Japan: Helping to Inspire Hope in the Middle East
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
On 18 June, Japan's Foreign Minister, Yoriko Kawaguchi published an article in the International Herald Tribune declaring that Japan wanted to play a role in the Middle East Peace Process. The significance of this statement is borne out by the fact that this is the first time Japan has voiced its willingness to get officially involved in efforts towards conflict resolution in the Middle East since the second Intifada began. After becoming one of the largest donors to the Palestinian Authority and the peace process in general, Japan disappeared from the scene once violence broke out. FM Kawaguchi's statement has officially brought Japan back into the fold as a key sponsor to US, EU and in part UN led efforts to end the violence and resume peace negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. While FM Kawaguchi has proposed some interesting ideas, unfortunately, they will not lead to peace in the Middle East. No proposals put forward thus far will go anywhere close to "helping to inspire hope" as she so keenly wishes.
Kawaguchi begins her article by stating that, "the future of the Middle East hinges on whether we can offer it real hope". Many others and I agree. However, her proposals fall far short of reaching this goal and in fact go in the opposite direction by supporting two governments, the Palestinian and the Israeli, who have brought misery on both of their populations.
In the article, the Foreign Minister called upon Palestinian leaders to promote reform and end terrorism. Concurrently, she urged Israeli leaders to withdraw their troops and end incursions into Palestinian autonomous areas. As a reward, Japan is offering what it calls "an evolving menu of assistance". This proposal envisions a process where increased assistance will be provided as both sides achieve concrete objectives such as an end to violence, a resumption of dialogue and a start to peace negotiations.
While this is a creative suggestion it does nothing to inspire hope in Palestine or Israel simply because it is rewarding the very same individuals who are responsible for death, destruction and hardship in Palestine and Israel. For Israeli civilians, Arafat and his apparatus are the source of conflict because they have either failed to stop terrorism or have conducted terrorism against the people of Israel. For Palestinian civilians, Sharon and his government are responsible for pain and suffering because they have engaged in state terrorism against the Palestinian people and continue to confiscate and populate their land illegally. By offering incentives to Sharon and Arafat, the Japanese would only be perpetuating the impunity of these leaders who have caused a majority of the misery that plagues both societies today.
Kawaguchi presented her plan for evolving assistance as a support measure to the US strategy of engagement in the Middle East. This consists of a reform plan for the Palestinian Authority and an international conference on Middle East Peace to be convened sometime in the future. There is little more that the US is offering. President Bush has talked about a Palestinian state but has provided no vision of what this means or when this would come about. As such, as it stands today the only process in motion is one that tries to reform the Palestinian Authority into a structure that prevents terrorism from happening and keeps Arafat and his advisors in power. There is nothing in these reforms that inspires hope, rather it simply keeps the same corrupt, autocratic and irresponsible leadership in office. In the meantime, it gives Sharon's government every excuse to occupy, destroy, kill and humiliate the Palestinian people and their land.
If Japan is sincere in its desire to inspire hope in Palestine and Israel it must promote freedoms. This means supporting increased Israeli and Palestinian civilian participation in the peace process. This means promoting a relationship of equality between Palestinians and Israelis. This means eliminating all forms of humiliation and instead reconstructing lives of dignity for both peoples.
In addition, Japan must stress the importance of reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis if there is ever to be peace. This means supporting the principles of academic freedom and dispassionate research to protect academics such as Ilan Pappe and Teddy Katz who seek to uncover the history of massacres and war crimes. It implies promoting freedom of expression in order to allow journalists such as Amira Hass and Gideon Levy to report the truth without receiving death threats. It commits the Japanese government to guaranteeing democratic rights so that all can vote without the fear of retribution. Finally, it means insisting on accountability on the part of leadership in order to promote human rights and end impunity.
Violent leaders such as Sharon and Arafat have governed both nations for too long. Instead, it is time for the Japanese government to invest in strengthening Palestinian and Israeli civil society. They are the ones who have paid the highest price and are the only ones who really want and need co-existence.
As Edward Said recently wrote in an article featured in Znet, "a new basis of legitimacy has to be created by the only and ultimate source of authority, namely the people itself" (June 16, "Palestinian Elections Now"). It is the healthworkers, the teachers, the farmers, the lawyers, the doctors, the NGO community and the laborers that the Japanese government must extend assistance to in order to arrive at true peace and reconciliation. Its time to stop rewarding violent prone leaders who reap destruction and instead promote those who keep Palestinian and Israeli societies functioning in search of hope.
- Yuriko Kawaguchi, "Japan Wants a Role in the Peace Process: Helping to inspire hope", International Herald Tribune, 18 June 2002