Posted by AAI on February 25, 2008 in News Clips

WASHINGTON – The Arab American Institute co-sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing, entitled “Recalculating Annapolis: Understanding the Crisis in Gaza and Southern Israel and Its Impact on the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process,” on Tuesday, February 12, 2008. The event included a roundtable discussion featuring leading experts on Middle Eastern affairs, including perspectives on Israeli, Palestinian, Egyptian, U.S. and U.N. policy, and drew a large and diverse audience of congressional staff, policy-makers and academics, as well as university students and local community members.

AAI partnered with the American Task Force on Palestine, Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, Israel Policy Forum, Churches for Middle East Peace, and the Foundation for Middle East Peace to sponsor a panel of distinguished speakers that included Ghaith al-Omari, Helena Cobban, Daniel Levy, Robert Malley, and Andrew Whitley. The discussion, moderated by former Ambassador Phil Wilcox, focused on how the current situation in Gaza affects the peace process restarted this fall in Annapolis. Panel participants debated policy options for all concerned parties moving forward.

The following excerpts offer highlights from each of the speakers:

Phil Wilcox, President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace (former U.S. Consul General in Jerusalem, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Intelligence and Research, and Ambassador at Large and Coordinator for Counter Terrorism), served as moderator and gave introductory remarks:

“The Annapolis peace conference offered a moment of hope that the process was going to move forward to a final status agreement, and that was a moment for inspiration and we thought the movement lasts the prospect of peace by 2008 which has been foreshowed by a deepening crisis in Israel and Gaza.

“That is why we are here today with the firing of Qassim rockets to Israel, rising retaliation by Israeli Defense Forces, new and deepening restrictions on fuel and electricity, a major, major loss of life two weeks ago. The wall between the Gaza Strip and Rafah, a city sitting on the Egyptian side of the Sinai, was broken down and thousands and thousands of Gazans streamed out to shop, which raised a new problem for Israel and Egypt…

“Does this destroy the changes to move forward to a final status? What we need to do to change the policy in order to have peace, to deal with the Hamas-Fatah divide, is it possible or correct to work for the undermining and destruction of costs or does it rely with the Hamas? Can negotiations proceed without the two sides coming to an agreement for the Palestinians? Finally what should be done at least, to resolve the severe humanitarian problem and border controls and help the Gazan people who are in distress? Finally if anyone wants to venture a thought, is this the time for increased or more active solution?”

Andrew Whitley, Director of the Representative Office of UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East:

“First of all, the current situation in Gaza and the West Bank is not conducive to the continuation of the peace process. In Gaza alone there is 80% poverty and 60% of the population depends on U.N. aid, in which my agency provides three quarters of the aid and the World Food Program covers the rest. Most people are unemployed, and many talk about a lost generation. Secondly the policy of the blockade of Gaza is, in our view, counterproductive to the goal of producing a two-state solution. Thirdly there is a deepening dependence on foreign aid, and this cannot continue for much longer, there will be a social explosion or an economic implosion because of that…

“It can be avoided, but if the current policies are locked in place, then you are throwing away the key to peace and now you are throwing away the hope of peace further down the road. So what to do about it, yesterday in the first place? Help all sides in the conflict, the government of Israel, the P.A., and Hamas. We need to take coordinated steps to come back to reality: open crossings, release prisoners, stop the rockets and the targeted assassinations on the other side, and resume normal life and solve the problem, and allow for commercial trade and not only humanitarian aid from our organization.

“We don’t want to be in that situation any longer and make the mistake and make the humanitarian situation worse. We feel that this is a package deal, that you cannot keep them under isolation. The restoration of the P.A. of control of the crossings needs to be done. There is support within the U.S. and with Abbas to see if this is true and not skepticism and we need to see this done. It will be something new for everyone and a deal needs to be made. The history of the Middle East and the Palestinian national movement has been laid with spoilers and Hamas is a large spoiler if it is not brought into the game.”

Helena Cobban, a veteran writer and author on Israeli-Arab and -Palestinian issues, currently an advisor to the Friends Committee on National Legislation and publisher of the “Just World News” weblog, former Beirut-based correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor:

“There are four items that need to be done. For the questions you have posed, the first is to sponsor a prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel. They have been continuing, they can be supported by the U.S. or blocked. Egypt is the intermediary that needs to be supporting a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. It is possible, and needs to be supported enthusiastically. Thirdly Hamas leaders in Gaza, and this was a big point, have a long term vision of Gaza taken out of economic shackles that Israel has held it in since 1967. They see it connected with the world economy through Egypt or directly, as they are on the sea. And they feel that it is important to have the endless hope that someday there will be peace and enables them, I am not sure what, but right now they are tightly bound with the 1994 Pairs Agreement with Israel and their economy and the Israelis have been using it to put lots of pressure on Palestine. And fourthly, Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, absolutely! There was reconciliation brokered this time last year by the Saudis, the U.S. government never wanted it, and the national unity government worked with various parties to overthrow it. That policy needs to be reversed and the Americans need to work with the Saudis and the Egyptians to do anything that can bring a reconciliation.”

Ghaith al-Omari, Advocacy Director for the American Task Force on Palestine, lead Palestinian drafter of the Geneva Initiative, former foreign policy advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas:

“I believe that a deal with Hamas is not doable nor is it desirable, for a number of reasons. Hamas was elected, that is true, Hamas won a democratic election. However, I believe that elections are overrated when it defines democracy. That is the problem with the Bush doctrine that equates democracy with elections. Democracy is about institutions and about systems…

“I do not think a deal with Hamas is doable on a few levels. First of all, on the Palestinian level I think that in every nation’s development, a nation has to choose its direction, and right now we are in those conflicts. In Palestine we have what sums up to be a zero sum conflict on two levels. One is political and one is ideological. Ideologically Hamas and Fatah come from different directions. Hamas is not Al-Qaeda, but the position that they have is not one that I want to live in, from freedoms, the future. Politically speaking, neither Hamas nor Fatah are ready for a power sharing agreement. We saw that last year in the Mecca agreement that was brokered between Hamas and Fatah in Saudi Arabia. Neither one is willing to give up their assets, like the control over militias, each one has their own, and redefining the issue of the PLO. Until I see these issues being resolved, and I don’t see them being resolved anytime soon, any national unity agreement and any attempt will be artificial and in my view unsustainable.”

Robert Malley, Middle East and North Africa Program Director for the International Crisis Group, former Special Assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli Affairs:

“With democracy, in terms of intuitions of democracy, what happened to Hamas has been represented as democracy in the region. The results in the eyes of the Arabs were not respected. The peace process, this policy was designed to isolate Hamas and accelerate the peace process between the moderates. The notion being, dividing the Palestinians and having clear cut choice between the two, you can have the moderates go with Israel, and this has not happened. Hamas has the spoiler capability and it will be known if they spoil the peace process. If there is greater bloodshed it will be politically impossible for a Palestinian president to have negotiations with Israel. Increased violence against Israel, how long do you think they will be able to negotiate with constant violence?”

Daniel Levy, Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Policy Initiative of the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation, former senior policy adviser in the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, former negotiator and lead Israeli drafter of the Geneva Initiative:

“In the context of launching a peace process, many questions were not asked. Advance of Syria and long engagement with Islamists. If you pursue all, it is doomed to fail. I am not sure if it is a good idea to put Egypt in a corner where it has to balance between regime stability and Israeli security issues. As the longest standing peace treaty agreement, we should not do that and Israel should not go down that road. Betting on the idea that there will be [fewer] closures, and a freeze on settlement activity and the reaching of an agreement quickly enough will put them on an edge, it is betting on a horse with no legs. It won’t happen. Even Prime Minister Fayyad has said that many of his efforts have been nickled and dimed. You come back and say what your better option is. There is a bit if mumbling, and that is where you are without trying to get Hamas in the picture. If the IDF thinks they had a victory plan, they might have done it within the last few decades. When Israel keeps saying that they can and they will do it, but it means they have questions about its ability of military take over.”


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