A bombshell was lobbed into an International Meeting in support of Israeli- Palestinian Peace organized by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean Union [PAM] and the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People [CEIRPP] of the United Nations in Malta on 12 and 13 February 2010.
Yet the explosion passed over the heads of those present without scarcely a ripple.
The meeting was attended by a number of Member delegations of PAM, parliamentarians from other national and regional assemblies, government officials, experts including Israeli and Palestinians, UN Member States and observers, intergovernmental and civil society organisations.
In all there were 35 countries, 13 Inter-Governmental Organizations, 14 Civil Society Organizations and Academic Institutions, totaling around 200 participants.
Israel Parliamentarians were not officially represented at the Conference. The two members of the Israeli Knesset were reported by the Malta Times to have pulled out of the conference after they objected to comments by Palestinian officials about the situation in Gaza and the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The bombshell nevertheless was delivered by one of the two Israelis present at the conference - Mr Alon Liel.
Described in the official transcript of the proceedings as “Lecturer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem” Mr Liel told the Conference (as recorded in the transcript):
“he was not representing the Israeli Government, adding that, unfortunately, there was no member of the Israeli Government at the present Meeting. He said that many in Israel felt that the peace process had crashed to the extent that the two-State solution looked impossible at the moment, adding, “You need an unbelievable earthquake, 8 on the Richter scale, on the political map of Israel, to bridge the gap between Israel and the Palestinians”. The talks between Palestinians and Mr. Olmert were over. Even if the Americans managed to arrange proximity talks and enter a hotel and sit in one room, with the existing political map in Israel, “the gap is unbridgeable”. He acknowledged that with a broken heart, but did not see the possibility of a Palestinian State being created in the foreseeable future. And he was not even speaking of Jerusalem or refugees, but about borders only, he said.“
Mr Liel’s modest qualifications as recorded in the transcript belied his extensive diplomatic experience and public service which includes:
•Nov 2000 - April 2001 Director General, Ministry of Foreign Affairs
•1997-1999 Foreign Affairs advisor to Ehud Barak, Chairman of the Labor Party
•1992-94 Israeli Ambassador to South Africa (Non-resident Ambassador to Mozambique and Zimbabwe)
•1990-1992 Consul General of Israel to the Southeastern United States (based in Atlanta, Georgia)
•1988-1989 Foreign Ministry Spokesman; Member of Israeli delegation to the United Nations General Assembly; Member of the Israeli negotiating team at the Taba talks with Egypt
•President of the Israel-Syria Peace Society
Only two people present at the Conference seemed to have absorbed the import of Mr Liel’s statement.
One - a representative from Tunis said he had been optimistic at the start of the Meeting, but he was very pessimistic now after having listened to Mr. Liel.
The other was the Palestine Authority’s chief negotiator - Saeb Erekat who was reported as saying:
“what Mr. Liel had done was “transparent and honest”. He had reflected the facts as they were. The Coalition Government in Israel today was not up to the two-State solution with the 1967 borders. The Palestinian leadership had reached the same conclusion. But that did not mean the Palestinians should give up.“
Mr Erekat’s last comment seemed rather hollow considering the Palestinian Authority’s steadfast refusal to resume negotiations with Israel for the last three months following Israel‘s ten months freeze on residential construction in the West Bank announced last November.
What else can now be possibly done to achieve the “two-state option” - the creation of a new Arab state between Israel , Jordan and Egypt - after 16 years of failed diplomacy and negotiations in attempting to make even the slightest breakthrough?
Mr Liel had previously warned in an interview in Asharq Alawsat on 18 March 2008:
“…we think that peace with the Palestinians today is unrealistic. There is a split between Hamas and Fatah, and there is a coup in Gaza, which has exacerbated the situation. There are burning issues the present government cannot resolve now, such as the issues of Jerusalem, the refugees, and the borders. These are very difficult issues.”
What was true in 2008 is even more valid in 2010. Nothing has changed in those two years.
Further negotiations with the Palestinian Authority will assuredly prove to be a complete waste of time and effort.
The Palestinian Authority’s use by date and credentials to negotiate the future sovereignty of the West Bank have well and truly expired.
Yet those present at the Malta Conference continued to repeat the need for the Jewish-Arab conflict to be resolved by the creation of yet another Arab State in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. Like ostriches with their heads in the sand - they failed to listen to what Mr Liel and Mr Erekat were telling them.
Perhaps those present at the conference should heed what Mr Liel had to say almost ten years ago on 1 November 2000 when taking up the position of Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry in the aftermath of the failed Camp David negotiations brokered by President Clinton:
“The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has suffered a terrible blow, just as Israel and the Palestinians were on the very brink of realizing their dreams of peace and reconciliation. At the last kilometer of the marathon, as we were nearing the finishing line, Arafat turned around and ran back in the opposite direction. This retrogressive and illogical action goes against the tide of history, it is contrary to the wishes of the international community, and it is surely detrimental to the interests of his own people. Arafat started running in the opposite direction, and he has not stopped for a moment. In doing so, he has harmed the peace process, while undermining his own standing and personal reputation. Arafat has chosen to renounce his status as a statesman, preferring instead to revert to his old role as the leader of a campaign of incitement, violence and terrorism. Arafat has a golden opportunity to lead his people to a new and promising future. Instead, he has taken a dangerous step backwards towards the abyss.”
Mr Liel’s words could be just as appropriately applied today to Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection of the peace offer made by Israel’s former Prime Minister - Ehud Olmert - in 2008.
Whilst the international community continues talking - and not listening to those with intimate knowledge and understanding of the hopelessness inherent in bringing the two-state option to fruition - both Jews and Arabs are set to endure a lot more suffering and trauma before the reality sinks in and a new course is charted to try and bring some closure to the conflict.