A high-level conference on peace was arranged yesterday (November 12) in Tel Aviv by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The logo of the conference, a peace dove trapped in an ice cube, was symbolic of the mood at the conference. The invited speakers were asked one fundamental question: What is required to melt the ice and break the current stalemate in the peace process?
EU was well represented at the conference by Christian Danielsson, Director General for Neighborhood and Enlargement Negotiations, and Fernando Gentilini, EU Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process.
As the previous peace conference in July 2014, which took place during the first days of the Gaza war, this one happened also to take place in the middle of wave of violence which risks escalating into a new intifada if nothing is done to calm down the situation. Despite the violence, there is still hope for peace but the window of opportunity is closing.
Tony Blair, former UK Prime Minister and Quartet representative to the Middle East, was interviewed by Haaretz journalist Ari Shavit. Blair is optimistic about a two-state solution provided that it can be embedded in a regional approach and supported by moderate Arab countries. A unified Palestinian leadership is also required.
“Measures on the ground to improve the situation of the Palestinians are paramount for giving them hope for the future and a stake in a peaceful solution of the conflict,” Tony Blair added.
Former Israeli labor party leader and minister of defense Amir Peretz outlined a concrete peace proposal based on “land for peace” – Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank in combination with land swaps. Such a solution would enable 80 % of the settlers to stay while the rest would have to return to Israel.
However, ministers in the current Israeli government who also were invited to the conference rejected the formula “land for peace” and wanted to replace it by “peace for peace”. This is hardly acceptable for the Palestinians who want to get rid of the Israeli occupation.
Whatever economic measures the Israeli government has in mind to improve the situation – such as increased investments, trade with Arab countries and tourism – the perspective of a viable two-state solution is required to break the deadlock in the peace process. The Saudi prince Turki al-Faisad, who was interviewed on video, said he would be glad to visit Jerusalem but only after a peace agreement was achieved.
The key note speech was delivered by the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, who talked passionately about the need bridge the Left – Right divide in Israel with focus on the geopolitical consensus in the country:
“It is not enough that we look hard and squarely at the complex reality in which we live; we must also recognize where and how we can take action within that reality,” the president said. While skeptical about whether the peace dove can take off any time soon, he stressed the need to build trust between Arabs and Jews and start right away in paving the way for peace.
“The relevant breakthrough for this generation lies in the present, and is based on acceptance of the simple equation according to which there exists a close connection between the welfare of the Arabs of this land – our understanding of their culture, religion, and language – and between our own character and welfare.”
The conference was partly overshadowed by EU´s decision the day before to publish a so-called interpretative notice on labelling of agricultural goods from the territories occupied by Israel since the six-day war in 1967. While the note is technical in nature and only affects less than one percent of the total Israeli export to EU, it seemed to have taken the Israeli government by surprise.
According to reporting in Haaretz, the exact wording of the note was not discussed with Israel and access to the draft was made available strictly on a need-to-know basis within the EU. The Israeli government reacted harshly, even emotionally, and condemned the EU decision as hypocritical and an expression of a double standard.
”The EU should be ashamed,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “The labelling of products of the Jewish state by the EU brings back dark memories. Of the hundreds of territorial conflicts around the world, it chose to single out Israel and Israel alone, while it’s fighting with its back against the wall against the wave of terror.”
At the conference, professor of psychology Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel Economics Prize laureate in 2002, indirectly replied to the Israeli Prime Minister when explaining the Israeli reactions to decisions by the outside world:
“In a national conflict, each of the adversaries sees himself as responding to the other’s provocations and beliefs that the other’s behavior reflects negative eternal traits. Neither of the adversaries imagines that the other sees himself as responding and not initiating.” Attributing European reservations about Israel’s policy entirely to anti-Semitism is too easy and absolves Israel from responsibility for its own actions.
As a consequence of the EU decision, the Israeli government has announced that it will cancel a number of consultations scheduled with the EU in the coming weeks. This might affect the work of the EUs special representative for the Middle East peace process Fernando Gentilini who was invited to one of the panels at the conference.
Fernano Gentilini avoided replying to any questions about his reaction to the EU decision and focused instead on the future. EU as a strong friend of Israel and the Palestinians will do everything in its power to support a two-state solution. He stressed the need of finding an “entry point” to relaunch the peace process. For this political will and leadership on both sides are needed.
Asked by The Brussels Times about which measures he has in mind, Gentilini replied: “Both sides, Israelis and Palestinians, should implement concrete measures which are consistent with previous decisions in the areas of economy, security and institution building. This implies empowering the Palestinians without endangering Israel’s security.”
The measures are apparently known to the Israeli government and Gentilini did not elaborate on them besides adding that they are not limited to confidence building measures.
Participants in the conferences and readers of Haaretz received a booklet, “Give peace a chance”, with articles by the newspaper’s journalists, speakers at the conference and a number of known personalities. Among others Federica Mogherini, EU’s Vice-President and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has contributed with an article titled “To burst the bubble”.
The Brussels Times