Palestinian MP Sahar Qawasmi, center, is flanked by Vitaly Naumkin, director of the Center for Arab Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, at left, and Gershon Baskin, Israeli Co-Director and founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information International conference, at right, as they attend the first day of the international summit “Scenarios and Models of the Middle East Peace Settlement”, in La Valletta, Malta, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Lino Arrigo Azzopardi)

Scenarios and Models of the Middle East settlement

Palestinian MP Sahar Qawasmi, center, is flanked by Vitaly Naumkin, director of the Center for Arab Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, at left, and Gershon Baskin, Israeli Co-Director and founder of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information International conference, at right, as they attend the first day of the international summit “Scenarios and Models of the Middle East Peace Settlement”, in La Valletta, Malta, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2010. (AP Photo/Lino Arrigo Azzopardi)Scenarios and Models of the Middle East settlement (Malta, December 9-10, 2010)
Gershon Baskin echoed his views regarding “The role of global and regional actors: separately or together?” and “Syria, Lebanon, Israel – what is next?” and shared his insights regarding “Problems and prospects for the Middle East settlement: is there a need for new ideas?” and “Israeli-Palestinian relations: is there any light at the end of the tunnel?” at the “Scenarios and Models of the Middle East Peace Settlement” conference, in La Valletta, Malta.
The second international conference of the Middle East section of the Valdai Discussion Club “Scenarios and Models of the Middle East settlement” was held in Malta on December 9-10. The conference gathered 51 worldwide known experts on the Middle East from Egypt, Israel, Malta, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Russia, Sweden, the UK and the USA as well as from the UN and the Arab League who discussed the prospects and opportunities of reducing the tension in the region.

The first such conference, held in December 2009 in Jordan, considered the prospects of building a regional security system. According to participants, that forum marked “Russia’s return to the Middle East, highlighting the country’s contribution to sustaining peace negotiations” in this troubled region. It also reaffirmed the critical importance of an Arab-Israeli peace settlement to peace and stability in the broader Middle East.

The aim of the Malta conference was to find new solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict and to elaborate on existing proposals.

Among the themes brought up on the conference were the opportunities for reducing tensions and promoting peaceful coexistence between Israel and Palestine and the broader dimensions of the conflict regarding the roles Syria, Lebanon and Israel play. Focusing on the role of regional and extra-regional actors and prospects for international cooperation, the experts agreed that all the parties understand that the peace process reached a dead-end and underlined a pressing need for the new ideas.

Despite the unanimous resolution by a wide panel of experts from academia, think-tanks, NGOs and government that the peace process has reached a stalemate, among the reasons for which several speakers mentioned Israeli policy that was designed to preserve the status quo, prospects for reaching the long-awaited settlement are bleak but visible.

One of the top conference participants, Evgeny Primakov, the leading Russian Middle East expert with a former prime minister and foreign minister record expressed the mutual opinion that the international efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement are to be postponed until the circumstances would allow the real progress to be made.

Supported by other participants of the conference he suggested to attempt breaking the deadlock by strengthening the international effort. This Primakov argued could be achieved by expanding the Quartet of the mediators to include regional leaders, as well as countries such as China and India.
Jorge Sampaio, the High Representative of the UN Secretary-General for the Alliance of Civilizations, called on participants to pay special attention to the human element in the effort to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. He presented a project to create a special international mechanism that would generate and coordinate efforts aimed at building confidence between the

Israelis and the Palestinians and overcoming mutual hostility.
Former Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Harold Saunders also argued for more citizen diplomacy to foster a mentality of peace among Palestinians and Israelis. As a model worthy of emulation, the experts cited Northern Ireland, which implemented more than 500 programs to improve inter-community trust.

According to the experts, greater Russian participation would also be welcome in the peace process, which is now widely regarded as being streamlined by the Americans. Russia can bring to the table its constructive relationship with all parties to the conflict, including those like Hamas and Hezbollah, which are not seen in the West as legitimate partners. A number of foreign experts went as far as calling on Russia to take the place of the United States, as the locomotive of the international effort in the region.

Russian participants, however, played down this idea, seeing Russia’s role as to “reinforce, not replace.” Russia, as they agreed, should increase its participation in the Middle East peace process in cooperation with the U.S placing emphasis on the work of the Quartet.

The conference was hailed as another sign of Russia’s growing interest in the Middle East issues and of activization of its policy in the region. The discussions and conclusions of the experts gathered in Malta are very timely and important, given the current stalemate in the peace process, the conference participants concluded.

The conference was organized by the Russian News and Information agency RIA Novosti, the Institute of Oriental studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Council on Foreign and Defense policy.