|Israel Resource Review
||17th September, 2001
Israel Foreign Minister Shimon Peres:
Oslo Process Cannot be Erased
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
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
They, like us, began to realize that a good neighbor was better than a
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
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
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
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-
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
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
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
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
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
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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