killed, and more than 36,600 Palestinians and more than 6,300 Israelis had been injured. The lack of progress on the peace process had, to some extent, both served the purposes and bolstered the stocks of extremists on both sides of the aisle. Now there was talk of a “catch 22”. Extremists on both sides must be contained if the peace process was to move ahead, and the peace process must move ahead to allow extremists on both sides to be contained. The one serious challenge that he thought everybody would accept that President Abbas faced was to build an effective Palestinian security apparatus.
Reforming the institutions of Palestinian self-rule was a formidable challenge, Mr. Tharoor said. Palestinians’ ability to govern themselves had been hampered over the past few years by economic stagnation, particularly after the sustained closures and the consequent difficulties Palestinian workers faced. How could the overall Palestinian economy be resuscitated? What economic support did they need from major donors in this regard? Could they avoid the further economic debilitation that might occur in the aftermath of Israel’s Gaza withdrawal? He would turn to the panellists for their thoughts on these issues.
ABDALLAH AL-ASHAAL, former Assistant to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and a professor at the American University in Cairo, speaking about the connotations of the term land-for-peace, said that it enclosed several contradictions, always emphasizing that Arab countries should give peace in return for their lands. It was not true that the Arab world threatened Israel. Most of the Arab-Israeli wars had taken place outside of Israel. What else did land-for-peace mean? The peace was a contractual peace. Mr. Sharon had said last week that all peace agreements were just papers and the reality was power. Peace from the Israeli perspective meant imposing Israeli conditions on the Arabs. The Road Map and other terms of reference were only theoretical references. It had to be agreed upon that peace was needed in the region.
Mr. Al-Ashaal asked what was the relationship between democracy and peace. Israel believed that the Arab world could not start a real peace process because it said it was not democratic. That was purely an Israeli concept which had benefited from actions by the United States which believed that terrorism should be changed by direct intervention and by changing the Arab culture. The isolated Arafat, although internationally accepted and elected, was not accepted by Israel which humiliated him, isolated him, and then got rid of him. Mr. Al-Ashaal said he believed that any other Palestinian President would have the same fate. This was a problem.
Mr. Al-Ashaal said that, in his view, there was no relationship between the peace process and democracy. The peace process should be resolved on the basics agreed upon and should be fair and just. Democracy in the region was a completely different issue which was not related to peace between Israel and the region. Democracy in the Arab region would create stronger and more powerful States.
CHINMAYA GHAREKHAN, Special Envoy for West Asia and the Middle East Peace Process and former United Nations Special Coordinator in the Occupied Territories, said that he had lived in Gaza with the Palestinian people and knew their problems. He had also been many times to Israel and knew many Israelis. These experiences gave him a perspective which he found useful. What struck him most about Palestinians was the almost total absence of hatred of Israel, especially the Palestinians living in Gaza. He did not feel they bore Israel any bitterness or hatred. They felt that they did not have much to choose between Israeli political parties which were two sides of the same coin, but in that he believed that the Palestinians had made a mistake. There was a diminishing peace force in Israel which was outstanding, and he hoped that the Palestinians would not continue to ignore the peace rally in Israel. Now the Palestinian leadership was headed by Mahmoud Abbas who was dedicated to the peace process. He had known Abu Mazen for many years and it would be impossible to find a more moderate leader. Mr. Sharon also had a lot of difficulties contending with the settlers and hardliners.
Mr. Gharekhan said that security, Palestinian institutional reform and economic support were really important components of the peace process, especially for the security of the two peoples. He was convinced that the extremists on both sides could be marginalized. The Palestinian leader needed support from the Israeli side to help him stand on his feet. Unless Mr. Abbas could show the Palestinians that his moderation produced results, his task would soon become impossible. A lot of Palestinian institutional reform had been carried out, and he believed that it originated internally and did not come from outside. Palestinians were democratic and, left to themselves, they would take to democracy without any lessons. They did not need preaching on this issue.
As for security, Mr. Gharekhan said that Mr. Abbas had carried out security reforms, and he was determined to handle the issue of terrorism. Palestinians were a self-respecting people who welcomed economic support from the international community, but he was not sure that they were happy to depend on international charity. The Palestinians were highly talented and educated and they were perfectly capable of supporting themselves, but at this stage it was still critical to have economic aid. As for a solution to this problem, no imposed solution would work. Any solution had to be genuinely arrived at. If it was a one-sided solution where the majority of the compromises had to be made by the Palestinians, then it would take many years and decades to find peace. The great Edward Said, who was very anti-Arafat in his later years, had once told him that the solution was non-violence. Mr. Gharekhan said he did not know if non-violence, like what had happened in India, was the solution, maybe the solution had to be a combination. Today, there was a window of opportunity, but he shared the pessimism of Mr. Miller from this morning. This little window of opportunity would not be open for very long.
YOSSI KATZ, former Member of the Israeli Knesset, said he was now the legal adviser to the Chairman of the Trade Union of Israel who was running for the leadership of the Labour Party. After hearing from his colleagues, he believed the Seminar now deserved to hear from a more centre-line attitude towards the peace process. At the Knesset, he had been among the first who had spoken loudly and clearly about the partition of Jerusalem and about the Palestinian refugees and their plight and suffering. He had visited Arafat during the intifada and he had many good friends within the Palestinian society. As this was not the first time that he expressed his views at this forum, he would not speak about his personal view, or about the suffering of the Palestinians which everyone knew; he would present the reality on the ground and analyse the political background and the opportunities presented by the disengagement plan.
Mr. Katz said he had told his Palestinian friends two years ago that Sharon was about to change his policy and many of them had been sceptical. Last year, he had said that the disengagement plan was the only track that would change the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. People doubted whether Sharon had changed his policies, or was just trying to overcome his political problems. All Palestinians had been sceptical when Sharon had announced his plan. The Palestinians had said the plan would turn Gaza into a ghetto, would sidestep the Road Map and international legitimacy, and would lock the Palestinians within enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza. A year later, the response was a bit different. Sharon had been willing to risk his political neck and the Sharm el-Sheikh summit had created a period of calm which might be turned into a peace process. The Israelis were very realistic and they understood that only a Palestinian State would meet the needs of the Palestinian people. At the same time, Sharon knew that once settlers left Gaza, a psychological barrier would be broken. If the Israelis and the Palestinians succeeded in the disengagement plan, there must be a focus on mutual security and a release of Palestinian detainees. He agreed about what Mr. Al-Khatib said this morning about there being many open questions relating to the disengagement plan. These were important questions. At the same time, Israelis were anxious about future security and if the Palestinian Authority was strong enough to overcome violence from Hamas and other groups.
Mr. Katz said that it was true that, at the beginning, Sharon had refused to coordinate on the disengagement plan with the Palestinians. But now he understood that this coordination was a pre-requisite for the success of the plan. Sharon knew that Abbas could only survive if he proved that a non-violent process could produce results. The success of the disengagement plan depended on security coordination, the outcome of the first stage, and a continuation of the dialogue. Mr. Katz said that when compared to the amount of support that the international community gave to Kosovo and Bosnia, it was estimated that there was a need for between $18 billion and $33 billion to create a viable Palestinian State over the next 10 years. The international community had to adopt this kind of support. Israel expected to be generous for its own interests as it was in Israel’s interest that the Palestinians become politically viable. He was not a Sharon lover, but if he wanted to be realistic, he must convince the participants that the disengagement plan was the best way to lead to dealing with the hard-core issues and the final solution.
AMIN AL-HINDI, Adviser to the President of the Palestinian National Authority and former head of the Palestinian Intelligence Apparatus, said he would speak about what was needed from the international community. The security situation during the last century and the new one had seen many changes and new priorities. The meaning of security had developed, it was possible to say that provision of security was not to fight individually or collectively. The modern sense of security was to take measures in order to evade or control attacks by individuals. There was also a need to understand the needs of why these groups carried out these attacks in belief of their political ideology. There was also a need to distinguish between sabotage and the legitimate resistance against the occupiers. This touched on the future of any nation. The Palestinian Authority had promised in Oslo to take all the necessary steps to stand against any sabotage acts. It had so far succeeded in order to defend what had been established and to create a security climate and political grounds to go forward. However, Israeli extremist actions had caused a lot of tensions.
Mr. Al-Hindi said that not wanting to underline all the suffering that had happened as a result of the failure of the peace process, he wanted to underline the concept of security. According to the Palestinians, security should be provided for all the parties and the Palestinian Authority rejected Israel’s concept that only Israeli security was to be provided for without Palestinian security. Security was very much related to the economy. It had been proven that there was no real security without a secure economy. The security process in Palestine had scored quite a success. The absence of recognition of the political rights of Palestinians by Israel had led to a stalemate and had led the whole area to tensions from the security and economic points of view. The security reform was in the national interest of Palestinians and the Authority had created three entities for security under the control of the Ministry of Interior. But the difficulties created by Israel, including the destruction of the headquarters of these entities and the situation in the West Bank had brought to a standstill the activities of the security forces. This situation had helped other factions to build up arms and to use this weakness. There was also some corruption. This was the true history of what was taking place. The international community had to provide the needed assistance to create the new headquarters and other needs. The Palestinians could not act by proxy and would refuse to be substituted by another authority. The establishment of security forces was very important, but security could not be isolated from politics and the economy. The siege of the Palestinians would never lead to a desired peace, but it would lead to a culture of hate which would become uncontrollable. There should be economic assistance and aid and there should also be pressure on Israel to stop the siege on Palestinians.
A speaker noted that it was necessary to maintain the momentum, but this was not happening. Today, the Road Map was accepted internationally. There could not be a United Nations plan of action through the Quartet. Meetings and seminars like that of today were useful, but there was a need for a plan to implement the Road Map. Peacekeepers were needed on the ground in the occupied territories to reflect what was happening on the ground. Another speaker said he supported the Israeli peace movement. There were many extremists working in Israel. The Palestinian Authority was trying to reduce the violence, and 38 Palestinians had been shot dead in such operations. He asked why the Israeli Government was silent and why it did act against arms held by Israeli extremists and attacks carried out by them. There could be no resolution unless Jerusalem became a city open to all. Another speaker asked the United Nations how, with the total bias of the United States towards Israel, there could be any solution.
One speaker said that she did not think the Palestinians would ever have a comprehensive peace with Israel. Israel had never implemented United Nations resolutions, it had disregarded international opinion, and it had not implemented the Road Map. As a result, the Palestinians only had the West Bank and Gaza. Israel violated agreements, and it was now attempting to destroy the dome of the Al Aqsa mosque and to destroy all the Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem. Finally, a participant wished to note that although this was a media seminar, there were no Egyptian media personalities represented on the podium. He asked why Israel had the right to exist as a result of a United Nations resolution, while no resolutions supporting the Palestinians were ever implemented. He also wondered why it was that it took Syrian troops only a few days to withdraw from Lebanon after the United Nations resolution.
Mr. AL-ASHAAL, speaking in response to some of the comments, said a comment had been made about the need for real actions and measures to be taken to fill the gaps between the plans of the United Nations and the Quartet and the reality in Palestine. Since there was no one meaning of peace, everyone would continue to run in a circle. A Palestinian army was the first target of Israel. There had to be peace for all, but only the security of Israel was seen. Some Arab summits had said that the main obstacle to peace in the Middle East was terrorism. Why was Palestine occupied against all rules of international law? Any action against occupation and in support of self-determination was legitimate. The United Nations had been sidelined because the United States wanted to be the main player. The cards of the Palestinians had been their unity, the active Arab players and international solidarity with the Palestinians. Now all three factors were missing. Finally, he wished to note that historically, the United Nations had been the creator of Israel. If the resolution adopted by the General Assembly was Israel’s certificate of birth, they could not deny the Palestinians the right to their State which was included in the same resolution.
Mr. GHAREKHAN said that India had not supported resolution 181 in 1947 on the partition of Palestine; it had favoured the minority position of one federal State for two entities. In today’s world, this would be a non-starter. Today, there had to be two independent States living side by side. Mr. Katz had spoken of the transformation of Mr. Sharon, however, to the best of his recollection; Mr. Sharon had not said anything about the disengagement plan being the first step of the Road Map. He had asked many people why Mr. Sharon had wanted to get out of Gaza, and the common agreement had been that that was a strategic decision based on demographic considerations. If that situation continued for many more years, the Palestinians would be a majority in Israel and a majority Arab population in Israel would defeat the purpose of the Jewish State.
Mr. KATZ said that taking the 1947 United Nations resolution as a basis for a comprehensive peace arrangement between Palestinians and Israelis was an illusion, and he did not sell illusions. The partition resolution in 1947 had been accepted only by the Israeli side. In the 1950s and 1960s, the Israeli Government had stopped hard-line left-wing groups, and it had been difficult. He personally would be satisfied if the pre-1967 border was the base for a future settlement. Jerusalem was one of the most delicate issues. He had once believed that it should be an open international city, but that was no longer realistic. There could now be a compromise of Palestinian neighbourhoods under Palestinian sovereignty as the capital of Palestine, and Israeli neighbourhoods under Israeli sovereignty, and arrangements could be reached about the holy places. People were afraid and sceptical of Sharon’s plan.
Mr. AL-HINDI said that the disengagement plan was an attempt by Sharon to achieve the full withdrawal from Gaza and the northern West Bank and to sell this to the people, but this withdrawal was not in line with the Road Map. There was a Palestinian commitment under the Road Map, including the unification of security agencies and disarming and stopping attacks. That unilateral withdrawal while Israel had complete domination on air, sea and all borders meant that the Palestinians would be in a big prison. There would also be an economic siege, with more unemployment and more Palestinian problems. Also the Palestinians to this moment had no guarantee that there would be a withdrawal from the West Bank. As far as the Road Map was concerned, Israel sought indirect opportunities to have Palestinians fighting Palestinians and to dismantle the Palestinian infrastructure and to disarm the resistance completely.
Mr. THAROOR said that concerning the point that there was no Egyptian media personality on the podium, he wanted to point out that the media panel would be held tomorrow and it included four prominent journalists, including one from Egypt. Also, an Egyptian United Nations colleague who had also been a journalist, Ahmed Fawzi, would participate in tomorrow’s panel to speak about his experiences. He wanted to assure the speaker that there would be panellists from the media.
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