Some 18 months ago, I publicly turned down an invitation to participate in a peace seminar sponsored partly by the UN and partly by the Brazilian government, entitled: “Latin America and Peace in the Middle East.”
I might have made a mistake.
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At the time I wrote that try as I might, I couldn’t think of any convincing speech I could give on how – or why – Latin America should get involved in the already difficult enough Mideast process.
Basically, I told the South Americans, more politely than they deserved, that they should solve some of their own problems before trying to sort out ours.
We’re still coping with the devastating effects of the well-intentioned Norwegian-backed Oslo Accords, and if we need more of the same, there is the Geneva Initiative. And we have, of course, also had any number of US peacemaking attempts that got lost somewhere on the road map.
If we need a kick start from overseas, I expect all of us – Israelis and Palestinians alike – would like to see our future as something that would give us the peace and tranquility of Norway and Switzerland (or perhaps the stability of pre-financial meltdown America). And we’d probably all prefer our neighbors to be Swedes, French/Germans/Italians or Canadians.
The idea of becoming Brazil, I admit, never occurred to me. “The Brazil of the Middle East” just doesn’t have the same cachet as “the Switzerland of the Middle East,” although Brazilians celebrating the carnival in Rio seem to have more fun than the Swiss yodeling at a folk evening I was once treated to during a press junket.
Similarly, I’ve never been enamored of the Saudi initiative. Whenever I hear Saudi Arabia described as “moderate,” it makes me wonder just what constitutes “hard-line,” but that might be because I’m an independent, opinionated woman.
However, now it seems that Brazil and its neighbors are determined to play a role in the diplomatic process. As one of the world’s fastest-growing major economies, Brazil is gaining new international recognition. Its size, too, gives it added influence. Unfortunately, as also happens with China, its money and size mean that those nations which should know better are often willing to ignore the very real human-rights issues that exist there. I expect we will see a clean-up campaign ahead of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio just as we saw China trying to spruce up its image before the last games.
And certainly there is what to do: Friends who have lived in Brazil or made extended stays there all note the poverty and crime in a highly divided society.
When considering what Latin America could contribute to the Middle East peace process, I never got much beyond Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has contributed to the emigration of much of the Jewish community and who, like his buddy Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has very definite ideas on how to solve the Mideast problem: Some of the solutions appear very final.
MY THOUGHTS turned back to South America last week after Brazil and Argentina decided to recognize an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.
On December 3, in a cliché-filled letter that can be seen on the Brazilian Ministry of External Relations website, Brazil’s outgoing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva informed PA President Mahmoud Abbas (who seems to be ignoring the need for elections altogether) that “the recognition of the Palestinian state is part of the Brazilian conviction that a process of negotiation that results in two states coexisting in peace and security is the best path to peace in the Middle East – the goal that interests all humanity. Brazil will always be ready to render any assistance necessary.”
How a unilateral move is in keeping with the desire for negotiations is not clear. And we have already had a taste of Brazilian assistance when it mediated a nuclear fuel deal between Iran and Turkey in May.
But Brazil is not alone. It was the last of the so-called BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China) to recognize a Palestinian state, and more than 100 countries have endorsed the Palestinians’ 1988 unilateral declaration of independent statehood.
Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner, in an equally clichéd letter, quickly joined Brazil.
That’s Kirchner, whose mental health, we now know courtesy of WikiLeaks, was queried by none other than US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
It’s possible that Brazil stepped in when it realized – ahead of Clinton but way behind the average Israeli and Palestinian – that the talks had broken down, again.
Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha’ath praised the Brazilian and Argentinean leaders, saying their move would put pressure on Israel and make it difficult for the US to veto a UN resolution recognizing a Palestinian state once a sufficiently large number of countries had acceded to the Palestinian request for recognition.
The declarations by Brazil and Argentina came while Israel’s attention was diverted by the devastating Carmel fire. (Can either state conceive how significant 12,500 acres is in a country the size of Israel?) Ironically, the vital international assistance offered to Israel as the blaze took its deadly toll sparked a hope in many Israelis that we really could be united “in the interests of all humanity.”
The main problem with the unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state
is that it fails to resolve all those critical issues that have caused
the peace process to bomb until now.
Absurdly, should an independent Palestine establish itself along the
1967 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital, that would make the
Palestinians the “occupiers.”
One wonders – if one has a strong stomach – how they intend to deal with
the “occupied people.” Will the UN set up a special body for the
inalienable rights of the Jewish refugees (formerly denounced as
settlers)? For Palestine would not suddenly become a Middle Eastern
doppelganger of Norway.
Indeed, to a large extent, the Palestinians have already set up an
independent state. Two, in fact: one in the West Bank – which is
beginning to thrive now that the PA has reined in terror there – and the
other in Gaza, from which Israelis unilaterally pulled out five years
ago, only to be followed by Kassams and Grads.
The “cycle of violence” seems to be more of a straight line from where
I’m sitting. On December 8, for example, Israel announced the easing of
restrictions on Gaza to enable it to export more products via Ashdod
Port. The same day, the Palestinians continued with the “exports” for
which they’ve become best-known in these parts: rockets and mortars,
which hit the Negev.
The pity is, there are a lot of people in Israel who, like me, would ultimately like to see an independent Palestinian state.
And a successful one at that. For that does seem the only way to ensure at least a certain level of peace and security for all.
But despite the support and goodwill of Brazil et al., I can’t see Hamas
permitting a Rio-style carnival on Gaza’s beautiful coast any time
soon. Nor can I imagine Hamas permitting visits by Fatah-affiliated
tourists from the West Bank, let alone Israel.
By that time, the pigs flying in the sky will be kosher.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post. firstname.lastname@example.org