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Assuming the risk of peace in the Middle East - Op-ed by Dominique de Villepin published in the daily newspaper "Al Hayat"

Palestine-France, Politics, 9/22/2003

In an Op-ed published in the daily newspaper "Al Hayat", France’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dominique de Villepin said:

Ten years after Yasser Arafat and Itzhak Rabin signed the Washington Declaration, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is experiencing what may be its worst situation since 1967. Violence is a daily matter. The Second Intifada is entering its fourth year, with nearly 3,500 deaths. The "road map" has broken down. Palestinians and Israelis, who had drawn closer thanks to the Oslo Process, are today divided by deep hostility.

Have we entered an irreversible spiral of violence? Can we leave these two peoples with no other prospect than more suffering and death? Is the international community, which has been able to resolve complex conflicts in such places as South Africa and the Balkans, incapable of bringing justice, security and hope to Israelis and Palestinians? We must mobilize to act and encourage all those who wish to move forward toward peace.

The road map launched in Aqaba this past June was interrupted after four months. This is all the more striking in that the two parties accepted it, and it is supported by the United States, the European Union, Russia and the UN.

We can break the current deadlock only if the parties, together with the international community, respect certain key principles.

The first principle: to risk peace, to choose resolve over chaos. Otherwise, no plan will succeed. Uncertainty will lead to more violence and economic stagnation.

The two peoples continue to want peace and are willing to accept the sacrifices that implies. All the polls indicate this. It is up to their leaders to listen to their will while taking into account the things that nurture the fears, frustrations and incomprehension of the other side.

The second principle: to abandon ambiguity. Now more than ever, the mistrust between Israelis and Palestinians demands clarity, especially on the objectives of the negotiating process. The road map indicates the goal to be achieved: two states living side by side in security, the end of the occupation begun in 1967, and Israel's recognition by its neighbors, first and foremost of those being the Palestinians. Palestinians and Israelis must acknowledge clearly to one another that the other side has the right to exist within internationally recognized borders.

The things that seemed to be taken for granted after years of effort are seemingly being called into question. The mutual recognition achieved in Madrid and Oslo is less evident. The commitment to the 1967 borders itself seems fragile. But there can be progress only if each side admits the rights of the other, starting with its territorial rights.

We are all bound by international law: The Palestinians must not take advantage of the resolutions based on their demands while forgetting that it was a UN resolution that created the State of Israel. The Israelis cannot argue that they have inalienable rights as a result of UN decisions and not take into account those decisions that affirm the rights of Palestinians.

The third principle: To put an end to the logic of preconditions, which is a recipe for failure.

Demanding gestures from the other side without making them oneself freezes any movement. Likewise, the decisions of one side lead to decisions on the part of the other. The Israelis must be convinced of the Palestinians' determination to stop violence through concrete actions: the arrest and conviction of terrorists; the suppression of terrorist facilities; the collection of weapons; the drying up of financial networks. The Palestinians can move forward only if Israel makes decisions on the dismantling of settlements, prisoners, the curfew and free movement within the Territories, concretely demonstrating its own desire to move forward.

Focusing on President Arafat personally is justified neither by logic nor by principles: No meaningful deal may be sealed between Israelis and Palestinians without his agreement, and moreover, how can one call for a democratic Palestine while objecting to the particular individual elected by the Palestinians?   Like the rest of the international community, France and Europe reject the threats of expulsion against Yasser Arafat, a decision that President Chirac said would be a "grave error" if implemented.

The security precondition, as we have seen these past few weeks, leads to nothing. It prevented negotiations from taking place without giving the Israelis greater security. It gave the terrorists control over the calendar. It is based on the false idea that eliminating a given number of militants could "clear the board" of the elements most hostile to peace, when to the contrary, such unjustifiable actions only create new members.

France does not compromise with terrorism. It agreed to Hamas's inclusion on the European list of terrorist organizations after that movement claimed credit for the attack that killed 22 Israelis on August 19 in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, we indicated at the same time that such a decision would naturally be reversible if Hamas agreed to renounce violence and terrorism in favor of political action.

France cannot fail to react after such a grave act, even through it knows that the responsibility for the failure of the truce is shared. However it asked the European Union to stress in a strong declaration on September 11 both parties' political obligations to apply the road map.

The fourth principle: to move fast. The road map is already running behind schedule. We must make up for lost time. This phased plan is incumbent on everyone. The crucial element ensuring that the populations stick to the process is the swift appearance of concrete results.

That is what will make supporters of violence lose ground among the Palestinians and provide Israelis both with more security and the conditions for economic revival. A political crisis engenders an economic crisis; peace permits prosperity.

The fifth principle: to act collectively. This was one of the most promising aspects of the Quartet's work. Because all opinions count, because the sum total of all the parties' experience enhances our chance of success.

There will be no lasting solution without unity on the part of the international community. From this standpoint, the absence of three Quartet members in Aqaba is regrettable.

Europe must play a role in the resolution of this conflict. As Israel's leading trading partner and financial backer for the Palestinians, it developed most of the principles now admitted as the basis for settling the conflict. Europe seeks no strategic or economic advantage in its effort on behalf of peace. But it cannot serve merely as a "suggestion box" or a "checkbook" used to ease the effects of occupation on the Palestinian Territories.

Europe must play a full-fledged role in the peace efforts. That is why the Quartet must "meet regularly at the ministerial level to assess the way in which the parties are implementing the plan," as the road map says.

On the basis of these five principles, we have a collective duty to act.

Betting on the break-up of power among the Palestinians is a short-term calculation. To the contrary, we must help the prime minister, Ahmed Qureia; help him to show the Palestinians that you get more results through negotiation than through violence. France will devote itself to this.

The tragic events of recent weeks seem to challenge the great principles that presided over the development of the road map and its calendar. We think, to the contrary, that it is important to stick with this peace plan, accelerate its implementation and make it irreversible. On what basis? The clear affirmation, here as in Iraq, of the principle of sovereignty. It is indeed an essential prerequisite to responsibility on the part of all sides. How can this be translated into reality? By recognizing a Palestinian state living side by side with the State of Israel; through support from the international community; but also through democracy: Why not plan a referendum in which each of the two peoples can vote for peace?   These prospects should be at the heart of the international conference provided for by the road map. It should constitute a major step forward by marking the world's commitment to the resolution of this conflict through a peace process whose indispensable global nature shouldn't be forgotten. Indeed, the Syrian and Lebanese tracks are key to a lasting settlement.

At the same time, let us very quickly examine the modalities of an international civilian and military presence on the ground.

The Israelis need security: It is an inalienable right. Neither repression nor the wall being built will provide it for them. The Palestinians need to see the occupying army that stifles their economy leave. They also need strong technical assistance to rebuild public services. For the paralysis of the Palestinian administration has led them toward radical groups who do provide such services.

The international community is not powerless to deal with these questions. It has deployed forces elsewhere that restored calm. It has re-established administrations destroyed by conflict elsewhere. We are aware of the risks of such a mission. They are the risks of peace.

Clearly, such an international presence is possible only with the parties' agreement. But would they have anything to lose? Certainly not the Israelis, whose security would be guaranteed by the presence of soldiers from the world's major powers. Certainly not the Palestinians, who would see the Israeli army leave in favor of a temporary international force, and would receive considerable assistance to build their State. Certainly not the international community, which could finally envision an end to the conflict.

Once again, we must move fast. The Middle East is being torn apart. Crises prevent it from developing, modernizing, integrating itself into the international economy. It is our duty and our interest to help it emerge from this quagmire and regain its confidence. The shock experienced by Iraq, the aggravation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are so many additional blows to a region split between rage and resignation. Feelings of injustice, of the existence of a double standard, are linking these two crises and engendering dangerous defiance toward the rest of the world.

The Arab states have accepted Israel's existence, as demonstrated by the courageous initiative of Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, which was endorsed by the Arab Summit of March 2002. A large majority of Israelis accept the Palestinians' right to have their own state. These are major developments.

There will be inevitable concessions and painful doubts. But we must take the lesson of the current deadlock to heart by mobilizing our energies and accelerating movement in every domain. Together, with all the parties and countries of the region, let's assume our responsibilities: Let's use the force of peace to create, tomorrow, a Palestinian State, the only true guarantee of Israel's security. This is the ambition we must embrace and we have the duty to fulfil it with lucidity, responsibility and determination.


How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?

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