Gershon Baskin (second from right) on the podium with world leaders at the interational summit "Scenarios and Models of the Middle East Peace Settlement", in La Valletta, Malta, on Dec. 9, 2010.

Experts discuss models and scenarios for a Middle East peace settlement in Malta

Gershon Baskin (second from right) on the podium with world leaders at the interational summit “Scenarios and Models of the Middle East Peace Settlement”, in La Valletta, Malta, on Dec. 9, 2010.
Gershon Baskin 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”, in La Valletta, Malta.

Participants in an international conference in Malta, like a panel of doctors in consultation, determined why the prescribed medications have not worked and searched for new treatments for the patient – the peace process in the Middle East, which has not achieved a resolution of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

The diagnosis of the fifty prominent experts from three continents who took part in the conference, “Scenarios and Models for a Middle East Peace Settlement,” was unanimous – “stalemate,” “derailed,” even “dead.”

Among the reasons mentioned was Israeli policy, which, according to several speakers, is designed to preserve the status quo while continuing settlement activities in occupied territories.

Delegates blame U.S. President Barack Obama for the fragility of the initial course. After he took office, the White House announced that the peace process is a foreign policy priority and, for the first time, began to operate as a true mediator, without leaning toward one side in the conflict.

Speakers complained about the marginalization of the other members of the Quartet – the UN, Russia and the EU – and they agreed that the U.S. has monopolized the mediation mission in the Middle East.

Experts talked about the schism in the Palestinian movement that has crippled the Palestinian negotiating position.

The Middle East experts also noted the declining interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict throughout the Arab world, which is increasingly concerned about the growing influence of Iran.

“There is reason to believe that because of the current circumstances, efforts to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement can be postponed until better times,” said one conference participant, Yevgeny Primakov, the head of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and a former prime minister and foreign minister.

The status quo, as experts have repeatedly warned, could lead to outbursts of violence, strengthen radical elements and destroy opportunities to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It could also worsen the situation throughout the Middle East and increase threats in the world at large.

WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

Russian participants in the conference suggested strengthening the role of the Quartet. In their view, the Israeli-Palestinian issue and the Syrian issue should be brought together in a draft settlement and it should be presented to the parties in the conflict on behalf of the Quartet.

Mr. Primakov proposed expanding the Quartet to include regional leaders, as well as countries such as China and India. Meanwhile, Arab experts believe that the international community should not try to find new solutions to the Arab-Israeli conflict but rather find ways to implement existing solutions. In their view, Israel is deliberately stalling in order to change the status quo in the Palestinian territories in their favor.

Israelis deny this and are quick to point out that the local situation is gradually improving – the Palestinian economy is growing, the security situation is improving and the administrative infrastructure is taking shape.

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 spoke of the need to use 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. These programs involved 40% of the population versus less than 5% in the Middle East.

RUSSIA – REINFORCE, NOT REPLACE

Virtually all conference participants talked about the need for greater Russian participation in the Middle East peace process, which is now widely regarded as being monopolized 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 called on Russia to take the place of the United States. They proposed reforming the structure of the Quartet, excluding America and including the EU, Japan, China, Turkey and other countries that have more weight and their own interests in the region.

Russian participants did not support this idea. They talked about how Russia needs to “reinforce, not replace.”

“Despite the fact that the United States, with its exclusive mediation mission, has reached an impasse, it cannot be excluded from the peace process. That would be counterproductive… Russia can do many things, but it can’t do everything,” said one Russian expert.

“Russia should increase its participation in the Middle East peace process, not in competition but in cooperation with the U.S. Emphasis should be placed on the work of the Quartet,” he said.

EXPERTS’ EFFORTS ARE NOT IN VAIN
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 documents that come out of such meetings “go to the very top,” said the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Federation Council Mikhail Margelov, adding that the Middle East section of the Valdai International Discussion Club is a kind of laboratory in which new proposals for decision-makers are developed.

Foreign experts stressed that participation in the conference raises awareness about Russia’s interests and goals in the Middle East.

The international conference of the Valdai International Discussion Club, “Scenarios and Models for a Middle East Peace Settlement,” was organized by the RIA Novosti news agency, the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies and the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, with financial support from the Russia’s Federal Agency for Press and Mass Communication. More than fifty experts from three continents attended the conference.