Time for war, and time to talk

"After war, there is always a strong return to the political process," says Israeli negotiator Uri Savir.

uri savir 88 (photo credit: )
uri savir 88
(photo credit: )
"After war, there is always a strong return to the political process," said Uri Savir on yet another day of Hizbullah rockets and Israeli military operations. Pondering prospects for peace-making in the quiet Tel Aviv cafe that serves as his office and lounge, Savir - currently head of the Rome-based Glocal Forum and a leading Israeli negotiator in the 1993 Oslo talks - has a wealth of experience with the cycles of war and peace, and everything in between. Whereas a diplomatic solution to the current crisis may still seem distant, Savir is in the midst of several projects promoting diplomacy of another sort - building relationships between cities around the world, in order to help avert a global clash with Islam. Moderates within the Muslim world, alongside a variety of opinion that defies generalization, are already contributing to a more complex reality that favors local peace efforts, Savir believes. "The most interesting thing in this war is that there is no one Arab or Muslim front against us, even as we destroy an Arab capital," he said. Last month, before Hizbullah's attacks, Savir wrapped up the Fifth Annual Glocalization Conference - held this year in Ankara - on an optimistic note. "An unprecedented rapprochement between the West and Islam" was achieved at the conference, said the veteran diplomat. "Multiculturalism took a step forward in Ankara." Using the term "glocalization" to designate globally-oriented action taken on the local level - particularly the kind of activities and events that bridge civilizations on the city level fostered by Glocal Forum - Savir urged the mayors and others present to "adopt glocalization." Savir stressed that glocalization "should not be seen as an alternative to traditional diplomacy, but as a critical addition to it ... We are not the solution, but we have the formula. We have the right model for the solution," he added. The conference, held in early July, brought official representatives from 62 city governments and delegates from nearly 30 more to the Turkish capital. Representatives from cities in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Morocco and Jordan took the opportunity to schmooze during coffee breaks and develop relationships on neutral territory, as did the mayors of Delhi and Islamabad and other conflict zones. Though not all smiles, handshakes, hugs and compliments were meant for press coverage, participants from opposing sides seemed eager to smooth over disagreements, or simply agree to disagree. The general atmosphere was of mutual interest in hearing different points of view, as participants strove to realize the Glocal Forum's goal of making acquaintances between cultures and nations at the local level. Cities participating included Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Agadir, Morocco; Akron, Ohio; Athens; Baghdad; Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan; Boston; Brussels; Dushanbe, Tajikistan; Dubai; Florence, Italy; Freetown, Sierra Leone; Kabul, Afghanistan; Karachi, Pakistan; Khartoum, Sudan; Kigali, Rwanda; Chisinau-Kishinev, Moldova; Managua, Nicaragua; Marseille, France; Moscow; Nablus; Philadelphia; Pristina, Kosovo; Rishon Lezion and Rosh Ha'ayin; Sana'a, Yemen; Sao Paolo, Brazil; Sofia, Bulgaria; Vienna; Washington D.C.. "This was a real meeting of civilizations, much more multicultural than any traditional diplomatic process," Savir commented. Representatives from the World Bank, UNICEF, Digital Solidarity Fund and other organizations and cities also participated in panel discussions. The conference culminated in the official launching of the "Ankara Process" as a framework to facilitate constructive contacts between nations and civilizations at the city level. The process was initiated by Savir and Ankara mayor Melih G k ek - a consistent participant in Glocal Forum activities - who read out the "Ankara Declaration" which gave the process form (full text available at http://www.glocalizationconference.org/pressarea/layout2.asp). The Glocal Forum has since began setting up an extension in Ankara to leverage the city's unique position to coordinate contacts between the Islamic world and other societies, and serve as a home for the Ankara Process. Less than a month after Ankara, Savir contemplated the process's relevance when thousands of rockets have fallen on Israeli communities, thousands of Israeli troops have marched into Lebanon and Hizbullah strongholds lie in ruin. "The Ankara Process becomes all the more urgent in light of the war in Lebanon ... It is absolutely imperative that Israel not come out looking hostile to Islam or that America not appear to be hostile to Islam," he said. If the Ankara Declaration were being written now, "we would add something very similar to what we wrote about Gaza," calling for a cessation of hostilities and settling the conflict through peaceful means, Savir said, but added that before fighting can end Israel needs "to achieve the optimal conditions that will make a sustainable political arrangement possible." Nonetheless, Savir feels that the fighting in Lebanon will not create new obstacles to Arab or Muslim willingness to participate in Ankara Process activities at which Israelis are also present. "It is important that we understand that we are not fighting Islam, we are fighting terrorism," Savir said, calling the theologies of Hizbullah and Hamas "a form of fundamentalist, extremist Islam that distorts Islam ... Hizbullah is, in fact, nearly a blasphemy. It is a deformation of Islam." Peace can be made with Islamic movements that do not carry out terrorist attacks against civilians, Savir said, adding that he "would have nothing against Hamas if Hamas were not terrorists." But, for now, Israel must work to strengthen the secular leaderships in Lebanon and the PA through prisoner releases and other means, Savir said. "If we free prisoners, we should release them to Abu Mazen and Siniora. To date we've given more to Nasrallah than to Abu Mazen. That's insanity." "After the war, we must enter a process of negotiations with both Lebanon and Abu Mazen, and simultaneously we must go on an 'offensive' aiming to improve relations with Islamic and Arab countries," he said. "We'll explain that on both fronts we withdrew to the '67 lines, and were attacked by someone speaking in the name of Islam about the destruction of Israel, and not about fighting occupation. And that we're not anti-Islamic and want a political arrangement with the Muslim countries around us. And that we want improved relations with the Muslim countries." Once diplomacy resumes, the new round of negotiations between Israel and both the Palestinians and Lebanon must include a "wider process involving the civil society," Savir argued. "The next process needs to have backing. Peace-making needs to be backed by peace-building, which is the connection between societies." Therefore, he said, Ankara is very relevant. "To do this on the local level, as the Glocal Forum does, is very effective ... Nothing breaks down barriers more than interpersonal relations, and when you're not representing a [national] government, it's easier," Savir said. "It is a long term process, and there are misconceptions on both sides. But the danger of a 'clash of civilizations' could become much greater - even if we move Hizbullah further to the north - if the atmosphere stays anti-Israeli and anti-American. Especially in Iran. Sooner or later, they'll have the arms that will translate this into action." The alternative to the Ankara Process, he said, is a process of a great clash between an Islamic world armed to the teeth and Israel and America. "And for us that would be the most dangerous." Initial successes of the conference towards the goals of the Ankara Process included an agreement between representatives from Baghdad and Bologna for the Italian city to help computerize the Iraqi capital's municipal services; the birth of a multilateral effort to create a world youth football league; and the commitment by Dubai company Tejari to provide an e-city platform enabling municipalities around the world to interact on cultural and tourism projects, procurement, and other matters. The Glocal Forum was also approached by various mayors and city representatives interested in coordinating smaller events to bridge civilizations in addition to the organization's annual conference, Savir said, calling the goal "the most important item on the international agenda." During the conference, Savir proclaimed that the Glocal Forum would establish a Glocal Media Center to share local content among news media to help break down barriers and fight ignorance and stereotypes, which has since been established in Rome. Within the Ankara Process, contacts and activities will be held to further dialogue between cultures, religions, cities and youth, including e-city projects. A central goal of the process is to give a greater role in international relations and geopolitical matters to local leaders, such as mayors, who have more contact with their constituents than national politicians. Specifically, contacts between local leaders from Israeli and Palestinian cities could help improve relations between Israelis and Palestinians, Savir stressed. "Mayors care most about people, and people on both of the equation - Arabs and Israelis - want peace," he said. While a previous program bringing kids from Nablus and Rishon Lezion together has been put on ice since the victory of Hamas in the PA elections, including the Nablus municipality, Savir was optimistic that interest on the part of the mayor of Rosh Ha'ayin to launch a similar joint program with a Palestinian city would be met in the near future. "We'll find him a matching municipality easily," Savir said, citing "much willingness" on the part of Palestinians for such programs, particularly among non-Hamas municipalities such as Ramallah, Bethlehem, Jericho and Hebron. Bringing in a third city facilitates the participation of cities in the PA or elsewhere in the Arab world in projects linking them with Israeli cities, he said, noting that European cities in particular are very attracted to such opportunities. Aside from one Teheran-based NGO, no cities from Lebanon, Syria or Iran sent delegates to the conference in Ankara. Savir was more optimistic about the eventual participation of Syrian and Lebanese cities in Glocal Forum events than the possibility that an Iranian city would send a representative. "There is no decentralization there at all," he lamented, and the national government continues to be "the root of what is bad in Islam." Interfaith activities - an important means of furthering understanding between Muslims, Jews and Christians - will be held in Ankara and Rome, where a high-level meeting of religious officials is planned to take place in January. Savir would also like to involve "pragmatic, religious bodies" within Israel in Glocal Forum activities and the Ankara Process, he said, adding that he is in contact with Rabbi Michael Melchior. Ahead of the Sixth Glocalization Conference to be held in July 2007, Sofia, Dubai, the Hague and Karachi have offered to host the event, but if Dubai's finances suffice, Dubai will have preference, Savir said. Additionally, Sana'a invited Savir to open an office of Glocal Forum in the Yemenite capital, and Doha and Dubai are interested in hosting multicultural events, Savir said, noting that Baghdadi officials, as well, have offered to host Glocal Forum activities in the Iraqi capital. "And while it's true that the Glocal Forum is not an Israeli organization, its two bosses [Savir and David Kimche] are Israeli ... They [the Arab and Muslim participants] know exactly who I am, and they also know who Kimche is and about his background in the Mossad." "The Glocal Forum is a very small organization that lives on an idea - city to city ... I only work with young people without experience, and see what the results are. Ankara was only one example."