Japan and the Middle East: Part Five - Current Israeli Attitudes towards International Initiatives
Dr. Mark Heller (Director of Research Associate, Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University) J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times) and Lyse Doucet (BBC News Correspondent and Presenter, BBC World)
A full list of articles in this series can be found here.
The Japanese Foreign Ministry has invested considerable time, effort and financial resources in its efforts to become more actively involved in the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis. To accomplish its objective, it has developed strong links with both sides. Because of its perceived neutrality, Tokyo is convinced it can make a significant contribution to the process at what it sees as the present critical juncture. What do ordinary Israelis make of Japanese and other international initiatives aimed at assisting them resolve their decades-long conflict with the Palestinians?
Sean Curtin: What is your assessment of Israeli public opinion with regard to the involvement of other countries and international bodies in the peace process? We have the Road Map of the Quartet, the Japanese offer to hold a Sharon-Abbas summit in Tokyo, and the recent Russian offer to help with mediation. What does the Israeli public make of it all?
Mark Heller: On the question of broader Israeli attitudes towards the various forms of international involvement and prevention. I would say that first of all there is a general high level of, almost abstract rejection of, the entire idea or at least a very great degree of skepticism and cynicism about it.
Sean Curtin: You are saying this is the majority view?
Mark Heller: Yes, I think so. It is almost ingrained.
Lyse Doucet: Even if it is American?
Mark Heller: Yes, even if it is American and especially if it is not American. I don't know if you remember an American comedian named Jimmy Durante. He used to have this line, "Everyone wants to get in on the act." This is basically the kind of perception of international expressions of willingness to be involved. I am not sure how much willingness there would be if it were put to a real testů
Beyond that kind of instinctive knee-jerk skepticism, I think that at a serious professional level there is more serious analysis being done on precisely what the possibilities are and where and under what circumstances it could be useful. I know that those are the issues that are constantly under consultations, certainly with the Americans and perhaps even with the European Union. I am not sure how much time has been spent with the special Korean envoy of the UN to the Middle East process.
Sean Curtin: You have outlined three areas that you think might possibly change current Israeli attitudes towards the present peace process. These are (i) the consequences of the Gaza disengagement plan possibly creating new momentum, (ii) if there is a reassessment of the objectives and goals of the key players in the process, and (iii) a change in perceptions about the feasibility of peace with the Palestinians. Do you think there could be a fourth area which is perhaps linked with your second and third points, basically weariness? As the situation drags on, on both sides a sort of attrition effect builds up in which each side becomes so weary of the status quo that they reassess their positions.
Mark Heller: You are absolutely right. Weariness or fatigue or attrition is part of what leads to a changing assessment of the priority of different values and a means by which to pursue them. Or to put it in more crudely, whether something is still worth the candle or not.
The above comments were made at Chatham House (Royal Institute for International Affairs) in London on 9 May 2005.