Question of Palestine home
15 May 2002
Nobel Annual Lecture Oslo
15 May 2002
U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends.
It is an honor and a pleasure to be with you here this afternoon: here with the Nobel Institute the "home" of the Nobel Institute, which honored the United Nations and our Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, with its millennium Nobel Prize earlier this year; and here in Oslo, where ten years ago we began a process which led to hope for peace in the Middle East.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The first question we must ask is this: why are all still so embroiled in the Middle East conflict? Why does it continue to engage us all out of all proportion to the myriad of other conflicts raging around the globe?
I do not have to tell you that the Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the enduring diplomatic challenges of the 20th and 21st centuries. Long before the UN sought to create two states in 1944, conflict between Jews and Arabs bloodied the sands of Palestine. Since the birth of Israel 54 years ago, the modern'Israeli state has seen war with one or more of their neighbors for the majority of those years. And for that entire time, the Palestinians have been left in limbo, struggling to find their own path to independence.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is at the core of the core of the Middle East conflict. It brings together the complexities of land disputes; military occupation; resistance; terrorism; and the clash of cultures, whose knowledge of each other is profoundly limited. It is entrenched in the high geopolitics of oil and of superpower prestige. It touches the political symbols of three major religions and two civilizations.
But more than anything else it is a conflict between two peoples' histories and political psychologies. Israelis and the Palestinians have long been locked into a system of distrust and aggression - similar to perhaps what we see in the Balkans, the other enduring zone of conflict in the 20th and 21st centuries...
It is a local conflict fought on an intimate scale - in the despair of Israeli parents whose teenage daughter was killed at a pizza parlour in Jerusalem; in the agony of a Palestinian woman whose baby son was killed in the slums of Rafah.
It is also a global conflict - a conflict whose warp and woof occupies the daily agendas of world leaders from President Bush to Crown Prince Abdullah to Secretary-General Annan. A conflict which threatens the stability of the Middle East, and the world economy - indeed, of the global order itself.
Finally, and most profoundly, it is a conflict of deep existential passions. For Israelis, the conflict is each and every day felt as a struggle for their very existence, their very survival. They are confronted with words and actions that seem to confirm their constant fear that the goal of their adversaries is literally to extinguish their existence as a state, as a people. This fear may seem irrational to most Europeans, indeed to most of the world; but it is far from irrational for a people who have experienced that very threat in the lifetime of their current leaders.
For Palestinians, the conflict is a struggle to resist each and every day the perceived erosion of the possibility of a future as an independent people. Each day, Israel's military strength growths; its settlements expand; its occupation deepens. And so the future of the Palestinians recedes further and further from hope. A people who have lived through 50 years of violence, betrayal, and dashed hopes have found recourse to violence.
Outsiders who live with both people know that the vast majority of Israelis genuinely believe in peace for the Palestinians - perhaps not quite as the Palestinians envision it, but genuine nevertheless. And that the vast majority of Palestinians do not seek the destruction of Israel, only the end of occupation - perhaps in a slightly larger slice of territory than Israel would concede, but a limited territory nevertheless. Outsiders who live with both people see that the aspirations of both peoples can be reconciled with each other; that their visions can be shared. But the two peoples do not yet share that vision.
Hence, we are here today.
* * *
I believe, we are here this afternoon also because almost ten years ago in this city we began an experiment in trying to building a channel through which the two peoples could find ways to share their vision, and to build a common future. We began an experiment that became known for this city that embodies the spirit that fueled it. Not only in the region, but all over the world "Oslo" for many millions is just as much a process of peace, as a city.
Ten years later the process of Oslo has collapsed; the institutions it gave birth too are shattered and almost destroyed; and the spirit that fueled it is being drowned out by violence, recriminations, and distrust.
• How did we get here? Where are we now? And how can we go forward?
I. History: How did we get here?
If we go back to the beginning of Oslo, we can recall the principles on which Oslo was built and the tactics through which it worked.
The principles were basic, and remain valid. They were: land for peace, based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338; the end of occupation; total rejection of violence and terrorism; the need for security for both parties; and Israel's right to exist in security.
First, was the tactic
of gradualism -
of solving what was solvable, of staying within the realm of the possible, of moving gradually forward, building trust along the road.
Second, was the corollary tactic
of continuous political progress -
of ensuring that every year, at every step along the way, things improved for both peoples - that it was possible to see and experience movement towards a better future that could motivate continued steps along that road, and expand the space for trust.
Third was the tactic
of bilateralism -
every one involved at the time believed that the only way for the two peoples to find a common future was to find it themselves, to negotiate future bilaterally rather than through third parties. Third party roles where important, even necessary, but confined to facilitation and go-between activities.
And fourth was the tactic
of discretion -
negotiations were held in secret because each side had to confront realities, cross boundaries, and challenge myths that were too widely held for public debate to confront.
* * *
One of the strongest and most persistent criticisms of Oslo was that it did not define the end goal; it did not define where we would be at the end of the process. This, it is argued - with some justification - left the process vulnerable to interruptions, to misinterpretation, to failures of vision along the road.
But this is a theoretical critique, not a practical one. For at the time, no end goals was definable that would have come close to satisfying the concerns of both peoples. At the time, there was no Israeli politician willing to contemplate a Palestinian state; no Israeli politician willing to contemplate the division of Jerusalem; no Palestinian politician willing to discuss compromises on refugees. Had we sought to start at the end, we would not have started at all.
Now there has been a sea change in opinions - now, most serious politicians in Israel see that the establishment of a Palestinian state is an essential part of the answer, I will return to this point. This is one of the great achievements of the Oslo process - it changed fundamentals, perceptions, attitudes and ideologies.
At the time, gradualism was the choice of necessity. And the tactic of gradualism was successful up to 1999. Until that point, hope for a peaceful solution grew steadily, and the living conditions of the Palestinians improved. This is reflected in the economic data: real GDP growth averaged 5.9% from 1997 to 1999. The IMF estimated that it would further grow by another 5% in the year 2000. There was continuous economic, social and political progress on the ground. The PA's fiscal vitality also showed healthy signs of improvement. After consecutive years of international donor support, in 1999 the PA achieved a small surplus of USD 5 million in its fiscal account. The PA was also able to raise sufficient revenues and achieve a small surplus in the year 2000 - this until the start of the current crisis (more accurately, when the Government of Israel started to hold back VAT and other revenues collected on the PA's behalf, in December 2000.)
Support for the peace process grew steadily on both sides as both peoples saw an alternative to confrontation, saw the possibility of a shared future. Prior to the start of the second intifada, support for this process still commanded a majority on both sides. In 2000, 70% of Israelis expressed their support for the Oslo process whilst nearly 60% of Palestinians continued supporting the Oslo formula. As economic and social conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, together with the levels of optimism, improved, levels of violence showed a steady decline. For example, whilst the number of Israelis killed in suicide attacks averaged 40-50 in the three years immediately following the Oslo agreement, 1997 saw this number drop to 24, and in 1998 and 1999 there were no Israelis killed by such attacks. Unfortunately, these numbers have risen sharply again, with 73 Israelis killed in suicide attacks in 2001 and some 114 to date in 2002.
* * *
Even among the many of those who supported Oslo, the common view is that it died during the current crisis. This is not a view that I share.
Rather, I believe that Oslo began to falter many years earlier. It began to falter in 1999 when the principle of gradualism was lost, when the continuous political progress stalled.
In the absence of political progress, both sides began to slide back on their commitments, and the trust that had been built up began to erode.
Israel saw that the Palestinians were starting to avoid their obligations in terms of weapons, and security - and began to fear that for the Palestinians, any final agreement would simply be an interim agreement.
The Palestinians saw that the Israelis did not move forward on re-deployment, and kept building settlements - and began to fear that for the Israelis, an interim agreement would in fact be a final agreement.
Trust began to break down.
Thus, Oslo did not come to a halt in the current crisis, or even because of the current crisis. It came to a halt because its core tactics were eroded, because progress faltered, and because trust began to be lost. Indeed, I would argue that the current crisis emerged not because of Oslo, but in spite of Oslo: Both parties deviated from its
of the use of non-violent means and no expansion of occupation - of new settlements; of its
of gradualism and bilateral negotiations. In the absence of continuous progress towards a common future, both parties looked instead towards their different pasts. And the past does not, cannot provide a road-map for peace.
II. Where are we?
Where does this leave us?
First, it is important to note that during the Oslo period, and even during the years since 1996, significant institutions were developed - institutions of the Palestinian Authority, institutions of Palestinian civic society; and institutions of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.
And while some of these Palestinian institutions were flawed by mismanagement and lack of transparency, some were able to deliver real services to Palestinians, and some began to carve out an independent political space for Palestinian development.
But what we see now is a systematic dismantling of the absolutes for peace: Trust; Dialogue between the parties; the improvement of livelihoods; and the sound development of Palestinian institutions to support that trust, dialogue and those livelihoods.
As I have said, as early as 1999 the process of building trust began to falter, as political progress on the ground stalled. From September 2000 onwards, the use of force shattered the remaining confidence of those on both sides who believed in the will of the other to make real progress towards a common future. Israel's heavy and at times excessive use offeree convinced Palestinians that Israel did not truly believe in peace - if not, why would the Israeli army use live ammunition and deadly force to respond to what Palestinians saw as a genuine, popular uprising characterized by young men and boys armed with slingshots and stones? 140 Palestinians had been killed prior to the first suicide bombing attack that killed 2 Israelis in a crowded marketplace in Jerusalem on 2nd November 2000. Several Israelis were also killed during this period by gun attacks and other violence.
And within a short space of time, Palestinians' use of terrorism - of suicide bombs and other deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians - convinced Israelis that not only did the Palestinians not believe in peace, they literally sought the destruction of Israel - if not, why bomb innocent civilians in Tel Aviv - far away from the West Bank and Gaza, far away from the conflict? During the month of March alone, 11 terrorist attacks took the lives of 89 Israeli civilians and injured over 555 inside Green Line Israel; including the West Bank and Gaza, there was a total of 133 Israeli fatalities and over 700 injuries
/ - attacks which convinced even the most moderate Israelis, even those most committed to peace, that what they were facing was simply the latest chapter in a long and bloody history of persecution of the Jewish people. And that only force could protect them.
For each side there have been defining acts of violence. For the Israelis, it was the massive bomb that destroyed 29 civilians lives in the Park Hotel in Netanya, on the eve of Passover - a holy day that commemorates the very survival of the Jewish people. That bomb ripped through the remaining shreds of the fabric of trust. The terror caused by that bomb - detonated by Hamas at the precise moment that the Arab League tabled a proposal for comprehensive peace - was seen not as a blow against occupation, but as a blow against the very possibility of co-existence.
For the Palestinians, the use of F-16s to drop massive ordinance bombs in Gaza City - 1000 pound bombs detonated in densely populated areas, were mortal blows. The population was haunted by day and night of constant over-flights by jets and drones, breaking the sound barrier again and again; leaving entire families on the brink of nervous collapse waiting for the next bombing raid. How could a neighbor that had promised peace deploy what even a former IDF chief of staff called "a doomsday weapon"? The bombs literally exploded what was left of the Palestinians' belief in the possibility of trusting Israel.
Faced with this violence, the second victim of the crisis was political dialogue. It did not die immediately - both sides bravely continued talking in the months after the collapse of the Camp David talks, and through the Taba negotiations, which ended in January 2001. This dialogue was sporadic, but it was real - and it made real progress. After Taba, however, dialogue withered and then died. Since April of 2001, there has been only very limited, partial, and ultimately fruitless dialogue between the parties.
Living Conditions of the Palestinians.
An early, continuous, and disastrous cost of the current conflict is the collapse of the living conditions of the Palestinians. One of the premises of modern peacemaking, which also underpinned Oslo, was that you cannot make peace on the backs of a people who see no hope for their future. Improving the living conditions of the Palestinians was a key goal of Oslo.
Unfortunately, in the first years of Oslo, the creation of new boundaries between areas under Palestinian self-government, and those still within Israel, actually caused a dip in Palestinian living conditions.
By 1996 these were recovering, and then, for three years, there was sustained growth -unprecedented growth in the Palestinian economy with growth rates averaging almost 6% in the years from 1997 to 1999. Living conditions for ordinary Palestinians improved with poverty rates declining from about 50% to 21% by September 2000. The unemployment rate decreased from about 30% to 13.3% from 1997 to 1999. Growth in real incomes (reflecting increased employment of Palestinians in Israel, joint industrial zones, and settlements) averaged around 9% from 1997 to 1999. The IMF had projected that real incomes would grow a further 4.5% in 2000.
This has all been eroded by the recent confrontation, and the imposition by Israel of tightened closures and movement restrictions. This led to a dramatic decline in living conditions, which by the end of 2001 were worse than they had been at any time since 1967. For example, UNSCO estimates that real incomes declined by nearly 20% between 1999 and 2000. Since then all major economic indicators and living conditions have plummeted still further. Israel's recent incursion, Operation Defensive Shield, paralyzed what was left of the Palestinian economy. The Palestinian economy is now on the verge of total collapse, with 75% of productive activity frozen; unemployment fluctuating between 50% and 75%; and real poverty skyrocketing. UNSCO estimates that poverty levels (defined as an individual living on less than USD 2 a day) are close to 50% in the West Bank and nearly 70% in the Gaza Strip.
The institutions of the PA.
Finally, during the last incursions, the institutions of the PA itself were fundamentally damaged. During its recent incursions, Israel undertook many actions to cope with Palestinian terrorism, destroying security and terrorist infrastructure. Many of these actions were consistent with Israel's right to self-defense. However, their incursions also did great damage to the civilian institutions of the PA. The records of the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics were destroyed; the hard drives of the Ministry of Health were smashed; computer files of teachers' employment records were erased; and in hundreds of other ways, the civilians governance capacity of the PA was weakened or dismantled. This is frankly very difficult to reconcile with Israel's security concerns.
And so we are left with two peoples wracked by violence; a situation in which there is not only no dialogue between the peoples and their governments, but where dialogue has been replaced by hatred and fear. We are left with the shattered remnants often years worth of institution building. And we are left with a population of 3.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza (not to mention the further 2.5 million refugees outside) whose livelihoods have been eroded to the point of renewed dependency. We are faced with a generation of young Israelis who picket the office of Prime Minister Sharon, attacking his perceived lack of forcefulness in the face of Palestinian violence, and calling for the transfer of the Arabs. We are faced with a young generation of Palestinians whose only prospect for contributing to their families well being is to choose the path of suicidal terrorism.
Unless we exist from the current violence - and quickly - the future for both peoples will be untenable. Palestinians whose violence is still aimed at the occupation will over time begin truly to target the existence of Israel - bringing Israel's fears into actuality. And unspeakable concepts like transfer will become to be discussed among the mainstream - turning Palestinians nightmare of their past into the prospects for their future.
So where do we go now to exit from the violence, to renew the prospects for peace?
III. Future: Where do we go now?
First, we must take note of an important - indeed a remarkable - phenomenon that has occurred in tandem with the destruction of the institutions of peace that I just described.
This is the development of a deep consensus in the international community - a consensus on how the conflict must end. A consensus that is actually shared by a majority of both peoples, if not yet by a majority of their leaders.
The principles of this consensus start with the fact that much was achieved by the parties during their negotiations in Taba. The popular myth is that Arafat rejected Taba, just as he rejected Camp David - proving once and for all that he at least did not truly seek peace. More specifically, the popular myth is that Arafat rejected Taba because he sought acceptance of the principle of the right of return for the majority of the refugees - a stance which would fundamentally erode the Jewish character of Israel and is untenable to any Israeli government.
But this popular myth is just that - a myth; one of the most powerful ones shaping current conceptions of the Middle East.
The fact of the matter is that those of us who were closely involved in Taba, and in the negotiations between Arafat and Bark that followed Taba - and of which little is yet publicly known - we saw the parties come extraordinarily close to finding a viable compromise. This is not the time to go into details of these negotiations - but the bottom line is that both leaders showed in the days after the Taba talks ended a willingness to face the deep and serious compromises - on land, on Jerusalem, on refugees - that they knew to be necessary.
That these talks failed was, tragically, a consequences of mismanagement, dysfunctional leadership, and a lack of time - a consequence also of mistakes made by those of us in the international community who sought to help the parties reach their conclusions. But it was not - emphatically not - a rejection of peace by either side.
In the year since Taba, the international community has begun in its own right to articulate the principles that we believe can - no, must - form the shape of any sustainable agreement between the parties.
These principles include:
• the necessity of providing Israel with real and permanent guarantees of its own security - its freedom from attack, and from the threat of attack;
• the necessity of providing the Palestinians with real and permanent independence - in the form of a viable Palestinian state, formed on lands occupied in Israel during the 1967 war, with economic control over their own borders;
• as part of the process leading to these goals, the necessity of removing Israeli settlements; of reforming the Palestinian institutions; and restoring the Palestinian economy and infrastructure.
These principles have been articulated in far reaching speeches by President Bush and Secretary Powell; in Security Council resolutions, particularly SCR 1397, which defines a vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side within secure and recognized borders. And most compelingly they have been articulated in Crown Prince Abdullah's brave initiative, endorsed by the Arab League, for a regional peace based on recognition and security for Israel; and end of occupation; the sharing of Jerusalem; and a compromise on refugees.
There is also a growing consensus around the mechanisms for reaching those principles. They are in effect the opposite of Oslo.
• Most, if not all, agree that
we must now start at the end-v/e
have a consensus about where the conflict must end, and this must be agreed up front before anything else can be done. Having agreed on the end state, we can implement its elements in an orderly sequence - but we must know where we are going.
• Second, far from the principle of bilateralism, the principles for an end of conflict can only be
introduced by the international community -
they will have to be negotiated and implemented by the parties, but at this point they cannot be reached by the parties.
• Third, any and all agreements must be
guaranteed by the international community -
and those guarantees must be firm and real. Israel must now that if it reaches final agreement, that the agreement is truly final - that there will be no more conflict, nor even the threat of conflict; no more claims; no more rejection. The Palestinians must know that provisional steps to reach an agreement will actually get there; that their gains will not be reversed; that they can begin to plan for and count on their own future.
If this is by and large a consensus in the international community, it is not only that. I referred earlier to a sea change in perceptions and positions, and this is true even within Israeli society.
To cite but one example - a prominent Israeli politician and a close friend recently brought me to his office in the Knesset. He said to me: "If two years ago you had walked into this building and said the words "State of Palestine", you would have been thrown out of every office in here. Today, almost every one accepts it. Two weeks ago if you had walked in here and said '1967 borders', you would have been thrown out of every office; today, nobody likes it, but nobody will throw you out."
And indeed - despite the erosion of trust, despite the hated - public opinion polling consistently shows a majority for peace on both sides.
In a recent Israeli poll a 57% majority of Israelis support a peace plan on the basis of the Saudi proposal including withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza as a necessary step towards peace. A narrow majority of Palestinians support negotiations and nearly 50% believe in reconciliation with Israel on the basis of a peace deal that creates a Palestinian state within the 67 borders.
This is a remarkable development, and a source of great hope amidst great fear.
It is this hope that forms the basis of current international diplomacy. Here too we have an important new institution, in the form of what is known as the Quartet - ie. a forum for coordination between the principal international actors in the MEPP - the US, the EU, the UN and Russia, which is now at the forefront of international efforts to move the peace process back on track - and to push it to its destination, the final settlement - the end of conflict agreement.
We are working together to bring about the vision I just articulated - working with both parties and both peoples to see if is still possible to reach a common vision and a common future.
This brings us back to the beginning, to the reasons we are still here, still working on this process we once thought would be finished long ago.
What motivates those of us involved in international diplomacy in the Middle East is two fundamental principles and one unshakable idea.
in the right of Israel to exist and to exist in full and permanent security - free from attack, free from terrorism, free even from the threat of attack. No people more deserves that freedom. This is perhaps a particularly European and American obsession. In our own way, we each lived through the holocaust, the darkest stain on modern European history. Many Europeans struggled against that evil. But efforts such as those were wholly insufficient. Truly, this is a chapter of human history that must never be repeated. I think there are few principles that so animate international diplomacy as the deep belief in the importance of a permanent and secure homeland for the Jewish people.
Second, and with equal passion, we
in the right of the Palestinians to their independence and self-determination. This population of millions has been miserably abused by both the international and Arab worlds, allowed to fester in refugee camps and destitute towns while delicate negotiations of geopolitics shaped their fate. No population more deserves to see fulfilled their simple aspiration to live in freedom and dignity. Every day that goal seems more distant - and we witness and to a limited extent even share the humiliation they experience at checkpoints and border crossings, in the daily routines of occupation to which they are subjected. Truly, this is a chapter of human history that must be brought to a close. There are few principles so commonly shared in international diplomacy as the right of the Palestinians to an independent state and a dignified future.
Finally, we are motivated by an idea which is easy to scorn, easy to ridicule, easy to judge, easy to challenge - but from which we will not be shaken whatever people say or do, whatever allegation are made - from whatever quarter. And that is that these two fundamental beliefs can be reconciled in one common vision, one common future. We suffer daily defeats in the struggle for that idea, daily proofs in its futility, daily reasons to give it up. But we will not be shaken. The principles of that common vision are known; the mechanisms for reaching it are available to us. What we need now, however deep our distress and pain, is to summon the will to turn our vision into a concrete reality that touches the deepest aspirations of both peoples. As we did in Oslo in 1993 we again need now to animate the spirit of peace. Both peoples are right, both have the right to live free from fear, in security, in prosperity and with the ability to determine their own fates. For the sake of these two great and proud peoples, let us continue to work to achieve that vision of two states, Israel and Palestine.
1 Source: UNRWA Daily Situation reports