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Where Do We Go 40 Years After 1967?
(L-r) Dr. Ziad Asali, Ambassador Riyad Mansour and Ambassador Nabil Fahmy agreed that a U.S. role in peace negotiations is vital (Staff photo S. Rhodin).
THE AMERICAN TASK Force on Palestine (ATFP) held a June 11 briefing at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace entitled, “40 Years After 1967: Where Do We Go From Here?” The panel was moderated by ATFP president Dr. Ziad Asali, and included Ambassador of the PLO Observer Mission to the United Nations Riyad Mansour, Ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt Nabil Fahmy, Minister and Deputy Chief of Mission of Israel Jeremy Issacharoff, and former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis.
Ambassador Mansour focused on the difficulties Palestinians face in the West Bank and Gaza today due to fighting between factions and the Israeli occupation. In Gaza, he said, “what we need...is to stop the fighting,” and a subsequent “period of quietness” to allow Palestinian leaders to “concentrate [their] efforts on a political solution.” He discussed the “humiliation” of the Israeli occupation, pointing to the 540 checkpoints that have “no purpose other than humiliation.” Sanctions against Palestine do not hurt Hamas, he claimed, but only Palestinian citizens. Mansour discussed a renewal of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, but noted that “those who put conditions before the process of the negotiations are not interested in negotiation.”
Ambassador Fahmy discussed past and future peace negotiations. Stressing the importance of the role of Middle East countries in initiating the process toward peace, the Egyptian diplomat said that at the “point of closure” of the negotiations, “America has to be there or [the talks] will not be concluded.” He pointed to four issues that must be addressed and solved in the negotiations: Jerusalem, territory, refugees, and security. The process of initiating a peace process must begin by the end of the summer, Fahmy argued, warning that “if there is not a balance of interest along with a balance of power, there will not be a sustainable solution.”
Issacharoff discussed Israeli security concerns, stating that “the situation on the ground...has never been more serious.” He said that Israel “does not want to lose an opportunity for peace,” but that the increasing instability in Gaza following Israeli withdrawal, including rocket attacks, terrorism, and the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier, causes him to believe that the “elements of opportunity” are few. A “widening of the process” of peace to other Middle Eastern countries will increase the chances of successful negotiations, he said, adding that it is vital that Palestinians accept the Quartet’s conditions before negotiations can begin.
In the opinion of Ambassador Lewis, a cease-fire and opportunity to negotiate may arise in the next six to 12 months because of the “political evolution in the countries involved.” Elections in Israel, an increasing interest on the part of Americans, and instability on the northern border of Israel all could lead to a moment when negotiations might be possible. Because America’s “political culture remains 98 percent preoccupied with Iraq,” however, Lewis said he doubts the willingness of the American people and Congress to support “a major peace initiative.” The time to address the situation is running out, he emphasized, and “a continued downward spiral [will occur] unless there is a new political reality in the U.S., Israel, and Palestine.”