Saturday, September 4, 2010

Peace comes dropping Slow

The Old City of Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock

The Middle East peace talks, which formally opened in Washington on Thursday, have been given one year. It’s a tall order.

In 2006 when I visited the region I spent a brief time in the Kalandia refugee camp. It was opened in 1949 and is under Israeli control. That refugee camp is home to ten thousand Palestinian refugees who for 60 years have been dependent on emergency food aid and the provision of services. Generations have grown up under occupation while living in appalling conditions of poverty and deprivation.

Kalandia was opened the year after I was born. And in every decade since that part of the world has been convulsed by one major war after another leaving thousands dead and millions more, almost all of them Palestinians, as refugees.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimates that there are some 5 million Palestinian refugees in the region and this excludes those who have moved further away to Europe, the USA and elsewhere.

The issues that this new process of negotiations will have to resolve to achieve a durable peace settlement have been well rehearsed during many failed previous efforts.

A viable Palestinian state; Israeli occupation of Palestinian land; the siege of Gaza; the settlements; water rights; refugees; prisoners; the Separation wall and Jerusalem.

An Israeli Hilltop Settlement overlooking Bethlehem

One of the most immediate and pressing issues is that of the settlements. Since the 1967 war when Israel occupied East Jerusalem and the west Bank, the Israeli government has constructed some 100 settlements with a combined population of around 500,000 jews. These settlements are illegal under international law.

Last November the Israeli government announced a moratorium on the building of new settlements, although this did not include East Jerusalem. The moratorium is scheduled to end in three weeks time on September 26th. The Palestinians have warned that renewed construction will bring an end to the negotiations while the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that his government will not extend the moratorium.

In addition Hamas and the people of the Gaza Strip are not represented in the talks. Hamas has been excluded from the negotiations and is opposed to the process. The killing of four Israeli settler’s near Hebron on Tuesday was claimed by its organisation the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades.

Last year on a visit to the Gaza strip this blog met with senior Hamas leaders, including Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Since then other Shinners have met representatives of Hamas, including Khaled Mashal, the political leader of Hamas.

The Hamas leadership have told us that they want a peace agreement with justice, stability, security and peace for Palestinians and Israelis. To achieve this they are for a comprehensive ceasefire; the opening of borders; a two state compromise and the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital on the basis of the 1967 borders and the establishment of a long Hudna (long truce) to facilitate this.

In our contribution to these conversations and in talks with the |Palestinian Authority , PLO representatives and Palestinian activists Sinn Féin representatives have stated our view that armed actions will not bring a resolution to the conflict or advance the Palestinian cause.

Dialogue, involving substantive and inclusive negotiations, is the only way forward.

All of the participants, including the Israeli government and Hamas, need to create a context in which this can happen. There should be a complete cessation of all hostilities and armed actions by all sides and Hamas should be invited to participate in the current negotiations.

Not surprisingly the media and political commentary around the commencement of this phase of negotiations has been down beat. In some instances media reports are dismissing out of hand the possibility of any agreement. It is always easier to predict failure than find evidence of hope or progress.

It is true that when you look beyond the fine words and sentiments expressed on Tuesday night in Washington at the opening press conference that there are huge obstacles to achieving a breakthrough, not least of which is the absence of Hamas.

However this blog believes that agreement is possible. Most citizens living in Israel, and the West Bank and Gaza already know its broad outline.

Achieving this will require courageous political leadership, a willingness to take risks, initiatives and to make compromises. It means Israeli and Palestinian leaders working as partners to defend the rights and freedoms of each other.

The strategic interest of Israeli and Palestinian citizens is for peace. A peace that encompasses the security, prosperity and stability of the Israeli people and of the Palestinian people. That must be the goal of these talks. We wish them well in their efforts.

The Separation Wall


Timothy Dougherty said...

A good-day to you Gerry.
It is a lifelong effort to fight for freedom from tyranny. Perhaps more than any other cause, with in the middle east and achieving this will require courageous political leadership,that type of leadship that you have shown. The peace agreement with justice, stability, security and peace for Palestinians and Israelis as with Irish needs are hard pressed.The media at large are not presenting an honest and factual case to the public about the facts that are in question.Thomas Paine wrote in the The Age of Reason:All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit." Maybe Paine, the Revolutionist was more on the right spot. yes, Gerry We do wish them well in their efforts.

LW said...

Peace in Israel/ Palestine is key to the peace in the world. It is important to all the citizens of the world to try to work towards some sort of peaceful outcome. As to how to do that, that's a tall order. Would be nice to have a strong leader, somewhere, anywhere.

Micheal said...

You've nailed it down there Gerry and outlined the issues for negotiation very succinctly.

"A viable Palestinian state; Israeli occupation of Palestinian land; water rights; refugees; prisoners; the Seperation wall, and jerusalem.

You don't have the hang-ups about the Jews that most Europeans- old world and new- have.
I believe those hang-ups stem from self-loathing and self-rejection and are expressed in a delusional sychophancy that lead to a blind collaboration with zionism.

The Jews themselves have made a dogs dinner out of the whole zionist project of creating a jewish homeland in the middle east. They've been digging their own grave, as a people, for well over a hundred years.

To go about living in the heart of arabia in the way that they have is nothing short of madness and the truth is there are no excuses that wash at the end of the day.

A whole new approach is what's needed and I've no doubt they can salvage something from this through co-operation with the Palestinians and a thoughtful repentance. The arabs aren't a bad lot as long as they are respectd and treated like human beings and Islam is a nice eneogh religion even if it's not for the European or the Jew.

Anonymous said...

Gerry, I wish I could share in your hopeful outlook...

But it seems to me, the most sobering obstacle to these Middle East peace negotiations will prove to be NOT the vast political differences between the Israelis and Palestinians but the reality of the political situation in the U.S. and Europe. Current governments in both are lacking not only any measurable electoral mandate but also any reasonable amount of public confidence, be it for domestic or foreign policy. I doubt seriously that many in the U.S. will venture much optimism for our president's ability to broker peace in one of the most contentious and difficult conflicts the world has known when his own country - and party - seem to be crashing down around him. And I think there are those in Europe who have similar sentiments, where their own governments' abilities are concerned. And as you know all too well, without some voter-supported outcry, or at least some popular political leverage in this regard, peace is near impossible...if for no other reason than it does not rank as an immediate priority for U.S. and European voters. Our leaders, the voters have well indicated, have "bigger fish to fry" and many may see achieving peace in the Middle East as an exercise in arrogance and a futile waste of time and resources.

Even more distressing, there seems to be a new wave of reactionary conservatism (often coupled with varying degrees of largely anti-Muslim xenophobia) sweeping across the West that I fear will prohibit many from having any sympathy whatsoever for the plight of the Palestinians. When a majority of the West (and I feel, unfortunately, that this is not a gross overstatement) believe that one party in the negotiations (i.e., Israel) has a sizable moral and philosophical advantage over the other, there is little chance that there will be any widespread support for concessions to the Palestinians. For this reason, the Israeli government has very little motivation to offer any. Peace, one may argue, is reason enough but the political machine—granted, ANY political machine—seems capable of disregarding the death toll once political maneuvering begins, when the cries of the grieving and outraged are easily drowned out by the cogs as they spin.

The Northern Ireland peace process had the "advantage" (feel free to insert incredulous snorts here) of having two "white" parties, both ultimately Christian, who were more culturally identifiable to most Westerners than their Palestinian counterparts. Even the majority of people, who we hope do not harbor any outright resentment or prejudice toward Muslims, are still perplexed and somewhat – let’s face it - put off by women covered head to toe and public calls to daily prayer. Regardless of how adamantly one believes in the concept of religious and cultural freedom, many aspects of Muslim life are entirely foreign to most members of Western societies…and this inability to empathize - to see the process from the Palestinian perspective - coupled with the shifting political winds in the West will, I fear, prohibit any real measure of progress towards lasting peace.

I do, however, hope that my fears prove unjustified...