On December 28, 2006, the Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ) held a roundtable discussion at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem on the role of the international community in the Israel-Palestine peace process. The participants were Mr. Ghassan al-Khatib, former minister in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communication Center (JMCC); Mr. Reuven Merhav, former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and member of the executive board of the Council for Peace and Security; Mr. Ziad AbuZayyad, PIJ co-editor and former member of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC); Mr. Gadi Baltiansky, director general of “Education for Peace Ltd.” (Geneva Peace Initiative), former press secretary for Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001) and press counselor at the Israeli Embassy in Washington; and Mr. Roy Dickinson, EU Head of Operations European Commission Technical Assistance Office (West Bank and the Gaza Strip). The moderators were journalist Nasser Atta and PIJ co-editor Hillel Schenker.
Hillel Schenker: I would like to welcome you all to this roundtable discussion on the role of the international community in trying to promote the Israel-Palestine peace process. We think this theme is very timely now in the wake of recent developments. Following the UN resolution at the end of the war in Lebanon, the Iraq Study Group report and the fact that everybody is trying to get the ball moving, the key question is: What role can the international community play?
Reuven Merhav: We have seen a very important transformation in the role of the international community in the last century and also the first years of this century. There is a great lesson to be learned: less direct involvement — some people would say interference — by the international community in local conflicts, and more of the creation of an environment — legal, economic and regulatory — that will give the adversaries a plethora of advantages in all spheres, which will overshadow the existing reality. While one cannot avoid the existing realties here, which are actually two national movements competing over a small plot of land, we have seen similar situations in Europe in which nations or countries that competed over a tract of land came to the realization that creating a climate that benefits all is better than continuing the ongoing strife. This doesn’t mean that they reached a paradise in terms of international relations, but they did reach manageable relations, which will eventually create a very positive environment. I would like to draw your attention to some examples.
My family were refugees from Germany, who left at the last moment before it was too late. My late aunt was a pupil in a girls’ lyceum in the eastern part of Germany during the First World War. When a teacher entered the class, all the girls would rise and say, “Let the Lord punish France, let the Lord punish England.” Some 80 years later, I was consul general of Israel in Hong Kong, and the German consul general told me that he’d just gotten news of a new army division with Frenchmen and Germans serving together, and I thought to myself: Here we are 80 or 70 years after 1916 and this is what they are doing.
Take Brussels, the capital of Europe for all practical purposes. The benefits Belgium got from this far overshadow the differences between the Flemish and the Walloons. There were many difficulties between them, but this is the new reality.
The last example is, of course, Ireland and Britain. With the EU and the huge benefits that Ireland derived from joining it, the incentive to continue fighting was diminished.
Nasser Atta: Ghassan al-Khatib, do you think that the international community is on the right track?
Ghassan al-Khatib: No, I think that the international community is on the wrong path vis-à-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict. This conflict is unique and it is very difficult to draw parallel examples. We have to learn from history and from other experiences, but we have to appreciate the uniqueness of this conflict. One of the characteristics here is that when the two sides of the conflict are left to their own devices, the conflict deepens, and matters deteriorate in terms of relations, economic conditions and increase in violence. It was only when there was third-party involvement that possibilities arose for stemming the deterioration or encouraging progress towards possible solutions. The reason is simple: There is a great imbalance of power between Israelis and Palestinians. So when the two sides are on their own, Israelis believe that, by virtue of their superiority in all respects, they are at an advantage and can impose whatever solution or situation they like. Whereas the Palestinians have a different way of thinking — which is changing, but they will not accept an arrangement that is based on the balance of power. Thus, whenever we are alone, we fight fiercely; and whenever we move in the right direction, we do that with the help of third-party intervention and international community involvement. That’s why I think that by adopting a non-interventionist attitude, the international community was, in a sense, responsible for the deterioration in the situation during the last four to six years. And that is why we have to encourage the international community to intervene.
We also have problems with the quality of intervention. The international community treats this conflict differently from others. First, when dealing with our conflict, the international community is not sensitive to international law. Even Europe, which usually prides itself on its adherence to international law, compromises on its principles when it comes to this conflict. Still, it is much more correct compared to American policy here. Second, the international community limits itself to verbal positions or resolutions, while in other conflicts it takes much more forceful action. The international community was able to reach an agreement on the Lebanon War and immediately moved to enforce the resolution, including sending military forces. This is how the international community has been dealing with many conflicts, except ours. The lack of sensitivity to international legality and the lack of willingness to enforce UN Security Council resolutions are the problematic aspects of the international treatment of this conflict.
Nasser Atta: What is the best scenario to bring back international involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict?
Gadi Baltiansky: I believe that when we speak about the international community in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the efforts to resolve it in the last decades, I think we are actually speaking about the U.S. All negotiations that have taken place were either direct bilateral negotiations, like Oslo, or under American auspices. Certainly in the case of Israel and Syria, and in most cases between the Israelis and the Palestinians, it’s a nice code name, the international community, but the truth is that it’s the U.S. There were other players that touched different angles of the issue. Europe described itself many times as a payer and not a player. The fact is that, at the table, we only found the Americans. UN Resolution 242, of almost 40 years ago, was a real effort by the international community to suggest a solution to this conflict. But since then, all real efforts were undertaken by the U.S., and the others dealt only with the process itself.
I believe what we are seeing now is the decline of the level of U.S. involvement. We see a kind of vacuum. It’s been exactly six years without any negotiations between Israelis and Arabs since Taba. Part of this is due to the fact the U.S. is much less involved. This trend could be reversed by future American administrations, or by others, mainly by the Europeans. I believe that now there is a kind of a different approach, or at least a different approach within Israel vis-à-vis Europe. The question is whether Europe is willing to really try to fill this vacuum.
Nasser Atta: Mr. AbuZayyad, Who do you think the Palestinians would like to fill the vacuum created by the disengagement of the U.S. and the international community from the conflict?
Ziad AbuZayyad: The dealing of the international community with the Palestinian cause covered three different stages. The first, from 1948 until 1967, totally ignored the political aspect of the Palestinian issue. The Palestinian issue was seen only as a refugee problem and there were even attempts to liquidate UNRWA. The second stage was between 1967 and 2000, when the U.S. blocked any active international involvement in support of the Palestinians. The U.S. administration raised the slogan “Do not disturb the peace process” even when there was no real peace process going on. The only period when there was a genuine attempt by the American administration to solve the problem was during President Bill Clinton’s tenure. He tried, but the time was not propitious. During the last six years, from 2000 until now, since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa Intifada, the international community has stood by and just watched.
Hamas’s victory in the elections switched on a red light among the international community that the “fanatics and the extremists” are taking over. They feared the rise of the Islamic movement and thought it was time to intervene.
Initially it was Britain’s Tony Blair who started talking about international involvement and about a role for Europe, followed by the recent proposals of the Spanish and French leaders. While this international consensus was building, Israel was moving, with U.S. help, to exploit the internal Palestinian political turmoil and pressuring President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to engage in bilateral relations with Israel’s prime minister. It is a mistake on the part of the Palestinian leadership not to deal more seriously with Europe’s call for an international peace conference and international involvement, and to initiate instead bilateral contacts with Israel and re-embark on side-effect issues such as the release of prisoners and the opening of blocked roads inside the Palestinian territories. It is true that the lives of the Palestinians are very bad and we are heading towards a humanitarian disaster, but the efforts should deal with the roots of the problem and not the side effects. We should be pressuring the U.S. and pushing towards an international peace conference, and getting all sides of the Middle East conflict, including Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinians and Israel, to the negotiating table aiming to achieve a comprehensive settlement to the conflict.
Nasser Atta: Who’s filling the vacuum?
Ziad AbuZayyad: Europe is a rising power. No one can ignore its growing role in the politics of this region and the world. Europe should realize its potential and not underestimate its power. The future of Europe and this region are directly linked, and Europe’s stability is affected by the stability of this region. We realize that they will not be a substitute for the U.S., but they can work together with the U.S.
Reuven Merhav: I think we should not only concentrate on governments. Public opinion is very important, and we cannot ignore what happened in Israel and the images which come from this region, be it on the Palestinian side or on the Israeli side. One of the most dramatic decisions within the Israeli body politic was taken by Ariel Sharon, who back in December 2002 understood that Israel faced a crossroad — that we had to do something to cut the Gordian Knot. This was the evacuation of the settlements in Gaza, and a very important precedent was set. This is now a part of the political history after 1967. So when Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni now publishes her program — two states more or less on the 1967 lines more or less — what does it mean? Had she mentioned it 20 years ago in her party, she would have been crucified. This is a major change that came about inside the Israeli body politic.
Hillel Schenker: Mr. Dickinson, do you see Europe taking an independent role apart from the U.S., and do you see them being able to influence the U.S.?
Roy Dickinson: Taking up the point made by Ambassador Merhav, I think it is quite interesting to look at European history, at how the EU was forged, to see what lessons can be drawn. The relationship between France and Germany, after several centuries of deep animosity, in creating a peaceful, stable, united and prosperous Europe can’t be underestimated. First, although I agree that without mediation, progress here will be very difficult, the development of the EU was largely unmediated. Those outside the France-Germany axis played a supportive but not decisive role. Nobody forced the sides to negotiate, no one from the outside imposed a solution on France and Germany. Instead, the impetus was given by major political figures, from visionary personalities, from France and Germany themselves. So the project of European integration was a locally devised solution to European insecurity and instability.
Second, it was not about the negotiation of a peace treaty, but about how to create a Europe in which conflict in the future would be simply unthinkable. It wasn’t primarily political in nature at the beginning. It was primarily economic. The founders of the European project saw that creating economic interdependence, through the free movement of people, goods, services and capital was key to putting in place a sustainable solution.
Third, and although the Franco-German axis was and remains at the heart of the European project, the founding fathers saw that it was absolutely necessary also to involve other partners, Italy and the Benelux countries, as part of the vision of a new Europe, and to create a wider zone of interdependence and security.
Turning to the role of the international community in the Middle East, we still tend to talk about “the International Community” as if it is a monolithic entity or group with a single vision. But the reality can be seen differently. The EU’s vision veers more towards a multi-polar world with many actors acting in concert but in pursuit of common broad objectives. In that context, many Europeans would like to see a more assertive EU, not in competition with the U.S., but as a complement to it in certain ways where the U.S. is not able to act effectively. So when we apply this to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, then the international community articulates a vision through UN Security Council resolutions, but there are still many players in this game, with different approaches or comparative advantages. Perhaps then we should look at the different roles of different international communities in the Middle East peace process and move away from the idea that there is a single international voice.
It is true that over the past 20 years or so, the EU itself has been trying to forge an identity, for example through the development of a Common Foreign and Security Policy, which enables it to take a more decisive role on the world stage. This does not imply competing with the U.S. or trying to replace it. If it is perceived that in the Middle East there is a vacuum in terms of U.S. leadership, nobody should expect that Europe is going to provide a Kissinger or a Baker, or that we will act in the same way. Europe’s role is different and its way of working distinct. Europe is based on the projection of soft power, the U.S. on the basis of hard power. That colors very strongly the capacity of the EU to be strongly involved and the nature of its involvement, and that should inform what the parties expect from the EU.
Ghassan al-Khatib: The international community is represented as far as the Palestinian -Israeli conflict is concerned by the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. The international community has a specific vision that is concrete and not haphazard. We have the Quartet as well. This Quartet not only dealt verbally with the issue but also came up with a concrete plan called the Road Map. The problem is that they never put any political capital into seeing it materialize — they just issued it and left it to the parties, which is not good enough.
This lack of intervention by the international community is not just a negative attitude; in my view, it’s an indirect way of influencing the conflict. When the international community, especially the U.S., decides to refrain from intervening, it is a decision to leave the Palestinian side at the mercy of the stronger party. This is not neutral behavior; it is biased. It suggests that Israel should handle the situation by force. When Washington decided on behalf of the international community to refrain from any interference in Sharon’s unilateral strategy, it was a license for Sharon to proceed with his plan. The catastrophe we are living in now, whether in Israeli-Palestinian relations or on the internal Palestinian arena, is in my view an outcome of this policy.
When the Palestinian people elected a government that the international community correctly accused of not adhering to international law and legality, it decided to punish the government by cutting off funds. By the same token, the counter-argument is that, while we might understand the behavior of the international community, we have difficulty understanding why it’s directed only at the Palestinian side. Israel is violating international law openly and in many tangible ways. The wall, or the part of it that is being built on Palestinian land, is a very clear example. All European countries consider this a violation of international law and of the recommendation of the International Court of Justice at the Hague and the UN General Assembly. Now we are confronted with another example, the new settlement in the Jordan Rift Valley. However, this does not goad the international community, including Europe, to act against the Israeli government. This double standard is another example of the problematic way in which the international community is treating this conflict. The international community, particularly Europe and the U.S., treat Israel in a special way that is different from the way they treat any other country and, consequently, any other conflict. This is because of historical issues and strategic interests. This approach is backfiring and is partially responsible for the radicalization in Palestinian society and in Europe itself, where more than 20 million Muslims seem to be influenced by what is happening in the Middle East.
Gadi Baltiansky: I think it would be a mistake for Palestinians and Israelis to wait for an imposed solution from the outside. I doubt such a thing will happen, and I’m not sure it’s a good thing for either party. By waiting for an imposed solution from the outside you miss opportunities. You allow those who are opposed to become more active, and the situation on the ground will only deteriorate. I believe that the main effort should be taken by both parties, and I disagree with the notion that the two parties themselves cannot reach a solution; the mainstream on both sides are not so far away. Not to have direct bilateral talks even without third-party intervention would be a mistake.
The second point is that international involvement is not always possible. The Road Map is a future plan; it’s not a solution. It was tailor-made for Arafat and Sharon, and then it became something you can hide behind if you don’t want any progress. We all know that the first stage of the Road Map is not something that both sides can, or will, implement on the ground. And if you insist that without implementing the first stage you cannot go to the second stage, then it means no progress. If the international community and the Quartet will stick to this Road Map, without rethinking it, without even updating the dates, it means that they don’t take it seriously. So the first step is to reshape the Road Map. Theoretically we are not yet at the first stage of the Road Map. The majority of the Israeli public, parliament and government support the separation of the land into two states, and most of the Israeli political parties talk about more or less the same solution, which is not very far from the solution foreseen by Abu Mazen. There are gaps, but they’re not that far apart. Knowing those views, just waiting for the first stage of the Road Map to be implemented is ridiculous and counter-productive. Here the EU can play a role. Israel has never met with the Quartet as such. The EU special envoy resides in Brussels, not in the region. I think the EU should reconsider this. The feeling among the parties is that if the third parties don’t take themselves seriously, how could we? The test is the Road Map and starting from the second stage.
There is a growing interest in the international community to try to solve this conflict — also against the background of what’s going on in Iran. Iran is seen as a threat, not only to Israel. More and more people realize that solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can be part of the answer to Iran.
It’s almost unthinkable that the international community, led by the U.S., the EU and the UN will not take a more active role — not in imposing a solution, but in helping both sides negotiate a solution that is already more or less known and agreed upon.
Ziad AbuZayyad: We have to differentiate between the international community and international legitimacy. International legitimacy is the UN and its resolutions. The international community, with all its diversity and contradictory interests, is facing the threat of a real explosion in this part of the world. The interests of the different groups are becoming more and more interlocked. I do not deny the importance of the American role. Without the U.S., Europe may not be capable of doing anything. Therefore, we are looking forward to seeing the Europeans take the initiative but, at the same time, getting American approval for it. The U.S. will not let Europe go it alone, in spite of the fact that the Americans are in great difficulty now in various parts of the world. This administration has practically destroyed the role of the U.S. as a world leader, but hopefully, in the coming years, the U.S. — with a new president — will perhaps change.
About Gadi’s reference to bilateralism, it is true that if two parties have a problem, they have to discuss it bilaterally and directly. But this does not work in our case: We are weak and we are under occupation. Four days ago there was a meeting between Abbas and Olmert. They agreed on not taking any unilateral steps which may jeopardize the outcome of negotiations over final-status issues. And then, all of a sudden, Olmert decided to establish a new settlement in the Jordan Rift Valley. So if you speak about direct talks between Israel and Palestine, we are not equal partners. We do not have the symmetry in power that would enable us to be equal partners. We need a third-party mediation to bring the parties to a solution.
Our problem with the Americans was that they were always saying: We will facilitate the meetings; we will bring the Israelis and the Palestinians together, but we will not pressure any side. This voided the U.S. role of substance. I don’t know if the Road Map is still alive or not. I believe that it has to be revisited and re-discussed because it is not useful. Israel succeeded in killing the first stage of the Road Map by raising side issues like “destroying the infrastructures of terror.” The Road Map should be revisited and updated, or, maybe we need to replace it with a peace agreement with timetables and implementation mechanisms. We cannot wait another five years because there is a lot of bloodshed and destruction on both sides. We have to put a stop to all that and to build a different kind of life, a different set of relations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Hillel Schenker: I’ve been looking at this empty chair and I think that symbolizes the empty chair in the role of the international community. And I am referring to the U.S. When Bush was elected, he had no interest in international affairs. His approach was isolationist. It was 9/11 which made him create an agenda, and that agenda was totally unilateral, very parallel to what Sharon was doing. That approach has failed. Even the American voters in the last mid-term elections said: It has failed; we need another policy. The Iraq Study Group came forward with proposals for more multilateralism, for more engagement. So my question is: To what degree do you think there is a possibility that the Americans will change their policy, and what would you recommend that the Americans do now?
Reuven Merhav: I would like to say something about the previous issue and then to the question. Every party uses legality for its own needs. International legality is a very flexible thing. The U.S. Congress passed a resolution mandating the administration to move the embassy to Jerusalem and the president issues an executive order every six months to defer it.
I don’t represent the Israeli government; nor does Gadi Baltiansky. I can only say that settlements can be dismantled and they will be dismantled. Just as the Palestinians have their own political game, the Israelis have theirs. So if Olmert wants to stabilize his government he brings Avigdor Lieberman in. Don’t forget that Sharon, who built Yamit to a certain extent, destroyed it. The Americans’ attention span is limited. If they deal with Iraq and Afghanistan, their hands are full. They have also the problems of security in the U.S. To add on top of these the Middle East problems, not to mention Iran — this is too much for them. The most stupid thing is that they’re not talking with Syria. Syria is a major issue.
Gadi Baltiansky: On the Israeli-Palestinian issue, I believe that the U.S. will not act against the will of the Israeli government, but I believe that Bush, when he approaches the end of his second term, will have a very problematic legacy on foreign issues. And when he thinks about where he can leave a positive impact, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the possibilities. I’m not talking about an end-of-conflict, or reaching the final- status agreement within the next couple of years, but leaving some kind of a beginning of the translation of the Bush vision into reality. Leaving a vacuum in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, with the growing danger of Iran and with the mess in Iraq, is something that I believe Bush doesn’t want to do. This is not against the will of this Israeli government because it wants to reach progress on peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I believe they want to negotiate and are willing to make concessions. As long as Abbas is the head of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, I believe it is an opportunity that Bush cannot afford to miss.
Ziad AbuZayyad: Reuven said something very important: that Bush’s biggest mistake is not talking to Syria. Syria can play an important role in helping the U.S. get out of Iraq, and the U.S. can play a role in helping Syria break away from Iran’s influence. This can be done if the American administration rethinks how to go about solving the Israeli-Palestinian problem. What is happening at the moment is the opposite. Prime Minister Olmert is ignoring the signals coming from Damascus simply because he doesn’t want to offend his American allies. As Bush considers Syria part of “the axis of evil,” Olmert doesn’t want to come out overtly and publicly against U.S. policy. Will this be U.S. policy over the next two years? Or will the U.S., under the pressure of a timeline for pulling out of Iraq, change direction and think how to deal with the Palestinian problem differently? Here lies the importance of the European initiative. The Europeans have the Baker-Hamilton Report; they have the new U.S. Congress and they have the growing demand on Bush to get out of Iraq. They can take the initiative and get the Americans to be allies — working with the Europeans, not against them. This is not a lost case. There is hope.
Roy Dickinson: I worked for two years in Brussels on EU-U.S. relations and know how complex that relationship can be. So I’m wary about being drawn into comments on U.S. policy! But I do sense that the vision of EU involvement in this region is becoming more ambitious. As partners’ expectations about our involvement here grow, we are developing the capacity to become more involved in more active ways. It is clear that there are differences in policy between the EU and the U.S. You only have to look at recent UN General Assembly resolutions. The 25 member states of the EU, as well as many of its partners, voted one way on some issues and the U.S. another way. We are not frightened to disagree with the U.S., but we shouldn’t see those disagreements as symptomatic of a chasm between the U.S. and EU, or a widespread belief in Europe that the EU should pursue a radically different policy from the U.S. and become separated from it in the future in the pursuit of shared aims. As I said before, we use different types of power in different ways. That’s the reason the Quartet exists. There is an increasing realization on the part of the U.S. that the EU has a useful and distinctive role to play which can complement its own role.
The EU is very consistent on its strong support for the relevant Security Council resolutions and has been very consistent with regard to illegal settlements, the wall and so on. But the way that the U.S. is engaged with Israel is a unique relationship, and you shouldn’t expect the EU’s engagement with Israel to work in the same way or have the same impact. In Palestine, we have seen that the European Community has taken steps to withdraw financial support for the Palestinian government. With regard to Israel, matters are more complex. We do not give such financial assistance to Israel, so if we wish to exert pressure or leverage our policies, that’s not a possibility. The EU has used economic sanctions in certain cases, but there’s a discussion about their effectiveness. And although the EU is by far Israel’s biggest single trading partner, economic sanctions would be an extremely blunt political weapon. We have not used this instrument with Israel, nor, for that matter, with Palestine; even after this year’s elections, and despite the suspension of financial support for the government, we still trade with Palestine. The EU is still searching for ways of exercising its influence to its full potential, and we are not yet in a situation where we do that fully.
But our assistance is clearly a vital part of what we do to promote peace. EU assistance for Palestinians is not given just out of humanitarian concern, but because we believe very strongly that if you give Palestinians greater prosperity, if you give Israelis and Palestinians a shared vision of how they can cooperate in economic terms, it will begin to chip away at the underlying causes, the political causes of the conflict. Poverty is one of the primary causes of radicalization, not only in the Middle East but in the entire world. We do believe, therefore, that the assistance that we give is extremely important in chipping away at one of the major causes for the conflict.
Nasser Atta: Do you see a shift in U.S. policy in the Middle East? Do you see them adopting the Baker-Hamilton Report?
Roy Dickinson: I think things are moving quite quickly and there is a sense that progress might be around the corner. There are opportunities coming up that could produce rapid changes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Others around this table have identified U.S. credibility as a key issue at the current time. And if U.S. credibility in the region continues to be perceived as an issue, perhaps that is why there is around this table a sense of urgency about the way the EU could get more involved, should American policy change so that a more significant mediating role for the EU is required.
Ziad AbuZayyad: I want to make it very clear that, although there was no mention in this discussion about the Russian role, or the role of other major countries, like China or Japan, this should not be misconstrued as an underestimation of their role. On the contrary, we believe that Russia can play a very important role within the Quartet as well as unilaterally because of its relations with Iran and Syria.
As co-editor of the PIJ, I want to stress the fact that we at the PIJ highly appreciate the role of the EU and, as a Palestinian, I highly appreciate the [EU] role in helping the Palestinian people, and we encourage their activities in bringing Israelis and Palestinians together. Our journal could not have continued its efforts over the last 10 years without the support and encouragement of the EU.
Gadi Baltiansky: At the end of the day, agreements will be signed by the leaderships of both sides, but I believe that they can be influenced a lot by two main players, the peace camp and the international community. This coalition can help the leadership to reach an agreement. While we in the peace camp do it out of selfish reasons, because we want a better life for ourselves and our children, it is not a given that everyone else in the world will help us. I want to join Ziad in appreciating the role of the Europeans and others who help us in this. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. I can see an effort in the next few years to build a coalition of countries, organizations, of societies that want to change the Middle East for the better, towards a more peaceful and secure region. Such a coalition should include Syria, can include many others in the region, but first and foremost should include Israelis and Palestinians. If the international community focuses on building this coalition, using existing models for future peace agreements, including the Arab League Initiative and the Geneva Initiative; if this road is taken, I think there is room for optimism and for hope.
Roy Dickinson: The EU is very proud of its work to support dialogue. We are convinced the solution to the conflict has to rest primarily with the two societies, and we will support Palestinians and Israelis to get together, on all levels, governmental and non-governmental, whenever we can.
Nasser Atta: Last year, the most significant thing I covered as a journalist was Hamas’s victory on January 25. The second thing was in Beirut covering the Israeli-Lebanese war. I would love to be optimistic, but just seeing the two events and their results, it is very clear that things are not going in the right direction. I know the Americans have their hands full, but seeing what I saw last year and predicting what will happen in 2007, I believe we are headed towards a major problem regarding this conflict if the U.S., the UN, the EU and other forces will not intervene.
Hillel Schenker: 2007 may contain great dangers, but also contains great opportunities, and it’s up to the Israelis and Palestinians, with the help of the international community, to take advantage of the opportunities. As the Israeli co-editor of the PIJ, I’d like to second what Ziad said about our great appreciation for EU support for dialogue efforts. I would like to thank the panelists for what has been a very constructive, stimulating and productive roundtable.