London Conference Generates New Momentum for Middle East Peace
J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
"London Meeting 2005 Supporting the Palestinian Authority"
On Tuesday 1st March a major international conference on Palestinian reforms was held in London. The gathering generated new momentum in the efforts to revive the devastated Palestinian economy, reform its government and overhaul its security forces. The one-day forum brought together senior officials from 23 countries, including Japan which currently provides the largest amount of financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. Six international organizations were also present.
Conference participants included the host, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana as well as ministers from Arab countries, the Group of Eight industrialized nations and prominent figures from other countries.
Japan was represented by Ichiro Aisawa, Senior Vice-Minister for Foreign
Affairs, and its highly regarded UK ambassador, Yoshiji Nogami, who is an
expert on the Middle East and has an in-depth knowledge of the problems
confronting both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In a statement, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said, "Japan considers this
meeting as an important step to giving momentum for the advancement of the
peace process through strengthening the Palestinian Authority." It added,
"In view of the existing historical opportunities to promote the peace
process, Japan will seek its further involvement in the issue of the peace
in the Middle East and play an active role for its resolution."
Israel didn't attend the gathering, but last year Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon described the event as a "very, very important" meeting. Besides President Abbas, the Palestinians were represented by the new Foreign Minister Nasser Al Kidwa, Finance Minister Salam Fayad and their equivalent of a UK ambassador Afif Safieh.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is keen to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, expressed his hope that the initiative would assist ongoing peace negotiations. The final conference statement said the path to peace would require direct talks which would hopefully lead to "a safe and secure Israel and a sovereign, independent, viable, democratic and territorially contiguous Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."
Conference struck an upbeat tone
The general tone of the conference was upbeat, although the Israel government expressed some dissatisfaction.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan: This is a moment of promise and potential. The sense of expectation is palpable. There is a real feeling that, after long years of suffering, bitterness and despair, better days may lie ahead.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair: The benefit, if we are able to succeed, will not just be felt by the Palestinian people or the Israelis, vital and primary though that is, it will be felt by all of us.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Kidwa: This conference gave the Palestinian Authority the opportunity to explain its own programme for the renewal of its institutions. It gave the international community an opportunity to make specific commitments with regard to supporting the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people. It is an important step forward.
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw: Things are moving fast because you suddenly have a confluence of events, the death of President Arafat, the democratic election of Mahmoud Abbas as the head of the Palestinian Authority, the reelection of President Bush which increased his own political space and determination.
A senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was quoted by Reuters as saying, "They did not go far enough. We were disappointed there was no mention of the need to dismantle terror organizations. Without that, it will be hard to move forward on the diplomatic front."
Israeli government cool towards conference
Dr. Shai Feldman, Director of the Crown Centre for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University and Former Head of the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, gave an upbeat assessment of the conference from an Israeli perspective. He thought Israeli public opinion would be generally supportive towards the initiative, while official opinion would be predictably more cautious.
Shai Feldman: I think I have to distinguish between what my personal view is and what is the likely reaction in Israeli government circles. My reaction is that this is basically a positive move. Empowering the new Palestinian administration is a measure of national interest. It is in Israeli's interest that a leadership that has made a strategic judgment that negotiations are preferable to violence be in power.
So, my view on this conference is very positive. Leaders in official and responsible positions sometimes get obsessed with the precise wording of the resolutions that are produced at the end of such gatherings. Immediate [official] reaction tends to find some objectionable words or some not totally justifiable phrase, and believe me these people sift through all these pages and it is not so difficult to find such formulations.
Somehow, I think that these officials feel that they betray the national cause if they do not guard the nation from this particular clause or that point which appears in these final statements. This probably explains why some of the official reactions will be different from mine.
The question is, two months later on does anyone really remember what the precise wording was in these resolutions?
Speech of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen)
Prime Minister, Tony Blair, Your excellencies, heads of the delegations, Ladies and gentlemen.
I would like to begin by extending my gratitude to Prime Minister Tony Blair for the efforts he made to convene this Meeting, which is an important link in the chain of ongoing efforts to revive the peace process. The convening of this Meeting has raised many questions as to its nature. There have also been many explanations regarding what the Meeting is not about. Yet, and since the beginning, we had no doubts about the basic premise that prompted our friend Tony Blair to convene this Meeting. The premise of this Meeting is to respond to the needs of all of us here to create an environment conducive to initiating political processes that will put an end to the violence and counter violence which have but resulted in an undermining of possibilities for a true peace. Therefore, we welcomed this meeting, and viewed it with utmost seriousness, as an opportunity to discuss with our brethren and friends in the international community what is needed to create this environment, including the provision of sufficient political, economic and security support for the PA.
As for us, I would like to stress that we as Palestinians are forging ahead with reordering our internal affairs and are committed to honoring our obligations under the Road Map. The Road Map is the only plan that has a realistic prospect for implementation. And with regards to the Road Map, we have only one demand that our implementation efforts be mirrored by Israel's true implementation of the provisions of the Road Map as presented by the Quartet.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In a short time frame we have managed to accomplish a great deal in the highly complex process of internal reforms. After the calm and constitutional transition of authority following the painful absence of the late President Yaser Arafat, we have successfully completed the presidential elections, are moving forward with completing the elections for the local councils and have announced the coming July as the date for the legislative council elections. This proves that democratic values are innate to the Palestinian society in both their consciousness and their behavior. The prevalence of these values confirms that the Palestinian people can build an independent state that is rooted in democracy and plurality and governed by institutions which function according to the rule of modern laws and an effective and independent judiciary. These values also form the basis of our vision regarding governance, administration and reform, as detailed in the Meeting's documents and expressed by us in other fora. Realizing the difficulties of creating a state, we have long since commenced building its infrastructure in order to ensure that our state is a qualitative addition to the political map in the Middle East and the World.
Mr. Prime Minister,
I believe that the Palestinian people, as well as its National Authority, have sent very important messages to the world, and specifically to our Israeli neighbors, which merit serious consideration and engagement. The most important of these messages is our sincere preparedness to exert 100% effort in the domain of security. To that end, we deployed our troops on the ground and we took a final decision concerning the consolidation of the security agencies according to the basic law. We continue to implement this decision, which also includes eliminating multiple lines of authority and reinforcing political plurality. We are doing this despite the difficulties that you are well aware of, given your deep knowledge of the situation in our country. In furtherance of our efforts, we participated in the Sharm il Sheikh summit, which embodied an important stage on the road to resuming political dialogue after a long hiatus.
A few days ago, Israeli civilians were targeted in a suicide attack in Tel Aviv. We reaffirm our strong condemnation of this attack and for this approach. This again demonstrates that the extremist forces still insist on destroying any efforts at a peace process, negotiations and resolving the conflict by peaceful means. Such forces reject the democratic approach, which we as Palestinians insist on reinforcing as attested by the fact that all Palestinian factions have denied responsibility for this attack and reaffirmed their commitment to the cease-fire.
I, my dear friends, fully believe that our security efforts do serve the pressing needs of the Palestinian people who are thirsty for safety and security. Yet at the same time, security is vulnerable to regression and even collapse if it is not protected by a serious political process between us and the Israelis, the delay of which is unjustified. Experience has taught us that security measures in the absence of a serious political framework will not lead to the consolidation of security and opening of horizons for peace. When I refer to a serious political process, I mean a process that gives the Palestinian people confidence that the occupation that began in 1967 will end without delay. This is the goal that we need to strive for with you and with Israel to achieve. Creating such confidence requires that the manifestation of such occupation the construction of settlements, the Wall and land confiscation - immediately come to a complete end. And in this context, I would like to express our deep appreciation for the position expressed by President Bush recently in Brussels, which is consistent with his vision of ending the occupation which began in 1967 and the emergence of an independent, viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with our neighbor Israel.
And here in London, I would like to stress the importance of active interaction on the part of our Israeli counterparts with us on all issues that are discussed at this Meeting, even though they are not represented here today. I would like to also emphasize the need for Israel to expedite the implementation of positive steps that are necessary to create a conducive environment, steps which were initiated before and during the Sharm il Sheikh meeting, and which will lead to the creation of the favorable environment which I referred to at the beginning of my statement.
I do not view this Meeting as a platform to raise complaints or blame of any kind. I see it instead as an important opportunity to garner serious support for our collective pursuit of peace. I view this Meeting as a step towards laying the foundations for real support to the Palestinian people, who have suffered for the past four years, and who are in dire need to rebuild all that has been destroyed. And now I would like to thank our Arab brethren who continue to support us in a way that has strengthened our people's resolve and national unity. I trust that they will not hesitate to continue to respond to our basic needs especially in this sensitive period of time when all kinds of support are critical.
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank you all: the United Nations, the United States of America, the European Union and the Russian Federation, who together form the Quartet, whose role has been pivotal and effective in designing and launching the Road Map. I expect that the Quartet will continue playing an active role in ensuring the timely and effective implementation of all its provisions.
I would also like to thank our friends of the G8, the whole donor community and the various international financial institutions including the World Bank and the IMF - those present with us here today as well as those not party to this meeting.
Once more, I would like to share my appreciation to the United Kingdom and my friend Toni Blair, for their supportive efforts and for the clarity of his positions. I trust that this Meeting will support and lead to the convening of the International Conference called for in the Road Map, to discuss, based on international legitimacy, the resolution of all permanent status issues including: Refugees, Jerusalem, Borders, Water and Settlements, as well as all other issues pertaining to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Finally, after years of facing the Wall of despair, I say that peace is now possible. The peace that has become a need for the Palestinian people, the Israeli people and the international community alike is now possible. This peace is only possible if we earnestly seek it and if we are successful in having it build on the strong and enduring principle of justice.
The above speech and most comments were made at the "London Meeting 2005 Supporting the Palestinian Authority" in the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on Tuesday 1 March 2005. Dr. Shai Feldman's comments were made at Chatham House (Royal Institute for International Affairs) in London on Tuesday 1 March 2005.
[Note: Article updated on 14 March 2005.]