Israel Resource Review 17th September, 2001


Israel Foreign Minister Shimon Peres:
Oslo Process Cannot be Erased
Shimon Peres

The Oslo Process was a moral and a Jewish choice. The late Yitzhak Rabin and I went to Oslo for moral reasons: not because we had no choice, not out of weakness, but with a sense of national mission and historic conscience.

We went to implement the deep internal desire of our people not to control another people. Throughout all the years of Jewish history, we never controlled another people, and our occupation of the territories was the outcome of a security reality. At Oslo there was an historic encounter between historic expectations, necessary pragmatism and a moral choice on the Israeli side, with the new expectations and necessary pragmatism on the Palestinian side.

There is no question that the Palestinian problem is (and remains) the heart of the Middle East conflict. We will apparently know no rest until this problem is resolved by peaceful means. On the Israeli side, we knew that the Palestinians had expectations regarding the right of return, Jerusalem and the map of Israel. However, I believed then, and I still believe today, that problems can be resolved without relinquishing dreams. Not all of our dreams can be realized either.

The right of return was, in my opinion, an Arab dream that is sentenced to remain a dream. I remember that when I proposed to Yitzhak Rabin that we "go for peace with Jordan" (in contrast to the assumption then that we could reach a peace agreement with Syria first), he told me that he did not believe that King Hussein would give up on the issue of refugees and their right of return to the West Bank. I asked his consent to try and check this out with the Jordanian king. And indeed, I found that if we restored land, gave water and preserved Jordan's status on the Temple Mount, we could make peace even without realizing the right of return to inside the State of Israel. I believe that this also holds true for the Palestinians. In Oslo, for the first time, we embarked on a daring path. We went far, without leaving reality behind.

What did we get from the Palestinians?

For the first time, a Palestinian partner was created with whom we could conduct negotiations. A partner that recognized the State of Israel's right to exist and did not call for its destruction. This was not the Jerusalem mufti, this was not the Arafat who replaced him. They were no partners to peace, they were the leaders of a war of terror. Until Oslo, that is. In Oslo, for the first time, there was a Palestinian leader who said and promised to move from violence, to negotiations.

In the letter appended to the Oslo agreements, Arafat crossed the Rubicon and committed to move from bullets to words: The PLO recognizes the State of Israel's right to exist in peace and security and commits to resolve problems by peaceful means, it is written.

It is worth remembering that in order to reach an agreement, one needs a partner, not just a plan. Both of these conditions were created at Oslo. For the first time, there was a Palestinian leader and a Palestinian movement that sufficed with the '67 map (22% of the entire Land of Israel). Even if we did not like this, there was no ignoring the Palestinian viewpoint, which saw this as a compromise.

And for the first time, a Palestinian side was created that was willing to move toward peace gradually in regard to time, authority and place. In other words, five years until a final status arrangement; autonomy before statehood; Gaza and Jericho first.

Incidentally, the Oslo agreement would have never come about if I had proposed "Gaza first," to which I added Jericho (with Yitzhak Rabin's consent of course and with Hosni Mubarak's support).

For the first time, the State of Israel was recognized in fact and in deed, and things began to happen on the ground: terror decreased dramatically, the start of self-rule began in Gaza and Jericho, a new mood prevailed in relations between Jews and Arabs, the peak of which was the Casablanca conference, the most impressive conference on peace and economics ever to take place in the Middle East -- 1,000 political leaders and 1,000 economic leaders from all over the world and the region, including Jews and Arabs.

Thanks to Oslo, we made a peace agreement with Jordan. Israel began to flourish economically, politically and security-wise. New markets opened up and diplomatic relations were established with many Arab states such as Morocco, Tunis, Qatar, Oman and others.

To my great sorrow, Iranian involvement in the '96 elections by means of cruel and evil terror via Hamas and Islamic Jihad led to a change of government by a margin of less than one percent.

This interference was by means of terrible bombs put on buses in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Arafat only realized the danger too late, and only then employed a strong hand against these organizations, he imprisoned their leaders, confiscated their weapons, seized their archives, and in clashes with us, around 20 men of these organizations were killed.

The fruits of these actions against terror were enjoyed by those who replaced me as prime minister.

What did the Palestinian side get?

Recognition of the Palestinian entity; a promise of getting back most of the territory; international legitimacy; gradual release of Israel' control over their lives (a control that in any case we wanted to put an end to for moral reasons. The Jewish people have never wanted to control another people). They tasted the taste of freedom, the hope for independence, the opportunity to build their own house and to be released from the tragedy that was partly of their own doing.

They earned international support to build their own economic infrastructure.

They, like us, began to realize that a good neighbor was better than a big gun.

The results of the '96 elections put an end to the Oslo process.

The frame was built, but the house was not completed. It was left open to the winds and to human doubt.

The Oslo Process real sin was that the agreement was not upheld. We were left stuck in the middle, with one government proposing a too-little alternative, and another government proposing too much.

The balance became lost.

What was sown in Oslo cannot be erased. It began a new chapter, a chapter of hope, a chapter of security, a chapter of good neighbors, a chapter of peace. There is no doubt that this chapter will be completed, sooner or later. No one has any other choice.

Those who deny this can rejoice for now. Those who believe must not despair, neither today nor tomorrow.

This article ran in Yediot Aharonot, September 17th, 2001

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The PLO Perspective:
A Moral Victory in Durban
Sari Hanafi
Director, Shaml Palestinian Diaspora

THE FORUM of non-governmental organizations or NGOs at the World Conference Against Racism can be considered a turning point in the history of the global human rights movement - not because of the victory of one of the longest-suffering victims of colonialism, nor because reparations for slavery were introduced on the international agenda, but because the role of the southern states at this world event eclipsed the usual center stage role of the northern and international NGOs.

Still, the southern NGOs should not be euphoric, as their victory was more moral than strategic. Its practical dividends are very limited and rely upon the ability of the southern NGOs to follow up and widen their discourse.

Inserting new language

The importance of the final declaration adopted by the 3,750 organizations that met in Durban is that it established new language for the victims beyond the legal-bureaucratic standard behind which international NGOs have always hidden. Three developments were prominent, the first of which addresses the apartheid model of Israeli colonial politics. It is not striking that the South African organizations strongly supported Palestinian claims, considering that representatives of the Network of South African NGOs (SANGOCO) visited Palestine during the Intifada and saw first-hand how the Oslo negotiations process has created Bantustans out of the Palestinian territories.

The conference declared that "Israel is a racist, apartheid state in which Israel's brand of apartheid as a crime against humanity has been characterized by separation and segregation, dispossession, restricted land access, denationalization, 'bantustanization' and inhumane acts." Thus, the conference program of action called for the launching of an international anti-Israel apartheid movement similar to that implemented against South African apartheid, which established a global solidarity campaign network of international civil society, United Nations bodies and agencies and business communities and for the ending of the conspiracy of silence among states, particularly the European Union and the United States.

It also called upon "the international community to impose a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state, as in the case of South Africa, which means the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel."

It asked that South Africa "take the lead in this policy of isolation, bearing in mind its own historical success in countering the undermining policy of 'constructive engagement' with its own past Apartheid regime." It also condemned those states supporting "the Israeli Apartheid state and its perpetration of racist crimes against humanity including ethnic cleansing, acts of genocide."

The second development that emerged was, in my mind, a kind of irrational revenge taken by the Palestinians against the Western media and international NGOs' half-hearted criticism of Israeli policies. The declaration generalized the use of "acts of genocide" to refer to what Palestinians, as well as the Kurds, have experienced in their colonial conflicts. It is in general disputable whether Israeli policies can described as such, although in particular cases such as the 1982 massacre of Palestinians in Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps the United Nations General Assembly and the High Commissioner of Human Rights spoke of "acts of genocide."

But what is important here is that the victims set out to alarm international organizations that traditionally only use strong language such as "war crime," "crime against humanity" and "genocide" when Western countries or their interests are parties to the conflict (as in Bosnia, for one). What has happened in developing countries, on the other hand, has usually been described by these same organizations in banal terminology. This declaration was quite rational and even revolutionary in using the words "ethnic cleansing" and "crimes against humanity" in the Palestinian case in such an important document.

The third development of the conference established a separation between anti-Semitism on the one hand and anti-Zionism and anti-Israeli policies on the other. The Palestinians and the Arab delegates insisted on their sympathy for victims of anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish sentiment. They pointed out that the session should separate Judaism as a confession from the political program of Zionism and Israeli policies, so that it be evident that being anti-Israeli is not conflated into anti- Jewish racism (just as being anti-apartheid is not conflated into anti- white racism).

The reperteur of the session on anti-Semitism did not take this into account and forced an article onto the draft declaration that considered all critics of Israel as de-legitimizing the State of Israel and perpetrating a form of anti-Semitism. But when the article was proposed by the ecumenical caucus, 37 of the 39 caucuses - all except the Jewish caucus and abstaining international NGOs caucus - voted to delete this item.

In this debate, the critics of Zionism as a national ideology were largely absent. In fact, many discussions were held previously in Cairo and Geneva and Durban between the Arab caucus members. Most of these members, supported by most of the Palestinian human rights organizations, opposed the mentioning of Zionism. Other organizations, like the Arab Lawyers Union, were in favor. The compromise was that the declaration mentioned the political practices of Zionism and not Zionism as a national ideology and cultural and social thought.

An Arab participant did try to contest the declaration's usage of "Holocaust" with capital "H" on the basis that the lower case "h" includes all communities subjected to the genocidal policies of the Nazi occupation of Europe, notably the Roma and Sinti communities, and to underscore that the term ought not be used to refer to the genocide of only one ethnic group excluding all others. However, the steering committee did not accept this proposition.

It did accept the addition of a paragraph that attempted to highlight anti- Arab sentiment and Islamophobia. The final declaration noted that: "the Arabs as a Semitic people have also suffered from alternative forms of anti-Semitism, manifesting itself as anti-Arab discrimination and for those Arabs who are Muslim, also as Islamophobia."

Voices of the victim and the south are heard Although many believe that the Intifada had a major impact on the sympathy of world NGOs, I consider its role to be quite secondary. I think three other major factors played a hand: the role of the southern organizations in setting the agenda of the conference, the marginalization of international human rights organizations and finally, the importance of the voice of victims at Durban.

Simply, this conference was not like other world and international conferences such as the Social Development Summit in Copenhagen or the World Development Network in Bonn. There, northern organizations monopolized preparations and the setting of the agenda, thus deciding who should talk and for how much time and when. Subsequently, the southern voice was marginalized. (Even when conferences have been held in a southern country, this hegemony has not often differed. When the World Conference on Women was held in Beijing in 1995, China was in isolation from the international scene and took a low profile in the preparations, satisfied with its role as a host country.)

This conference against racism was held in a highly symbolic country that suffered tremendously under apartheid. SANGOCO played a major role in preparing the conference and in the choice of the speakers and the steering committee for the NGO Forum. Furthermore, SANGOCO also organized jointly with Islamic organizations a demonstration of 40,000 people, as reported by the South African newspaper Mercure, on the third day of the conference.

The second important factor in this conference's success was the marginalization of international organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. While they attempted to influence the process behind the scenes, they were grouped into the International NGOs Caucus, which had one voice just like any of the other caucuses.

Inside this caucus there were different positions. In this respect, the International Federation of Human Rights was more sensitive to the claims of Palestinians than others. Amnesty International, on the other hand, had a very curious position. Irene Khan, its General Secretary, intervened in the last session to propose adding to the first paragraph of the declaration the following sentences: "As NGOs, we are a diverse group, representing different constituencies, with varied interests, experiences and perspectives. But we are united in our goal to denounce and combat racism and human rights violations, in whatever form and wherever they occur. The contentious and complex nature of some of the problems should not obscure the broad agreement within the NGO community on a range of issues. A global anti-racist and human rights network is slowly emerging, and no one can afford to ignore its voice." Her point was to say that there are different narratives from the victims and that these narratives did not express a kind of consensus.

During her intervention the head of the Jewish Caucus gave her a paper, which she was ready to read until the public protested. Finally, the chair of the meeting asked the participants if they agreed with her proposal. Only very few hands were raised.

In addition, the international organizations tried to convince some Palestinian members of the NGO delegation to compromise on the language of the declaration in the name of real politics and the necessity of achieving a compromise with the Jewish caucus, despite its small minority. On this, the position of Human Rights Watch was clearer. Reed Brody, Advocacy Director of the organization, declared that the use of the word "acts of genocide" to describe Israeli policies was not precise and that Amnesty was not justified in abstaining in the vote.

The third factor of the moral victory concerns the voice of the victim. Unlike other world conferences, participants were not only those accredited by the United Nations, which are large NGOs and not grassroots voluntary organizations. At Durban, about 3,750 organizations participated, most of them from southern countries. These were represented in the 40,000 demonstrators in the streets of Durban who included South African landless people, anti-privatization activists and, above all, those against apartheid in Israel. The demonstration closed by delivering to the South African president and General Secretary of the United Nations a memorandum of claims. From discussion with the participants, it was clear that this action came largely from grassroots organizations and not from elitist ones. It is not anecdotic to say that only the Palestinian and Jewish caucus had some members who wore ties. Most participants bore T-shirts inscribed with their cause.

Incontestably, this conference is the turning point in the history of the global human rights movement. The shift is not between the classic diplomatic actors and NGO actors, but towards actors who are victims themselves. The victory is hence a moral victory, albeit one not reflected in the conference resolution because international organizations had already set out to marginalize the NGO declaration. United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson even initially refused to receive the declaration from the NGOs, describing it as "rude."

For the future, the Palestinian organizations can learn from this event that they should have more solidarity with other victims. For example, very few Palestinians participated in the demonstrations and workshops for the Dalits, Kurds and Romas. The cultural minorities and groups in the Arab world such as the Amazigh people (referred to by others as Berbers) have yet to get the attention of Arab human rights organizations. The Palestinian delegation did not participate in the thematic caucus, resulting in very little influence. It would help in the future for them to be global and humanistic and not local and parochial in their discourse.

Despite that criticism, one must say that this experience was a rich one for all the southern organizations, one that emphasized their solidarity and the importance of mobilizing the grassroots. -Published 12/9/01 ©Palestine Report

NOTE: For more details about the comparison between the Durban conference and other World conferences, see Hanafi and Taber, "Donors, International NGOs and Local NGOs. The Emerging of the Globalized Elite," Ramallah: Muwatin (2001).

Published in Palestine Report, September 12, 2001

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