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See appeal statement: Global Leaders Call for Action on Arab-Israeli Settlement
by Jim Lobe :: InterPress Service :: October 7, 2006
Amid signs that the administration of President George W. Bush remains unwilling to take stronger steps to get Israeli-Palestinian peace talks back on track, a growing number of prominent U.S. and foreign figures are calling for a new international mechanism to set the framework for a comprehensive settlement between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Such a mechanism, according to an appeal published Wednesday by the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) and signed by some 135 former world leaders, politicians and Nobel laureates, should be modeled on the 1992 Madrid conference that established the basis for both the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan and the Oslo peace process during the 1990s.
“With the Middle East immersed in its worst crisis for years, we call for urgent international action towards a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict,” the appeal declared.
It also called for preliminary parallel talks mediated by the Quartet – the U.S., the European Union (EU), Russia and the United Nations – with the active participation of the Arab League, both between Israel and the Palestinian leadership, and Israel and Syria and Lebanon, as soon as possible.
Signatories included former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who mediated the Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt; Frank Carlucci, a former defense secretary under President Ronald Reagan; former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev; former British Prime Minister John Major; former German President Richard von Weizsaecker; former European Commission President Jacques Delors; and dozens of other former heads of government or state primarily from Europe, Canada and Latin America.
They also included former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and a number of other prominent personalities from the Muslim world, such as Iranian Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi; former UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali; former senior UN envoys Lakhdar Brahimi and Mohamed Sahnoun; and former senior ministers in the governments of Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The appeal, which was followed Thursday by the release of a 38-page ICG analysis entitled “The Arab-Israeli Conflict: To Reach a Lasting Peace”, came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Arab and Israeli leaders on a brief tour of the region to demonstrate continued U.S. support for Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and rally regional support for Washington’s campaign to isolate Iran, Syria, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia.
Some analysts had earlier expressed hope that she would press Israel to be more flexible in dealing with the Palestinian Authority (PA) by, for example, agreeing to transfer hundreds of millions of dollars in tax and customs revenues that it has withheld from the PA since Hamas swept parliamentary elections last January.
That hope was encouraged by her signing of a Sep. 20 Quartet statement that suggested a willingness by the group to provide direct assistance to a Palestinian government of national unity that included Hamas, even if the Islamist party did not explicitly meet the three conditions prescribed by Israel and the U.S. for direct contacts and receiving external aid: formal recognition of Israel’s right to exist; renunciation of violence; and acceptance of all previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Hopes for a more flexible U.S. position were also raised by remarks to a pro-Israel group last month by a top Rice adviser, State Department Counselor Philip Zelikow, warning that “some sense of progress and momentum on the Arab-Israeli dispute is the sine qua non” for European and Arab support on Iran and “other things we care about.”
Even before Rice left Washington, however, the administration made clear that it had no intention of pressing Israel to soften its hard line on Hamas or any government of national unity of which it is a part.
As a result, the only “breakthrough” on the Israeli-Palestinian front achieved during the trip was agreement on facilitating the movement of Palestinian goods across border stations in Gaza – something that was actually agreed to 11 months ago but never implemented.
“The fact that Rice is back dealing with the same issues that were supposed to have been resolved 11 months ago shows not only that we’ve actually gone backwards over that period, but also that Washington is failing to put these kinds of technical, day-to-day issues – that are admittedly very important – in a broader political context,” Daniel Levy, an expert at the New America Foundation and former Israeli peace negotiator, told IPS.
A more optimistic twist on the visit, according to Levy, was that it may have been designed “to allow her to come back here with a strong message from the Arab allies that we can’t do much for you on Iran unless you do a lot more on the Palestinian issue,” he added, noting that Rice reportedly received an earful from the eight Arab foreign ministers she met with in Cairo.
It is clear, however, that the ICG signatories are not counting on Levy’s more hopeful scenario.
“Part of the reason why we initiated the effort the effort was precisely because the administration has not seemed particularly receptive to our approach,” said Robert Malley, the ICG’s Middle East Program director, who stressed that progress on a number of different fronts, particularly the Palestinian, was increasingly urgent.
“The Lebanon war must serve as a wake-up call,” he said. “Surely, everyone now realizes that as long as the political roots of the Arab-Israeli conflict are not addressed, it will remain a bottomless source and pretext for repression, radicalization and bloodletting, both in the region and beyond.”
The goal of a comprehensive settlement, according to the statement, “must be security and full recognition of the state of Israel within internationally recognized borders, an end to the occupation for the Palestinian people in a viable independent, sovereign state, and the return of lost land to Syria.”
To reach that goal, the statement calls for a series of steps, beginning with the “formation of a Palestinian national unity government, with an end to the political and financial boycott of the PA.”
“This would be a more pragmatic approach that judges a (Palestinian) government by whether it can impose and maintain a ceasefire, rather than abide by a principle,” Malley told IPS, in a reference to the three Israeli conditions on dealing with a government that includes Hamas. “We first have to stabilize the situation, and that means finding a way toward a ceasefire between Palestinians and Israelis.”
That step would be followed by talks between Israel and the Palestinian leadership mediated by the Quartet and “reinforced by the participation of the Arab League and key regional countries” on mutual security and reviving the Palestinian economy; and then on the “core political issues that stand in the way of achieving a final status agreement.”
Parallel talks of the “reinforced Quartet” with Israel, Syria and Lebanon should take place so that bilateral peace accords between Israel and its two northern neighbors. can be reached.
Damascus has made a series of offers for peace talks since the outbreak of last summer’s fighting between Israel and Hezbollah, but they have been rejected by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Some observers, however, believe that Olmert’s rejection has been motivated primarily by the conviction that the Bush administration is adamantly opposed to any move would lend respectability to President Bashar Assad after last year’s assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
(Inter Press Service)