Wither Sharm al Sheik, Part One
Q. Can we really say that a new peace process has commenced?
A.The Sharm al Sheik summit is not exactly a peace process—it’s a political process. There is no negotiation taking place on the most delicate issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For now, it’s just a political get-together, a baby-step initiative to re-instill the confidence missing for some time between the two sides.
Q. So this is just a media event with no serious discussions?
A. While it is true that the results are meager, it represents a turning point following four years of violence. A new tone has been set. So it’s not just a media event.
Q. Who took the initiative in organizing the conference?
A. That was Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has cultivated contacts on both sides. He was the one who thought conditions were right for this summit conference. The Israelis were willing to respond to restraint with restraint and so were the Palestinians, after talks between the Palestinian Authority and the armed militants, starting with Hamas. Egypt actively backs this dialogue, which has led to what the Palestinians call restraint rather than a ceasefire.
Q. The newspaper Ouest-France published an interview on 8 February with former Newsweek Bureau Chief James Goldsborough, who said, Peace between Israel and Palestine is impossible. Ariel Sharon will never offer as much as did Ehud Barak. If they enter into negotiations, the Palestinians will never get what they got from Barak in 2000. It will end in a third Intifada. What do you think?
A. This is an opinion which is shared by most Palestinians. I might add that in the past, most Israelis believed that Arafat was the chief obstacle to peace. Palestinians believe this of Sharon. Palestinians are divided between satisfaction at the current lull in violence and the fear that a true political process, beyond the Gaza pullout, will not follow this respite.
Q. Does Hosni Mubarak act on instructions from Bush?
A. Hosni Mubarak has his own reasons for acting as intermediary because Egypt is not exactly an exemplar of democracy, which Mr. Bush never ceases to reference. By playing the middleman, Hosni Mubarak helps out the Americans, who are hesitant about displaying a more visible role. Doubtlessly Mubarek hopes that he can spare his government and Egyptian institutions criticism by the Americans.
Q. Do you believe that the warming of relations between Israel and Palestine and the reactivation of the Road Map will lead to implementation of the Geneva Accords, or must the initiative be started from scratch?
A. It is still too early to begin talking about the Road Map--a plan which is at the same time very precise yet obsolete because the agreement established 2005 as the creation date for a Palestinian state with definitive borders. The Road Map is an official, international agreement but it’s not the Geneva Accords. The Geneva Accords set out milestones and intineraries to settle the thorniest issues, which are to be examined in the last phase of the Road Map.
To be continued