What Interest Does Japan Have in Middle East Peace?
Afif Safieh (Palestinian General Delegate to the United Kingdom and the Holy See)
Mordechay Cristal (Member of the Israeli Delegation to the Permanent Status Peace Talks at Camp David and Taba)
J. Sean Curtin (GLOCOM, Fellow and Asia Times)
The Japanese Foreign Ministry has just hosted a three-day confidence-building meeting between Israelis and Palestinians on the Middle East peace process. The Tokyo conference was attended by prominent figures from both sides of the dispute. The Jewish state was represented by former Israeli Finance Minister Dan Meridor with Palestinian Minister for Negotiations Affairs Saeb Erakat acting as his Arab counterpart.
At the end of the three-day event, while the two sides still remained far part apart on many key issues, both expressed the hope that the international community would become more involved in resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict. They also thanked Japan for its mediation efforts.
A frequently question many Japanese people ask about this issue is what genuine interest does Japan or any of the significant international players, such as the United States, have in intervening decisively in the protracted conflict?
Afif Safieh, the Palestinian General Delegate to the United Kingdom gives his personal opinion on the issue.
Afif Safieh: When you look at the centrality and strategic location of the Middle East you see that throughout history Palestine has been at the intersection of Asia, Africa and Europe. Every dominant power has wanted to dominate that area...We the historic Palestinians, we are the descendants of all those powers, the Greeks, the Romans and all the others. In contemporary times, [we are the descendants of] the French, the British and all the rest.
So, it is a strategic area…the Middle East, the world's global economy depends on it. Violence in the region, the risks of overspill. Economic problems resulting from unresolved political problems creates demographic overspills into continental Europe and all the other [continents].
I personally believe what is poisoning international relations today, looking at it from the global perspective, is the unresolved problem of the Palestinians. This is what is making the fracture of the international system.
The fact that America has a problem with its image and its perception about its believability and its credibility. The fact that it is seen as too complacent about its misbehaving regional actor Israel.
America speaks about the containment of Iraq, the containment of Iran, but never mentions the containment of Israel of which the environment of Israel has been suffering from for decades. That is what has poisoned international relations.
Talking to the Americans as we should talk to the Americans, because we are realists, I personally believe that America is committed to Israeli's existence. Today, we the Arabs no more question the existence of Israel. What we do question is its expansion.
The offer on the Arab table is the following, if Israel withdraws from its expansion of '67, all Arabs in the regional system are ready to recognize Israeli existence in pre-67 boundaries.
The question is the following for the Americans: are the few hills of the West Bank really that important to complicate your life globally? Why are you so indulgent of Israel's territorial appetite?
If you link your advice and your aid, we might all live a little happier ever after. So, I personally believe there are many incentives for the external parties to be involved more constructively in the region. I still believe the American arena is winnable through persuasion. There is a majority in American public opinion in favour of Palestinian statehood…
Mordechay Cristal:* As for statehood and statesmanship. Sharon said…by the end of 2005, there will be no single Jew in the Gaza Strip. He said it in Hebrew. If Chairman Arafat would say in Arabic a sentence like…"If Israel were to fully withdraw from Gaza, there will be no single Kassan [rocket] fired from Gaza to Israel." It's a very modest declaration…then we can talk about statesmanship.
Afif Safieh: I would just like to get rid of this idea that politicians in the Arab world say one thing in one language and something else in another. This argument is totally obsolete in an era when every one is listening to everyone and everyone is translating everybody verbally and on the internet and in the newspapers. There is no way that a hypocritical politician can speak two different discourses in different languages. This is an irresponsible accusation people have made and it is really obsolete.
The above comments were made at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on 7 June 2004
An alterative view to the opinions expressed in this article can be found here:
Sharon's View of the Arab World
Europe Report #82, 28 April 2004
* Mordechay Cristal's comments appeared in an earlier debate and are reinserted here to make sense of Afif Safieh's remarks, which are otherwise out of context with the rest of his argument. For Cristal's original comments see: Debating Israeli's New Disengagement Plan – Part Two
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