Let's not repeat old mistakes

The Oslo peace process - lessons learned. Part 3 of 3.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
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Lesson Learned: Peace must pay - peace must have a constituency. There were many promises that peace would pay. Shimon Peres spoke about a new Middle East that would flourish with the fruits of peace. A lot of money was pumped into the process and economic development projects and large scale infrastructure development projects were launched. At the same time, in response to a continuation of terrorism, various Israeli governments imposed new systems of closures limiting Palestinian access to Israel and to Israeli markets. The most effected sector was that of the export of Palestinian labor to Israel. Economic data point to the fact that the losses to the Palestinian economy equaled and even surpassed the total amount of donor funds that were pumped into the process. The result on the ground was a continual shrinking of the Palestinian economy (with the exception of 1999-2000). The common Palestinian citizen became poorer and the Palestinian economy actually suffered significant losses after September 1993. In short the fruits of peace were never delivered to the plates of the average Palestinian citizen. Lesson Learned: Mediators must be ready and prepared to play bridging roles when required. For most of the Oslo peace process the Americans were perceived as a kind of mediator. Israeli and Palestinian negotiators more often than not requested that the American serve a convener role and not a mediator role. There was great reluctance to invite the Americans or others to submit bridging proposals. The Palestinians feared that the Americans were too close to the Israeli positions and the Israelis fear too much intervention by any outside parties. As such, both sides forfeited the valuable roles that credible mediators can play. Peace processes that are as entrenched and complex as the Israeli-Palestinian example require outside intervention by credible neutral parties that are ready to back their proposals with political and economic weight. The peace process would have benefited greatly by the active participation of credible and experienced mediators. Cooperation between former enemies requires assistance. The Oslo peace process created about 30 joint bodies and coordination committees for cooperation. Over the years of the intifada all of the joint committee ceased to function. THE JOINT water committee did continue to work throughout most of the past years into the intifada. This body issued at least two statements co-signed by the heads of the committee regarding their decision to keep water out of the bounds of the intifada. The reason for this success is that the committee quickly became a tri-lateral committee with direct US participation. During these difficult times, the committee did not meet if there was no third party convener. The Americans served as inviters as well as deliverers of messages between the sides. They hosted the meetings, facilitated the discussions and the follow-ups and also provided the funding for most of the projects agreed upon between the sides. Without the American involvement in this committee, there would not have been a joint water committee when it was most needed. Lesson Learned: Peace processes must be "civilized" - the role of the military must be reduced. The Oslo peace process, after the first stage of negotiations was controlled primarily by military and security personnel on both sides. As time passed, the role of the military-security forces in controlling the relations between the sides became more and more entrenched and institutionalized. All of the joint committees and bodies had high level participation from the military-security forces. The "civil affairs" coordination between Israel and the Palestinians was controlled by the office of the Coordinator of Government Affairs in the Territories - a military officer at the rank of g eneral. Even though the coordinator dressed in civilian clothes for meetings with the Palestinians, it was clear that it was still the IDF and the Ministry of Defense on the front line. In the end, the role of the civilian ministries and officials became minimized in favor of the military. Military personnel are not usually trained in the arts of peace making. They usually lack the sensitivities necessary for transforming relations that were based on conflict and animosity into relations of peaceful neighbors. The heavy handed continued presence of the military also signaled to Israelis and Palestinians alike that the basic dynamics of the relations did not change after signing peace agreements. The military occupation simply changed its clothes, as was stated by many Israeli and Palestinian civilians. THERE WERE great expectations that the peace process would end the occupation and the mentality of occupation. There should have been a conscious decision to transfer all coordination and cooperation outside of direct military-security matters to civilian ministries. Coordination of agricultural affairs should have been dealt with by the two ministries of agriculture, tourism by the ministries of tourism, etc. without military presence overriding decisions and setting the tone. Peace processes must be civilized and de-militarized. Lesson Learned: Personal relationship building is important. It might sound a bit too obvious but it must nonetheless be stated explicitly - peace is built first and foremost of the personal relationships of individuals. The Oslo process created a mechanism called "joint patrols." Usually, personal relations between the Israeli and Palestinian soldiers did not develop. The Israelis traveled in their own jeeps and the Palestinians in theirs. Not all of the officers in the joint patrols even knew the names of their colleagues from the other side with whom they patrolled everyday. When crises occurred and violence broke out, even before September 2000, in many cases, the joint patrols ceased to function. When these joint patrols were most needed - for the exact circumstances for which they were created, they were unable to function. There were of course exceptions to the rule. It has been reported that the joint patrol that worked in the Jenin area until September 2000, continued to function throughout all of the prior crises, even when joint patrols in other areas were not functioning. A researcher who looked into the workings of the joint patrols discovered that the commanders of the Jenin joint patrol on both sides had become close personal friends. They had visited each other at home after work and on holidays. Their families knew each other and they liked each other. When crises occurred, they picked up the phone and spoke with each other. They were able to raise their complaints with each other and then they continued to work together, and their work was much more effective. Lesson Learned: Ongoing contact between leaders is essential. There was never a "hotline" between the office of the Israeli primier and the office of the chairman of the Palestinian Authority. The hotline is not only the technology of a special phone line - it is a concept. When there is an emergency, pick up the hotline and deal with the crisis quickly and directly. Crises brewed, perked and then exploded. They were then allowed to fester until "enough" suffering had occurred or until the international community intervened and pushed the sides to end the crisis. EVEN DURING the beginning of the events of September-October 2000 there was no direct contact between Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat. At the time when direct contact could have been the most potentially powerful means of putting an end to the crisis and the violence, the resistance to that contact due to the total lack of trust and confidence between the leaders meant that the leaders essentially preferred to escalate the conflict through vociferous mutual criticisms rather than overcoming their mutual dislikes of each in favor of the larger interests of their people. Lessons learned: Peace education must be undertaken seriously and incitement against peace must end. Throughout the years of the Oslo peace process, peace education was tremendously undervalued while at the same time incitement against peace in the media on both sides and in Palestinian educational text books continued and grew. Education for peace is an essential part of peace making. Equal attention to reaching agreements should be placed on the development of peace education tools, on teacher training and on insuring that the materials and the trained teachers reach the classroom. When the Palestinian Authority limited and even prevented the participation of Palestinian students and teachers in peace education program, a giant red light should have flashed brightly for policy makers warning them that the peace process itself is in danger. Lessons learned: Peace processes must also take place from the bottom-up. The Oslo peace process was largely framed as a top-down strategy for achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The strategy was based on reaching political agreements between the government of Israel and the PLO. The expectation was that political agreements between the leaders would significantly change the realities on the ground and the peoples of both sides would almost automatically support the process. As an afterthought, the sides added to the Oslo II agreement an annex calling for the institution of people-to-people projects as a means of strengthening peace between the two peoples. The international community embraced the agreements and the idea of people-to-people projects. However, during all of the years of the peace process (until September 2000) an estimated $20-$25 million dollars only was allocated for funding people-to-people projects. In the final assessment, the people-to-people process was not taken seriously, not by the donors and not by the Israeli government or the Palestinian Authority which allocated almost no funding at all to this process and paid only lip service to it politically. Most Israelis and Palestinians never participated in a people-to-people program. Most Israelis and Palestinians never even knew about people-to-people programs and activities. Some successful people-to-people programs did continue into the intifada and have been sustained up to today. At the time of the outbreak of violence, most of the donors froze their support for these projects taking a "time-out" for assessment and evaluation. Just when these funds were needed more than ever, they became more and more difficult to find. The people-to-people NGOs have played a most significant role in the past years in keeping contacts between the sides alive and viable. Without them there would be almost no positive contacts at all today between Israelis and Palestinians. There must be recognition by the governments and representatives of the value of this work and when the sides come back to the negotiating table, they should invest a lot more energy and thought into how to integrate the bottom-up peace making process within their overall strategies. The writer is the founder and co-director of IPCRI - Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information