Former Israeli Ambassador Outlines Sharon's Middle East Vision
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM)
President George W Bush has backed Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's controversial proposals for the future of the Middle East. If the plan is implemented it will have wide reaching implications for the region as well as Japanese foreign policy. Earlier in the month, Zalman Shoval, the former Israeli Ambassador to the US (1990-93 & 1998-2000), gave a key speech in London during which he outlined the Sharon vision for the region. This article is the first part of a transcript of that speech.
Ambassador Zalman Shoval:
Ladies and gentlemen, I know this may surprise you, but contrary to conventional wisdom, which very often is neither conventional or wisdom, I believe that the chances for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the not too distant future may perhaps not be as unpromising as they look at first sight.
Please note that I did not say peace, certainly not comprehensive peace, but more realistically, a settlement, mutual arrangements, a modus vivendi, which could give both sides the opportunity to go their separate ways in relative normalcy. Real ideological, contractual peace may come, but probably only after a generation of change. After all, it wasn't that different in Europe.
The reasons why one may perhaps be permitted to be very cautiously optimistic are the following:
1) The still possible positive regional implications of the war in Iraq.
2) The growing sense of realism amongst most Israelis and some Palestinians.
3) Sharon's plan for unilateral disengagement
4) The failure of Yasser Arafat's strategy of terror to bring about an internationalization, or even an Arabization, of the conflict, while Israel by and large has been successful in its anti-terrorist actions.
5) Israel being what Tel Aviv University Strategy Center for Strategic Studies has called a "regional superpower" with most of the external threats facing her, at least temporarily, having been reduced, while the Arab world as a whole is experiencing unprecedented overall weakness and disunity.
We will look at all of these factors, or [at least] some of these factors, one by one. But looking at this outline, you may ask, "What about the Road Map [peace plan]?" Is it dead or is it just temporarily comatose? Comatose is bad enough. Talking about the vision which supposedly, although never realistically, was to be brought to us by the year 2005. Well, we all know about visions, especially in the land of the bible, where having visions has been a popular pastime for ages. Personally, I see no need to brand the Road Map dead, among other things it is hoped the Bush administration and Prime Minister Sharon have for now no interest in declaring it so. Plus the fact that Sharon's proposal for unilateral disengagement, of which more later, does not necessarily contravene the Road Map. For Israel still accepts the two-state formula at the end of the process, whichever way we are going to reach the end of the process.
Some Israelis and others are wondering whether the vision will become a vision that can offer a democratic, viable Palestinian state living in peace along side Israel. Is it really all that realistic in view of the fact that there is no single other Arab state in the region to which all of these characteristics could apply? Anyway, viability is a relative term. But, that is at least the course of change, and how most of us think things will turn out.
Now, the Bush administration's policy towards the Middle East as I understood it was based on what I would call a sort of triangle or tripod of separate parts of interrelated subjects. Victory in Iraq and the war against terror, an effort to try to democratize the Arab world and solving the Arab-Jewish conflict. Indeed, after many years of America having been regarded in the region as a bit of a paper tiger, the people of the Middle East, including the Palestinians, look in awe, but not always with glee, at America's decisive military victory over Saddam Hussein. Basically, this attitude has not yet changed in spite of the severe problems in Iraq, but it could change if those problems were to become worse. Especially, if as a result of that America were to cut and run. Personally, I think that even if after November there is going to be a different administration in Washington, this will not mean a change in policy with regard to Iraq.
The next part of this speech can be found here
The above transcript is based on a presentation given at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on 1 April 2004.
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