Norwegian ambassador insists Oslo process is not dead

Jon Hanssen-Bauer is returning to Israel this week on first-ever direct flight from Norway

Norwegian Ambassador Jon Hanssen-Bauer (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Norwegian Ambassador Jon Hanssen-Bauer
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Norwegian Ambassador Jon Hanssen-Bauer is temporarily out of the country but will be back on October 31 on the first ever direct flight from Norway to Israel.
Since taking up his position in August 2015, Hanssen-Bauerhas been working to facilitate direct flights between his homeland and the Holy Land. He deliberately returned to Norway in order to be on the maiden flight to Israel, and this time his wife Francois will accompany him.
She remained in Norway when he was posted to Israel because she has a very important job of her own. She is the director of collection management at Norway’s National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design. Her specialty is the restoration of paintings.
Interviewed in Jerusalem prior to his flight to Oslo, Hanssen-Bauer said that the new route will also be beneficial to people flying to the United States because it will reduce travel time, though he suspected that the cost of fares might be somewhat higher than flying direct, but for fewer hours in the air. He anticipated that the new route would quickly become popular, particularly for people for whom time is money. He was confident that they would not object to the additional outlay.
A social anthropologist by training, Hanssen-Bauer is a veteran conflict mediator who has worked on three continents to reduce hostilities and bring about reconciliation. While not always successful, he affirms Norway will not give up on trying “because Norway wants to contribute to making the world a better place.”
It’s almost impossible for a journalist in Israel to interview an ambassador of Norway without asking the inevitable question: Is Oslo dead? While many Israelis would instantly reply in the affirmative, Hanssen-Bauer did not.
Oslo is not dead, he explained, because the parameters of the Oslo agreements are still being observed.
Israel withdrew from Lebanon; there is peace with Jordan, and improved relations with Egypt, in addition to which the Palestinian Authority is self-administered.
Even before the signing of the Oslo accords, Hanssen-Bauer directed people to people programs in the region, but the Second Intifada put an end to any further advancement.
From 1993 to 2005, Hanssen-Bauer, as research director and managing director at the Oslo-based Fafo Institute for Applied International Studies in Social Research, researched living conditions in several parts of the world. His work included studying Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. He managed the Israeli-Palestinian People-to-People Program from 1994 to 2003, and lived in Jerusalem from 1997-1998 as Fafo’s regional representative.
Notwithstanding the damaging effects of the Second Intifada, an economic forum in which Israelis and Palestinians meet is still functioning. While this gives Hanssen-Bauer hope for the future, he finds it frustrating that negotiations have been  so complicated and so little progress has been made in 26 years.
He refuses to point a finger of blame at anyone. “I’m not talking about whose fault it is. What’s important is how to find a political solution.”
Hanssen-Bauer sees no resolution to the conflict other than a Palestinian state. “A two-state solution is the only way.”
As stalled as the situation appears, Hanssen-Bauer is heartened by the number of positive relationships that have developed between Palestinians and Israelis. “It’s so stimulating and inspiring to see them pursue join interests.”
But he does not delude himself that joint economic ventures will lead to peace.
“What is being done in the economic field is not enough. You cannot organize a state without economic institutions.”
In the many years that he has worked in conflict resolutions – sometimes in parallel with each other, he has learned that “every conflict is unique and you can’t use one to resolve another. People have to reach their own solutions.”
Norway works a lot on peace, and being a mediator in conflict situations is one way that he contributes to peace, said Hanssen-Bauer who is a strong believer in a world order whereby conflicts can be resolved via a political process.
While Israel is not exactly enamored with the United Nations, Hanssen-Bauer sees the UN as the protector of small countries.
“National conflicts should be resolved through mediation, not war,” he insisted, “and for that we need a strong United Nations.”
When Norway engages in conflict resolution, it respects the sovereignty of the partiers concerned, but helps in moving the situation from armed conflict to peaceful negotiations.
Although the casualties of war are down in number since World War II, the ambassador commented, the impact of conflict is big. “More people are killed indirectly than on the battlefield.”
Poverty and starvation are often the seeds sown by conflict.
He is the first to admit that mediation is not always successful “but the alternative is not trying to resolve the conflict.”
He counts Syria among his failures. “We tried to find a political solution for Syria before the first stage, but there was too much opposition. External influences often play a role in perpetuating conflict.”
Hanssen-Bauer thinks that it is imperative for the international community to rally around Syria and the Syrian opposition in the hope of finding a common platform.
Nearing retirement age, Hanssen-Bauer enjoys being ambassador to Israel. His appointment was one of the rare occasions in which he actually received a post for which he asked. He was appointed in August 2015, and presented his letter of credence to President Reuven Rivlin on November 2, 2015.
Before that, from 2009 -2015, he served as Norway’s Special Representative for the Middle East, having previously served for three years as Norway’s Special Representative to the Peace Process in Sri Lanka.
Norway is one of Israel’s long-standing partners, having voted at the UN General Assembly on November 29, 1947 in favor of the partition of Palestine, and subsequently recognizing the nascent State of Israel on February 4, 1949.
While there have been ups and downs in the relationship, it has remained steadfast – and not just for political reasons.
Norway has great faith in Israel’s economy, and has invested $3 billion in Israel in State of Israel bonds. “We believe in the growth capacity of Israel’s economy,” said Hanssen-Bauer.
One of the things that brings pride to Hanssen-Bauer has nothing to do with conflict mediation, but with something that graces many Israeli tables – Norwegian fish, especially salmon. According to Hanssen-Bauer, a third of all the fish consumed in Israel comes from Norway because Norway has particularly good quality fish.
The ambassador has been working to increase the import ratio.
On the other hand, he’s very attracted to Israeli food and wines. As well, he loves the Israeli climate which allows him to walk on the beach all year round.
In Norway, he’s fond of sailing, but he finds the Mediterranean Sea too choppy.
Even though the conversation had taken a different direction from its start, the interview could not be concluded without asking the ambassador whether he still believed that peace had a chance.
For the record, he does, but doubts it will happen in his lifetime.