At Gakushunin University
3 December 1999
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am so delighted to be here today with you. Indeed, it is a pleasure and privilege to address this distinguished gathering of scholars and students at this prominent university, in this great country.
Far away as it is, the Middle East which I come from has been one of the regions your country has been tremendously interested in over the last four decades. Japanese governments, economists, industrialists and businessmen, for obvious reasons, have been pursuing the various developments in the Middle East very closely. In these decades, our oil-rich region witnessed five wars and no less number of major violent upheavals. Hence, the world's concern over the stability of the Middle East and the involvement of the major economic powers in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Out of its respect for its international responsibilities, Japan has chosen to contribute to peacemaking. Your country, as you are well aware, is a member of one of the multilateral committees (inaugurated by the Madrid process). It has already helped my country and Israel, two major peace partners, implement one of the peace projects. For that we are deeply grateful.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
To the best of my knowledge, I don't think that any communal conflict in this outgoing century has spawned more issues and sub-issues than the Jewish-Palestinian conflict in Mandatory Palestine. After World War II it became the Arab-Israeli conflict. During the Cold War the two super-powers got involved in more ways than one. In the wake of the 1967 war, the Arab-Israeli conflict also became Egyptian-Israeli, Jordanian-Israeli, Syrian-Israeli, Palestinian-Israeli and later, Lebanese-Israeli conflicts.
The Palestinian actor in the conflict broke down over the years into sub-actors, including the PLO, Fatah, PFLP, DFLP, and later Hamas. The PNA came to existence to be the legitimate interlocutor in the peace process.
The Palestinian problem itself broke down into sub-issues, namely refugees, Jerusalem, settlements, water, borders, Palestinian statehood and sovereignty. In a broader context, the negotiations on the Syrian-Israeli track are still stalled. The Lebanese-Israeli track has not been activated at all. In brief, comprehensive peace, both in terms of actors and issues, has not been attained.
Mr. Barak's election as prime minister of Israel last spring was received with a sigh of relief throughout the Middle East and the world at large, simply because it came to end the term of Barak's predecessor, a term which was marked by delays.
Since the 1991 Madrid Conference the peace process has oscillated between the two poles of hope and frustration. Right now we are closer to the pole of hope. Could this phase be the one which will come to fruition? It is difficult to make any predictions, because it is a tough phase. Its toughness emanates more from the nature of the issues reproduced by the conflict than from the readiness of the parties for reconciliation. To both parties, the Israelis and the Palestinians, the final status issues - namely the refugees, the settlements, Jerusalem, borders and water - are existential ones. Besides, most of these issues, especially Jerusalem, are of major concern to other Arab actors. Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are directly involved in the solution of issues of water and refugees. Prime Minister Barak has already stated that Jerusalem will be the eternal Israeli united capital, not all settlements will be dismantled, the Jordan Valley to be retained, and no refugees will return. President Arafat's position on these issues is quite the opposite.
Both Arafat and Barak are fully aware of the painful negotiations the two parties are to conduct on the final status issues. The Sharm Al Sheikh agreement early last September was viewed regionally and worldwide as the harbinger of a rewarding new phase of the peace process. Yet barely had the agreement been signed, than ominous comments started to be made. These comments addressed the time frame set for the agreement's implementation, namely that the final status issues to be negotiated by Israel and PNA could not be resolved within one year and the interim framework agreement to be reached within five months could be the only possible outcome. Such statements don't augur well, simply because they imply that the political will is lacking. The Arab governments have been sending signals reflecting their goodwill since the 1991 Madrid conference. The latest signal was sent during this ongoing General Assembly session, when foreign ministers and diplomats from fifteen Arab countries met with the Israeli foreign minister in New York.
It was the first time that this many Arab diplomats met collectively with a senior Israeli diplomat outside the multilateral negotiations. Reactivating the multilateral working groups will be of great help, not only as forums for exchanging views, but also for accomplishment. The resumption and activation of the Syrian-Israeli and Lebanese-Israeli tracks will make it possible for these two Arab countries to join the multilateral committees. To sustain such a positive Arab trend, Israel should bolster reciprocal confidence. It can do a lot in this sphere. Among other things, Israel should renounce any further unilateral measures in Jerusalem. Ceasing to build settlements is a key measure to sustain the credibility of its good-will.
More importantly, Israelis and the peace partners, especially the U.S., should focus on the attainment of peace rather than the maintenance of the peace process. It is the moment of truth looming on the horizon. Painful but fair decisions are to be taken at this juncture, for either the parties drift in the abyss of violence on a large scale or head to a peaceful, prosperous future with the help and support of the forces of progress and peace. A long interim agreement is not a final peace, nor is a peace process a substitute for peace attainment.
I thank you and wish you all the best.