Writing the story of peace
By Emily Gian
Some years ago, while researching for an assignment for University, I came across an interview with Israeli author Amos Oz. He was asked if it is true what they say about a writer writing the same story all of his life, to which Oz replied, “I hope it’s not true. But I’m afraid it is”.
At the time I could relate to this in that I often felt exactly the same – as if I were writing the same story over and over.
Without trivialising the concessions that will need to be made by all sides in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, I always have the same feeling when reading and writing about the events as they unfold.
When US Secretary of State John Kerry announced last July that there would be a resumption to the peace talks, he stated that their “objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months”. Flanked in a press conference by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat, everyone spoke about “courageous leadership” and “difficult paths”, about “making history” and the challenges ahead”.
I sound cynical, and perhaps I am. MK Livni had an answer for the cynics at that moment, declaring that she believes that “history is not made by cynics. It is made by realists who are not afraid to dream. And let us be these people”.
But even still, 8 months later, short sound bites now run through my head – “Peace talks have hit a stalemate”, “Peace talks are reaching their deadline”, “Israel wants the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish State”, “Abbas threatens to take the issue of statehood for the Palestinians to the UN if an agreement is not reached”.
Perhaps certain players have changed, but the essence has remained the same. And time is ticking on Kerry’s nine-month deadline.
A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu called again for PA Chairman Abbas to recognise Israel as a Jewish State (it’s hard to believe we are still having this discussion over 20 years after Oslo), and just last week, Abbas met with President Obama in Washington.
Meanwhile, high-level officials on both sides have irritated the United States with statements made over the past few weeks. In a speech at Tel Aviv University, Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon accused the United States of “demonstrating weakness” when it comes to Ukraine. On the topic of Iran, he declared, “at some stage the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better”. A US State Department spokesperson responded that his statements were not constructive and demanded an apology. His statements followed on from earlier statements he made in January were he accused Kerry of being “obsessive and messianic” and that he hoped Kerry “gets a Nobel Prize and leaves us alone”.
Earlier, the Palestinians also drew the ire of the US State Department when Saeb Erekat told Al-Jazeera that “turning to international tribunals, to UN bodies, and joining a call for economic sanctions – all that will come if Kerry’s initiative fails”. He also said, “We will not extend the negotiations for one minute beyond 29th April”.
A report on Israel Radio yesterday said the United States was worried that the talks were on the verge of collapse and that they were seeking a solution in order to move forward.
I am no expert on the Middle East, and it is possible that President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are not bashing down my door for my analysis on the situation but it would appear that the solution that they are looking for needs to be radically different to every solution that has been proposed for the last 20 years.
This would require an evaluation of two major issues. Firstly, the sticking points, namely final status negotiations on issues such as Jerusalem, borders and the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. These tremendously difficult issues have always been left to the end of every discussion, but maybe they need to be the starting point? Secondly, the obstacles to peace such as incitement to violence and the constant glorification of terrorists continue unabated.
Clearly, the approach adopted by leaders from the US, to Britain and the EU, has not worked. In the meantime, the only history that is being made is another failed attempt and the danger that they are also destined to write the same story over and over.