11/27/2007, 00.00
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Once again, hopes for peace

by Arieh Cohen
Annapolis begins. The possibilities for success depend on one simple factor: commitment to peace negotiations that are open and sincere regarding the key issues of Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories and the definition of the state of Palestinian refugees. An invitation to avoid Oslo’s “errors”, when the “process” overshadowed the “peace”. The need to resolve the “Jerusalem problem”.

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) - It has been very difficult to follow the news concerning the Annapolis Peace Conference over the last couple of months. Both official news and the many “inspired” and “uninspired” leaks gave a picture of vast confusion, shifting goals, and endlessly alternating optimism and pessimism – about what exactly, was not always clear.

One thing though has always been clear, and will continue to do so, whatever is eventually said about the details of the Conference after it has taken place: The success or otherwise of this courageous initiative of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, authorized by the President of the United States,  can only be measured by whether it will, in fact, launch full-scale negotiations on a peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and then whether the negotiations will proceed in orderly fashion and at a sustained pace, and finally whether they will actually produce a signed and mutually ratified treaty (before too much additional suffering and violence has taken place). In the end, nothing else matters. Even though this is such an obvious comment, it needs to be made, in a context where the “process” has so often tended to obscure the “peace,” which must be its goal.

Negotiations in broad daylight

Not that the process does not matter. It does, enormously. It must avoid the long line of mistakes made in the past. Thus, it must be honest. It must state openly its goal of bringing to an end two states of affairs, which together constitute the conflict to be resolved: The “belligerent occupation” of the Territories conquered in 1967, and the refugee-status of the Palestinian Diaspora. It must do so on the basis of international law, and it must do so equitably and realistically.  

This requires that both national leaderships be open with their respective publics, eschewing the ambiguities of the “Oslo process,” which had been constructed and pursued in such manner as to enable the leaderships to avoid telling their own peoples what must happen, most of all: Withdrawal from the Territories conquered in 1967, on the one side, and the definitive non-return of the Palestinian refugees into Israel, on the other side. 

It was, to a decisive extent, the in-built ambiguities of the “Oslo process” that allowed each side to pretend that those were not necessarily the outcomes, which led to the increasingly unbearable dissonance that caused its demise, and with it the bloodshed and suffering of the “Second Intifadah.” 

Avoiding the same catastrophic mistakes means that the process of negotiation must be held openly. In the end, there is no way to “circumvent” major difficulties through “back-channel talks” and secret understandings, as had been attempted by both sides at Oslo. The wisdom must be considered of U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s demand that, in the modern world, peace is to be made by “open treaties openly arrived at.” The peoples on both sides are not retarded under-age children, and any attempt to spring on them secretly negotiated treaties are more likely than not to cause a destructive reaction. These are mature nations which, though much tried, have, on the whole, shown a readiness to make a genuine and equitable peace, worked out openly, honestly, with their own participation - as is often demonstrated also by public opinion polls.  

The Arab world

The representation at the Conference of the rest of the Arab world manifests the radical change that it has undergone since the 1968 Khartoum Summit vehemently rejected any thought of peace with Israel. Since its historic initiative was first adopted at the Beirut Summit of 2002, the Arab League has been steadfast in offering normalisation of relations with the State of Israel, once peace treaties have been achieved between Israel and the three immediate neighbours, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon, with which it is still in a state of conflict. Syrian representation would be in line with the repeated calls by Syria in recent times for resumption of peace negotiations with Israel. And it is very hard to think of a stable and secure Palestinian-Israeli peace without peace between Israel and Syria. If refused such a peace treaty, Syria has the ability, and may have the determination, to disrupt Israeli-Palestinian relations even fatally. Also, Israeli-Palestinian peace is not really possible without resolving, most particularly, the dire situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon: Peace with Lebanon is therefore also a requirement for Israel’s peace with Palestine to have a chance at working as it should. 

The international community

Indispensable too is the commitment of the wider international community, represented at Annapolis. For one thing, the definitive resettling of the Palestinian refugees (including the payment of whatever compensation is agreed), but also the return into Israel from the occupied territories of several hundreds of thousands of settlers, will demand the expenditure of huge sums of money, which only a vast, coordinated international effort can make available. The hope is that the international community – especially, of course, its richest economies – will rightly conclude that this expense will be more than worthwhile, in comparison with that which may be attendant upon a continuation of these interrelated conflicts. Whatever it will cost, it will surely not cost as much as the Iraq War and its still unfolding consequences. 

All in all, it may be said that Annapolis will succeed precisely in the measure that it will renew the spirit and goals of the 1991 Madrid Conference, in the measure that it will re-capture the vision of that launching of the “process” that is still seeking fulfilment. 

Annapolis and the future of Christians

Christians have further reasons to watch Annapolis and its aftermath with the closest attention. The difficulties experienced by the Church, and by its members, in different parts of the Holy Land, are mostly related, at least in some significant way, to the lack of peace, to the conflict, to the generalised situation of insecurity, and the consequent demands for ever tighter security. Only peace can assure to the different national communities in the Holy Land the ability to grow in meeting their long-stated national goals of creating and maintaining fully democratic societies.

Finally, peace in the Holy Land requires resolution of the “question of Jerusalem” in its various aspects. While the territorial, political aspects may be a matter for the bilateral peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, the universal dimension of the “question of Jerusalem” can only legally and morally be settled multilaterally. Such a solution must be sufficient to meet the purposes of the 29 November 1947 UN Resolution, if it is to persuade the international community to consider substituting it for the territorial internationalisation of Jerusalem as a corpus separatum, which is the present de jure status of the City and its environs. In 2000 the Palestine Liberation Organisation solemnly agreed with the Holy See on the essential contents of the necessary “special statute, internationally guaranteed” for Jerusalem. Among these are “Freedom of conscience and religion for all”, as well as “The equality before the law of the three monotheistic religions and their institutions and followers in the City”, but also safeguarding “The proper identity and sacred character of the City and its universally significant religious and cultural heritage,” and the “freedom of access to” and of “worship in” the Holy Places, together with the special legal régime applicable to certain of these Holy Places.

There is, of course, nothing in that statement that could not be equally embraced by Israel too, and the international dimension of Annapolis and its “process” should be a guarantee that the international community as a whole will be ready to support and supplement Israeli-Palestinian assent to monitored adherence of these same principles.  


* The writer is a long-time observer of religion and politics in the Holy Land


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