Savir's Corner: October opportunity or autumn tsunami?

Up to Netanyahu, Abbas, Obama to find last minute solution, open a new multilateral process for the people of the region.

September 22, 2011 20:56
Netanyahu and Obama in New York

Netanyahu and Obama in New York(good)_311. (photo credit: Reuters)


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The Oslo Accords were signed on the White House lawn 18 years ago this week.

September 1993 became a month of fresh hope in the Middle East for a future in which political realism would lead ultimately to peaceful coexistence. The agreement was only partly implemented, facing numerous obstacles, as well as mistakes committed of all involved.

Yet the agreement was a good one, with great historical significance. Both sides, finally, after a century of conflict, had the courage to recognize reality. The PLO, by negotiating with official Israel, recognized that if it wanted to advance the Palestinian cause, it was not by terror or in the corridors of European Foreign Ministries or at the Assembly of the United Nations, but on the ground and the negotiating table vis a vis Israel. Israeli leaders recognized that the status quo of three millions Palestinians living under our control was impossible and immoral, and that the only partner with which we could resolve the issue was the PLO.

The accord established the Palestinian Authority. Two partners walked the long road of implementation leading ultimately to permanent status, committing virtually every possible mistake on the way. Each side became victim to its own opposition.

Yet Oslo was also a dramatic historical turning point in another sense: the dreams – or rather nightmares – of greater Israel and greater Palestine were dead.

Ultimately, due to Oslo, the land will be shared by two states. Above all, it was an initiative for a bilateral effort, not waiting for the “world” to resolve the issue.

Today, PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are expected to address the General Assembly. This mutual unilateralism is the result of a lack of political courage to face reality.

The Palestinians are under the illusion that the international community can bring about a Palestinian state, when it can only support such a state. Israel is under the illusion that it can escape what is recognized by the whole family of nations, including the United States: that the land will have to be partitioned based on the 1967 lines, and that the settlements are an obstacle to peace.

The speeches at the UN will be made mainly for domestic consumption, or for international applause, mainly for the Palestinians.

But the day after the UN vote the people of Israel and Palestine will wake up to a familiar reality, only with constituencies more frustrated and hostile to each other than before.

As this result now seems almost unavoidable, it is therefore more useful at this point to focus on October, 2011; on how the two sides can find the way back from useless unilateralism and shallow multilateralism to constructive bilateralism.

Will the region, in the wake of the Arab Spring, move toward greater freedom, economic development and a viable peace process, or will it sink into fundamentalism, economic crises and violent turmoil?

The key to a large degree, although official Israel doesn’t like to hear this, lies in creating a credible and real Israeli- Palestinian peace process, that will also affect the minds and hearts of the broader constituencies in the region. It is therefore suggested that in October, 2011, a regional peace conference be convened, at the initiative of US President Barack Obama. Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Saudi Arabia would all be invited, on the following basis:

• The permanent border between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine will be based on the 1967 lines, with mutually agreed land swaps.

• An independent demilitarized Palestinian state will be established.

• Stringent security measures will be undertaken by the parties, to prevent all forms of terror and violence.

• Palestine will recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, and Israel will recognize Palestine as the homeland of all Palestinian people.

• The parties will resolve through ongoing negotiations all outstanding permanent status issues, including settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, full normal economic and diplomatic relations, water and other infrastructure issues, and bring the conflict to and end without further claims.

In parallel the US administration should convene a regional peace conference devoted to the social-economic well-being of the young generation in the Middle East. This would be a recognition of the prominent role of the young in the policies of the region (including in Israel) and of the fact that 60 percent of the region’s people are under 30.

The conference would invite formal diplomats and youth representatives from all countries in the region. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is very aware to the need to reach out to the young in the region, could lead such an effort. The conference would decide on an “Agenda for the Future” of the young generation, dealing with peaceful coexistence and economic cooperation among the young.

The conference should establish a regional bank for the Middle East’s young generation in order to finance projects in the following areas:

• Technological training and capacity-building courses on the Internet, including for young women

• E-learning in a virtual Middle East University

• Technology incubators in the various countries for economic startups

• Infrastructures for sport and music

This in return would affect the young in Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Tunisia, Jordan, etc., as they very much will determine where the Middle East will go – toward economic development and cooperation or toward the alternative, which is Middle East chaos resulting from growing poverty, disappointment at the lack of new freedoms, and frustration and anger from the lack of a peace process.

Egypt may then be destabilized into a battle between the army, the liberals and the Muslim Brotherhood. In the Palestinian territories there could be an outbreak of massive, and even violent demonstrations. Turkey will continue on its path to fundamentalist Islam, and with its hate campaign against Israel. And in the background a weakened America, and a totally isolated Israel, that is not responsible for all upheavals in the region, but can and must contribute to the stabilization of it, through a real viable and credible peace process. This is also our prime national interest.

October is a critical crossroads for the future of the Middle East, although what will play in the minds and hearts of the Middle Easterners are the sounds of September – the speeches and activities of this coming week.

It is up to Netanyahu, Abbas and Obama to find a last minute solution, by which the UN resolution will lead to negotiations and open a new multilateral process for the people of the region.

Whether October will become a month of new beginnings in the Middle East is very much up to us, up to Prime Minister Netanyahu, if he still wants to prevent his defense minister’s prophecy of an “autumn tsunami.”

Uri Savir is the president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.

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