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The After-Summit!
"Arab leaders declared their own death today. We did not want speeches; we needed action. We needed to punish Israel. My son was a man who defended Jerusalem, and I am ready to sacrifice more".

24 October   |   2000   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

According to the Reuters news agency, these are the words of a Palestinian father from the Jabalya refugee camp. Commenting on the parley of Arab leaders that took place in Cairo last weekend, this man - who has nine more sons and eight daughters - insisted he was proud that his young son had died with a rock in his hand. He was equally upset that the Arab leaders had failed to take stronger action.

With bullets and stones very much in mind, the eyes of the world were indeed riveted on Egypt last weekend. From politicians to would-be politicians, from journalists and analysts to the Arab masses region-wide, everybody was focusing on the deliberations of the Arab leaders as they convened for their emergency summit meeting in Cairo to discuss the increasingly volatile situation in the Palestinian territories. And now, with the release of the final declaration, what are some of the lessons that can be gleaned from the decisions adopted by this forum?

Let me start off by stating that the Arab leaders initiated their discussions whilst being fully receptive to the solidarity of their own citizens with the Palestinians and also fully sensitive to the intense anger of scores of Arabs at the bloody confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis. With demonstrations taking place in so many countries in support of the Palestinian populace, they could not ignore the will of such a self-driven populist effervescence. But they are also leaders who cannot simply overlook the long-term strategic interests of their respective countries. All over the world, there often are differences in the political positions and emotive levels between ordinary men or women in the street and the leadership. The conclusions are not invariably identical; nor are the variables identical! So what were the highlights of the declaration?

  • The summit called for an immediate halt of all provocative acts by Israel and of its policy of repression against its Arab citizens. It affirmed its support for the Palestinian aspirations for its own sovereign territory with al-Kuds as capital. However, the calls for war and holy jihad made by some leaders were not incorporated into the final declaration. Nor was there any decision that Egypt and Jordan should sever or suspend diplomatic relations with Israel;
  • There was a call for the formation of a neutral international investigation committee answerable to the United Nations. Equally, there were calls for the creation of an international criminal court, and for the formation of a UN-based international force or presence that would secure protection for the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation;
  • There was an endorsement for two special funds to be set up to assist the families of all those who have been killed during the bloody confrontations, as well as to preserve the long-term Arab and Muslim characters of Jerusalem;

Given the main thrusts of this declaration, what is the moral of this two-day plenary exercise and what are two of its lessons for the immediate future in terms of Israeli-Palestinian dynamics?

  • It is clear that the declaration emanating from the summit was a ‘temperate’ one - hence the disappointment of some people. Translated into realpolitik, however, this means that the Arab leaders made yet again another strategic choice for peace. Whilst expressing their anger at the deteriorating situation in Palestine and the mounting number of deaths or injuries, they recognised nonetheless that they cannot wage a military war against Israel. As such, they decided - quite wisely under the present circumstances - to keep some channels of communication with Israel open, and more particularly those Egyptian and Jordanian ones. They also decided to grant peace another ‘kiss of life’, in the hope that they could become again effective facilitators once the Palestinians and Israelis agree to resume their negotiations;
  • With the confrontations in the territories unabated - and in hotspots such as Beit Jala exacerbated - since the end of the summit meeting, it is now evident that the Oslo process is well and truly dead and should be buried once and for all. Indeed, Oslo had proven to be a misnomer! It provided a piecemeal approach to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, gave Israel the upper hand in terms of calling the shots, rendered the United States of America the sole broker and was a process that could easily be dragged out for many years. Palestinians in the territories could no longer afford to wait much longer, in view of the decline in their economic status and the infringement of their fundamental rights.

But can those two lessons suffice at this stage when mutual trust is almost non-existent and where bitterness and anger have taken the minds and hearts of both peoples as hostages? Is it still possible to restore confidence between these two protagonists? Since I harbour grave doubts about any short-term breakthroughs, I would like to make a few simple start-up observations. They are based on my faith-centred premise - as yet surprisingly untainted and undiminished - that the three monotheistic religions of Islam, Christianity and Judaism who find a home in the Holy land do not condone violence and that human lives remain more sacred than human blood. But let me divide my observations into two compartments - the first impacting faith and the second politics! Although indisputably linked, each compartment retains nonetheless its own ethos.

  • Hand in hand with an on-going political process, what is sorely needed today is a plea for a code of moral values akin to the Ten Commandments that were handed down by God to Moses at Mount Sinai - as related in the Books of Exodus and Deuteronomy - that would help underpin all future negotiations. And who better to do this than the religious leaders of the three traditions themselves? I would go so far as to suggest the possible advocacy of a facilitating inter-faith body such as the World Conference on Religion and Peace that is active in peace-making and reconciliation;
  • An appeal should go out in the name of the three faiths for an immediate halt to all confrontations, and a cessation of all repressive measures or provocative acts by both sides, that are playing Russian roulette with the lives of both peoples;
  • Large and multiple inter-faith and pacific demonstrations should be organised and led by sheikhs, priests and rabbis together calling for a just and peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two peoples of this land;
  • A joint humanitarian appeal for emergency relief to all those Palestinians who are penned into their separate territories should come out in the names of the religious leaders. Ordinary people can no longer be made to suffer unduly;
  • With Oslo defunct, a dangerous vacuum has been created in the region. To fill this hypoxic vacuum, fresh negotiations should be resumed expeditiously, and they should be based explicitly on the UN Security Council binding resolutions. Otherwise, the region could be sucked once again into further discontent, further violence and further wars;
  • Regardless of the nature of its forthcoming emergency national unity government, Israel should lift the closure of the West Bank and Gaza as much as desist from shelling different parts of the territories almost daily or nightly;
  • The Palestinian leadership should also take ‘time-out’ from the confrontations with Israel, enforce a period of calm and allow the dust to settle so that they could analyse their policy options afresh and adopt a new set of strategies that are more perceptive to the sorrowful loss of lives and to the emerging realities of three weeks of confrontations;

It is obvious to me that all those measures which are meant to restore a modicum of calm and confidence to both parties will be dismissed summarily by the majority of both peoples - let alone by its politicians and journalists - as being utopian, untimely and totally impractical at a time of deep distress and serious violence! But this viewpoint is truly both sad and rash!

It is at such moments of hopelessness and brokenness that all religious leaders world-wide ought to exercise their prophetic ministry and rise above the fray in order to take a decisive moral lead. It is at such moments that they should voice their objection to the menacing situation that hovers above the heads of both peoples. It is at such critical moments that they should look up a vision transcending the ordinary and then act upon it - collectively and with determination. Finally, it is here and now that they should repeat the words of another visionary African American leader, Revd Martin Luther King, who proclaimed ‘I have a dream!’ in Washington DC in the early 1960’s and died later in defending his dream. And perhaps - just perhaps - would the politicians then follow the religious leaders in their reaction to the untamed carnage around them?

If no immediate measures are taken, I fear that the situation will indeed escalate toward even worse violence. This would indicate that Oslo will have been substituted by a long-term and long-time struggle that would claim lives, drain resources, wreak havoc on the economy of the land, lead to further emigration and … ultimately solve the conflict for neither party!

"Do not commit murder" - Ex 20:13, Dt 5:17.

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2000   |   24 October


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