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Highlights of remarks made at Madrid +15: Gareth Evans, President, International Crisis Group, and former Foreign Minister of Australia

01/19/2007

How can we now move forward, to capture and build on whatever momentum this conference has generated? Nobody can be under any illusion as to how difficult a task we face. I have never seen any set of conflict issues on which there is such a huge and depressing gap between, on the one hand, the collective awareness of what needs to be done and, on the other hand, collective impotence when it comes to doing it.

There are reasons for that discrepancy: inherent flaws in the Madrid I and Oslo processes, with their focus on sequentialism, incrementalism and confidence building at the expense of the endgame; inadequate preparation - and time - when a more comprehensive approach has been adopted, as by Barak in 2000; dysfunctional Palestinian - and, let's be frank, Israeli - political systems; U.S. disengagement; European divisions; and insufficient, and inadequately sustained, Arab leadership.

We have learned in turn from that experience some pretty clear lessons, at least among those around this table, as to how any future peace process needs to be conducted:

  • Strong engagement in the peace process by the wider international community is necessary and unavoidable: for reasons including the lack of trust eloquently described by Dalia Rabin, the parties will find great difficulty in reaching any deal alone, without having what Shlomo Ben-Ami nicely called an 'international escort'.

  • Peacemaking needs to be comprehensive. For most of us around this table, for example, it makes no sense at all to leave Syria aside, at a time when we have heard so clearly from its president, and delegation here, that it wants to resume negotiations without preconditions. Ten years ago, the U.S. and Israel would have dreamt of getting the Syrians so readily to the starting line.

  • Interim solutions, unless part of a phased implementation with the final as well as intermediate steps agreed, are a dangerous distraction, much more likely to destroy trust than to build it.

  • Action to revitalize the peace process is urgent. The passage of time, and more time, is not healing the problem but compounding the anger, not just in the immediate region but in the wider Arab-Muslim world. If we wait very much longer we risk another major explosion, and the evaporation of what so far has been extraordinarily resilient support for a two-state solution.

In moving things forward, we can distinguish five distinct roles for the outside players:

I. Do No Harm. Always the first rule in any kind of crisis management, this means here, putting it very simply, that outside parties should do nothing that makes peacemaking more difficult. This may sound self-evident, but as often as not is honoured in the breach, as again is the case today. The U.S. is actively hindering the resumption of Israeli-Syrian negotiation. And the U.S., along with many others, is actively hindering achievement of an intra-Palestinian consensus, doing more to incite internal conflict than to prevent it: if Hamas is groping for a way to square the circle on the issue of recognizing Israel (of which we have seen some further evidence with Meshaal's statement this week) then this is surely the time to be searching for common ground, not dismissing that possibility.

II. Help Create Optimal Conditions for Negotiations. That does not mean chasing illusory trust-building or confidence-building measures, of the kind which - as Shlomo again says - can hardly be conceived between occupier and occupied. But it does mean persuading both sides that a credible process can exist. To mention a few examples: the Arab League can better articulate (as Marwan Muasher did so well in our debate) and flesh out its peace initiative to convince the Israeli people that it is real and meaningful; and Israel can be encouraged to publicly endorse a vision of peace based specifically on that Arab initiative.

Creating the optimal conditions for negotiations also means doing everything we can in the wider world of international public opinion to create an environment in support of both the urgency of conflict resolution action, and a wider understanding that successful outcomes are possible if such action is seriously undertaken.

III. Assist in Preparing for Negotiations. The critical need here is to set up a credible negotiating process, and this is an issue to which a lot of detailed attention needs to be devoted over the next few weeks and months. We've heard different ideas here, and there's a wide menu of options from which to choose:

  • Amr Moussa spoke of an international conference under the auspices of the UN role; others have called for a Madrid II; and there are other ideas about creating some semi-permanent conference structure with significant input from non-government experts.

  • Others have spoken of a re-energized Quartet playing the key role in initiating any new negotiating process, with many focusing on the EU playing a more creative and adventurous role in this context.

  • Others have emphasized the need for the Quartet to be either formally expanded to include Arab members, or at least much more actively and visibly committed to consulting with the key Arab players, and creating common positions, for example, with the Arab League Initiative being brought from the wings to centre stage.

IV. Assist in the Conduct of the Negotiations. One of the ways this could happen would be for the international community (perhaps though the Quartet) putting on the table at the outset its own ideas, fleshing out the Clinton Parameters, Arab League Initiative, and drawing on the Geneva Accord proposals, so as to concentrate everyone's mind on the need for both a comprehensive and endgame-first approach. Whatever else they do, the outside players should develop and support a mechanism which avoids indefinite, open-ended negotiations, and stand constantly ready to help work around negotiating roadblocks as they inevitably develop.

V. Assist in Implementing Agreements Once Reached. For outside players, that means above all providing the necessary economic, military, and political support to ensure that agreements once reached donít fall apart.

So what should we do right now to build on the very productive and stimulating atmosphere of this Madrid + 15 Conference? The most useful follow-on exercise would appear to be for the initiators of this conference to establish, as Sam Lewis has suggested, a small steering group - involving some or all of the sponsoring governments and organizations, together with representatives of the parties to the conflict and the broader region - to explore what kind of process would now be most productive, and to try to set that process in train.

The International Crisis Group a few months ago launched an advocacy initiative of its own - focusing on the Quartet and key regional players - but we claim no monopoly of either ideas or energy, and stand absolutely ready to work with others interested in advancing the themes which have come out of this conference.

We need to think and act quickly to see whether we can integrate our efforts in this way. This conference has achieved something extremely valuable: it has created a moment. And it's our collective responsibility to seize that moment and take it forward.

###

* Gareth Evans is President and Chief Executive of the Crisis Group; Chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Governance Initiative Peace and Security Expert Group; member of the International Advisory Board of UN Studies at Yale; former Foreign Minister of Australia; former Attorney General of Australia; and member of the UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 January 2007, www.commongroundnews.org
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