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Talking Real Peace in the Middle East PDF Print E-mail
Peace News
Friday, 17 November 2006 08:12
Talking Real Peace in the Middle East

- Rami G. Khouri - When you want to make peace, it is useful to turn to a proven peace-maker. The other day here in New York I had the chance to sit down with one of the successful peace-makers of our time and explore the lessons of his own rich experience, especially in view of current attempts to revive a Middle East peace conference.


Rami Khouri discusses the ingredients for successful peace negotiations with former U.S. Senator George Mitchell. Mitchell was instrumental in bringing peace to Northern Ireland during the Clinton administration, and has done peace work for the Balkans and Palestine-Israel.

Listening to a Peace Pro

Rami G. Khouri

Agence Global
November 17, 2006

Copyright ?2006 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global
[Republished at PEJ News with AG permission] 

NEW YORK -- The man I mean is former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, who spent years in the Clinton administration as the American envoy to the Northern Ireland peace process. He also had brief roles in the Palestine-Israel and Bosnia conflicts, but his great and lasting success was representing the United States over five years in mediating and facilitating the peace talks in Northern Ireland in the late 1990s and beyond.

Few people in the world enjoy his perspective of knowing both the Northern Ireland and Israel-Palestine conflicts from personal diplomatic experience. Because of his eminent sensibility and good judgment -- he served as a judge in his earlier career -- along with his political experience in reaching compromise agreements in American national politics, I thought his views and suggestions on how to approach peace-making in the Arab-Israeli conflict today would be worth exploring. He very quickly proved me correct.

He first cautioned against making too many parallels between the two situations, which have distinct characteristics and contexts, but he also saw some general truisms that pertain to all peace-making attempts. Three in particular were noteworthy. First, he said, all sides in a negotiation must commit to stopping the violence and to reaching an agreement only through peaceful diplomacy. Peace agreements are unlikely to emanate from a context of continuing conflict and lack of trust.

Second, patience and determination are vital. Participants and mediators alike cannot give up when they hit a snag or suffered violent incidents.

Third, one must dispel the notion that some very difficult conflicts are destined to go on forever, and instead affirm that a negotiated resolution can be achieved.

A successful negotiation also needs a fair mediator who is both persistent and impartial; this will help to reinforce the essential perception of the parties that their minimum demands and their basic human dignity can be achieved through peaceful diplomacy.

Senator Mitchell?s experience in the Middle East mainly comprised an international team he led in 2001 after the second intifada had broken out soon after the failure of the Camp David II talks. His team produced a report in 2001 on how to stop the fighting and move back to Israel-Palestinian negotiations. The report was accepted by both sides, with some reservations, but it never achieved its goals because its recommendations were not implemented, due to lack of political follow-up.

Senator Mitchell?s observations are noteworthy today because of the numerous signs in Palestine, other Arab countries, the United States and Europe indicating a growing interest in reviving some sort of international conference to explore movement towards a negotiated, comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace agreement.

My own sense is that chances of success remain slim today, in view of Israel's skepticism and the penchant of most parties with their shallow leaderships to hold onto hard-line positions and remain locked in confrontation and conflict. Yet pressure may build to resume negotiations, especially as an adjunct to progress in Iraq. If so, Senator Mitchell's experience in Northern Ireland should be studied carefully.

He emphasizes the need to engage all relevant parties in any peace process. The Northern Ireland talks never progressed for years because key parties linked to paramilitary groups were excluded. The better approach -- which worked in Northern Ireland -- is to bring in all the main players but insist they commit to a non-violent resolution of their conflict.

The implications for the current situation in the Middle East seem clear. Parties that some people want to exclude from the political process, like Hamas, must have an opportunity to make and exchange views, Mitchell said. He did not directly engage the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in Northern Ireland, but dealt with them indirectly through their political arm, Sinn Fein. The critical breakthrough was to get their commitment, along with the Unionists', to an end to violence as a precondition to talking, though also without their making any prior commitment on the substance of the negotiations or the end result.

He reminds us that all parties to a long and bitter conflict have to have their say and be taken seriously, in order to help reduce the sense of victimization that often defines their community. Those who use violence and then commit to non-violent conflict resolution will do so only if they are convinced that they will achieve their minimum goals through a peaceful process that is mediated fairly by a truly objective third party. The United States is the only external party today that can help negotiate Arab-Israeli peace, he believes, and it should persevere more in the region for this purpose.

Rami G. Khouri is an internationally syndicated columnist, the director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, and editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star.

Copyright ?2006 Rami G. Khouri / Agence Global


Released: 17 November 2006
Word Count: 818


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Agence Global is the exclusive syndication agency for The Nation, The American Prospect, Le Monde diplomatique, as well as expert commentary by Richard Bulliet, Mark Hertsgaard, Rami G. Khouri, Tom Porteous, Patrick Seale and Immanuel Wallerstein

Last Updated on Friday, 17 November 2006 08:12

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