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A road to peace: Opportunities and challenges - Ahmed Qrei'a

June 29, 2010 9:37 P.M. (Updated: July 2, 2010 10:19 P.M.)
Below is an edited version of a speech given by the PLO's Jerusalem affairs chief Ahmed Qrei'a at the Académie Diplomatique Internationale in Paris on Tuesday entitled A Road to Peace: Opportunities and Challenges

The realization of the just and lasting peace in the Middle East is still possible. This is the primary conclusion that could be deduced from our long quest for peace, despite the scarce achievements and unlimited failures that marked the 18 years of faltering negotiations.

Achieving the desired peace, however, will only be possible when certain objective requirements are present and met. In fact, these requirements are already present and well-established in the principles of international legitimacy and law, as articulated clearly in the UN Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions.

Despite the bleak climate and overwhelming pessimism that prevail in the Middle East, the peoples of the region continue to hold fast to the choice of peace and coexistence. Our peoples, who have for long suffered the scourge of wars and conflicts, realize that peace is the only choice capable of ending the ongoing bloodshed, and fulfill their legitimate need for genuine security, stability and prosperity.

However, the possibility of achieving peace continues to be challenged by hostile policies and realities on the ground. This possibility is further undermined by many subjective factors on both sides that curb the possibility of moving forward on the road to peace that is gradually turning into a gloomy tunnel with a very dim light at its end.

Perhaps, the first and foremost challenge that confronts the peace process today, is the radical right-wing mentality that controls the Israeli decision-making, which is reflected clearly in the outright denial of the basic human rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to self-determination.

This mentality is also reflected in the incessant practices that undermine the possibility of reaching the just and lasting peace, particularly the ongoing settlement activities and attempts to alter the demographic and geographic realities on the ground.

These positions, expressed in Israel's policies and practices, are grounded in a colonialist expansionist mentality that not only denies the right of the Palestinian people to their land, but also denies them the basic rights that all the peoples of the world enjoy, including the right to freedom, independence, and to live in dignity.

Israel's brutal war on Gaza a year and a half ago is yet another screaming example of this belligerent mentality which guides the Israeli practices and actions. This mentality continues to justify for Israel under the pretext of security, the perpetration of gruesome crimes and blatant human rights violations, as revealed by the gravity of the aggression on Gaza, which deliberately targeted and claimed thousands of innocent lives including women and children.

It takes but a glance at the unprecedented Israeli violations in Jerusalem, to realize that Israel has no serious intentions toward peace. The incessant settlement activities, displacement, dispossession, and land confiscations, which seek the annexation of Jerusalem, clearly indicate the absence of any serious intentions to turn the page of this historic conflict. But to the contrary, it indicates a deep desire to prolong it.

It is true that the internal Palestinian situation is not ideal. We neither deny the problems and difficulties that confront our internal front, nor do we shirk our responsibility for this situation. But we are equally confident that this situation is instigated by Israel's deliberate failure to fulfill its obligations under international law and its incessant settlement policies that undermine all prospects for real peace.

These internal challenges are also the result of Israel's encouragement, and indeed its complicity, in the internal Palestinian division, which seeks a comprehensive and permanent separation between the West Bank and Gaza.

A panoramic portrait of the landscape of the peace process is not complete without recalling the role of the international community in this picture. The often intermittent international intervention led by the United States to revive the peace process was never lacking in its bias and shortsightedness that not only turned a blind eye to the never-ending Israeli manipulations and breaches, but nevertheless, justified them.

While this one-sidedness has been a primary feature of the efforts of the successive U.S administrations, the EU cannot be exonerated from the responsibility for this unjust course.

The Palestinian division and the siege on Gaza are among the greatest challenges that continue to undermine the possibility of achieving the desired peace. While the siege on Gaza is gradually leading to a complete and permanent separation between Gaza and the West Bank that will terminate the two-state solution, the internal division is facilitating this outcome.

It is simultaneously impeding the possibility of building the national Palestinian consensus needed for the support and implementation of any peace agreement achieved by the peace process.

Overcoming these challenges is a prerequisite for the success of the ongoing American and international efforts that seek to revive the peace process. It will not be possible, however, to overcome these challenges without an immediate and serious international intervention that fully understands the sensitivity and repercussions of this complex situation.

Therefore, the international community is called upon to act decisively and promptly to lift the siege on Gaza, and to support and accept any reconciliation agreement achieved based on the Egyptian paper, notwithstanding the interpretations of the conditions of the Quartet.

One cannot speak of opportunities for peace without recalling the Arab Peace Initiative, which provides a historic opportunity for achieving the just and lasting peace that ends the conflict in the Middle East.

The Initiative, which represents the consensus of the Arab and Islamic worlds, ensures the realization of the legitimate rights and aspirations of all the parties, and guarantees genuine coexistence and tolerance among all the peoples of the region.

Offering Israel integration, acceptance, and normalized relations with its neighbors based on mutual respect and recognition, the Initiative also guarantees Israel and the entire region real security founded on peace and the pursuit of a better future.

The only return that the Initiative expects is for Israel to end its illegal occupation of all the Arab territories, and to recognize a sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 border with East Jerusalem as its capital, and accept a just and agreed solution to the issue of refugees based on UN resolution 194.

But Israel's rejection of this historic opportunity, and the contempt with which the initiative was met, reaffirm the immaturity of Israel's desire and political will to achieve peace and live up to its dues.

Israeli governments’ chronic failure to regard peace as a serious option has been, and remains, the greatest obstacle that undermined all the past negotiating rounds and impeded all the efforts exerted in the last 18 years.

The current Israeli government is no exception. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and his radical right wing government, exemplify the continuation of this defiance at its height, as this government practically rejects the two-state solution, and outright denies the Palestinian people of their basic legitimate rights and aspirations.

The settlement activities particularly in Jerusalem, the apartheid wall, land confiscations and home demolitions, incursions and killings, continue unabated at an unprecedented pace, with the aim of determining the solution unilaterally by imposition, and not on the negotiating table.

It is true that all final status issues were put on the negotiating table revived by the Annapolis process. Despite the relative seriousness shown by former Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and his government, negotiations were nevertheless extremely difficult and complicated.

We discussed all the issues of the final status, including borders and territories, security, refugees, and water. We have also presented the Palestinian position on Jerusalem. But nevertheless, we were not able to close any of these issues in the eleven-month process.

If negotiations with Olmert's government were very difficult, then negotiating with Netanyahu's government is surely an impossible task, given its radical nature and extreme right wing composition, which is controlled by eight ministers from the settlement movement.

Negotiations are further undermined and prejudged by this government's radical positions that reject all the terms of reference of the peace process, and its denial of the legitimate Palestinian rights endorsed by international law, in addition to its negation of all previous progress made with its predecessors on some issues.

It takes one but a quick glance at the Israeli violations on the ground to realize that Netanyahu's government is not interested in the peace process, unless this peace allows Israel to annex East Jerusalem and the settlement blocks, revokes the right of return, and deprives the Palestinian people of the right to self-determination, independence and statehood.

This position is clearly expressed in Netanyahu's speech at Bar Ilan University on 14 June 2009. The impossible preconditions to peace that he pronounced in that speech, not only render his verbal acceptance of the two-state solution empty, but also reflect the extent of this government's defiance of the international consensus and the efforts of the United States, the EU, and the Quartet.

The continuation of these attitudes and practices, will not only guarantee the failure of the ongoing peace efforts, but also the fading of the two-state solution. There should be no mistake that the siege on Gaza, the incessant and accelerated settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, the apartheid wall, land confiscations, among other violations, are all part of a comprehensive program that aims at imposing a permanent unilateral solution on the ground.

Regrettably, the doubling of the Israeli settlements in both size and population since the onset of the peace process has become the most striking outcome of 18 years of negotiations.

To many, the peace process has become merely a cover used by Israel to buy more time to complete its settlement agendas in the Palestinian territories. As a result, faith in the peace process is understandably at low ebb.

I am afraid that the obstacles and challenges that repeatedly derailed the process in the past are recurring today in a more complex manner.

We have all witnessed the grave consequences of failed negotiations, and we have all seen the confrontations that erupted more than once and put the entire region on the edge as a result. If these challenges are allowed to take hold of the process, then it is bound to meet the fate of its predecessors, and portends the return of the painful scenes of the past.

But there may still be one last opportunity to break the vicious cycle that has impeded the arrival at the final settlement. This will require the international community, particularly the United States and the Quartet, to adopt a radically new approach to the peacemaking efforts.

This approach must be guided by a clear vision that fully realizes the purpose and goal of this process. This approach must also be based on clear terms of reference and a binding timetable. Otherwise, this vicious cycle will exhaust our efforts, and we will continue to trot without direction and without purpose.

And as we do that, time will continue to run out for the two-state vision as a viable solution.

Therefore, for the current efforts to succeed, the following elements are required:

1. Lifting the siege on Gaza completely and immediately, and finding a way for restoring genuine territorial contiguity between Gaza and the West Bank until the arrival at the final solution.

2. International support of the Palestinian reconciliation efforts, and international acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative as the political framework for reconciliation.

3. Complete and immediate freeze of all forms of settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, including the so-called natural growth. Also the immediate cessation of all violations and practices carried out in Jerusalem against the land, the people, and the Islamic and Christian sanctuaries.

4. The negotiating process must be based on the recognition of the legitimate rights of all the parties, in accordance with the international terms of reference, with added emphasis on the Arab Peace Initiative as one of the most important terms of reference.

5. Reaffirmation of the goal and purpose of the process, and that is the arrival at a comprehensive agreement that resolves all the issues of the final status in detail and without postponement.

For the current efforts to succeed, these requirements must be met. Otherwise, negotiations will spin aimlessly in this vicious cycle, turning the process into a process for lasting negotiations instead of being a process for lasting peace.

We have all seen how the prolongation of the interim phase complicated further the possibility of reaching a final solution, and we have all witnessed the confrontations that erupted as a result of this stagnation.

Therefore, delaying any of the final issues that constitute the core of the conflict, particularly Jerusalem and the refugees, is a sure recipe for delaying peace and perpetuating the conflict endlessly.

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