Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260
TUESDAY 8 JUNE 2004
Q260 Mr Hamilton: Do you think the
road map is dead, especially given what you said earlier?
Dr Ottolenghi: Was it ever alive?
Dr Gunning: It is as alive as
it ever was, which means it is dormant.
Q261 Mr Maples: A lot of us feeland,
Dr Ottolenghi, in your paper you said sothat most of us
know what the shape of a settlement is going to be, if it happens.
How close were the parties at Taba in January or February 2001
and what issues were still outstanding at that point?
Dr Ottolenghi: There is a perception
that Taba was spoiled by the Israeli elections and had it not
been for the victory of Ariel Sharon Taba would have delivered.
In my reading, that perception is wrong, not only because at Taba
a few of the things which had been more or less agreed upon were
reopened for discussion and the gap was broadened, particularly
on territory. It seems to me that the Taba exercise was futile
because an exercise whereby a governmentI am talking about
the Israeli Government nowtwo weeks before elections, with
25 Members of Parliament out of 120 still in the coalition, the
government having resigned, that goes and negotiates the most
fateful issues for a country simply lacks the legitimacy to make
that kind of decision. That is part of the reason why, I am sure,
the Prime Minister in office at the time lost the election. The
public thought that the Prime Minister was going too far in an
electoral exercise, endangering the main, national interests of
the country just for electoral purposes. Secondly, on the outstanding
issues such as Jerusalem and the refugees, despite the fact that
the impression is that Israel conceded more than at Camp David,
the fact remains that the Palestinian side did not necessarily
accept those proposals as finally agreed upon. Taba remains an
interesting exercise but it did not offer a blueprint for peace.
There was no agreement there and since Taba in 2001 the positions
of the two sides have moved away from one another.
Dr Gunning: I fully agree with
this assessment. The irony is that if you look at the kind of
proposals that both the Palestinian Authority and the main opposition
group, Hamas, have made since, they are very close to what was
discussed at Taba, within a range of negotiation, in terms of
the boundaries that were agreed on east Jerusalem and the type
of shared sovereignty. The only issue that was probably a sticking
point then and is still is that of refugees. It depends on the
overall package but if the overall package is sufficiently attractive,
the Palestinian leadership may compromise on the refugee issue.
A group like Hamas which has been taking on the mantle of defending
the rights of refugees since the Palestinian Authority has sold
outthat is their rhetoricis in a particularly good
position to do this. They are the `Sharon' of Palestine. They
are the hard liners. They are therefore in a better position to
compromise on such a difficult issue if they choose to do so.
At the moment, they do not show any sign that they are going to
compromise on refugees but there are signs that they are interested
in some kind of a settlement where they have a post-conflict presence.
They have shown to be responsive to shifts in popular moods. They
realise that there is not the popular will to liberate the whole
of Palestine. There is the popular will for violence as long as
it leads to a two state solution but not beyond that. There seems
to be a shift in the Hamas leadership which has recognised that.
Because they are largely dependent on popular support for their
power base, they cannot afford to alienate that kind of constituency,
especially what you would call swing voters in Britainnot
the core constituency, but the swing voterswhich they have
been increasingly attracting. That is one of the reasons why I
think, ironically, Taba is probably the kind of agreement that
would be conceivable.
Q262 Mr Maples: If somebody took
the Taba agreement and tried to bridge the gap in as objective
a way as anybody can about this situation and then sought to impose
a solution by a UN Chapter 7 Security Council resolutionI
do not mean to seek to impose it by force but to say, "That
is the settlement; these are the rights of refugees; this is the
status of Jerusalem and the settlement for withdrawal of the 67
borders with these adjustments" or whateverand imposed
it in a UN Security Council resolution, you would bypass the difficulty
each side has in finding something they can negotiate with on
the other. Do you think that this is a starter or do you think
both sides would reject it? I do not see them ever getting together
in this grandmother's footsteps way that they have had for 40
or 50 years and somebody has to try to break this log jam because
the repercussions of this completely outweigh its intrinsic importance
and there may be an opposed settlement to say to both sides, "That
is it. We will help you if you want but that is the deal. It is
not going to be changed." Maybe one could get the Arab League
on side for that. They have indicated that they would support
a two state solution. Do you think it is a runner?
Dr Gunning: I do not know about
the Israeli side but on the Palestinian side, depending a bit
on the kind of package that was presented, I think it might work,
as long as there is international involvement, especially international
restraint on Israel. From the Israeli point of view part of the
problem is about Israeli security but from the Palestinian point
of view it is not having any means to make Israel do what they
want it to do. One of the reasons that Hamas has continued to
advocate violence is precisely this idea that they consider Israel
a spoiler of the peace process, just as Israel sees Hamas as a
spoiler. They have calculated that the only leverage the Palestinians
have over Israel is security. They do not have economic leverage.
They do not have political leverage. If they can withhold security
from Israel, that is their power. If the international community
becomes involved and shows that it can, from the Palestinian perspective,
restrain Israel and make it implement its promises, of course
the incentive to violence will decrease. In that respect, it is
very possible that this would work. I think the European Union,
and Britain in particular, are in a very good position to explore
this. They are not necessarily flavour of the month with the Israeli
Government. There has often been tension there but they do carry
much more trust with the Palestinians than the Americans do. They
of course have some economic leverage over Israel in terms of
various trade agreements and the way they have been funding the
Palestinian Authority, so there is an economic incentive there.
With Britain's own experience with Northern Ireland, there are
ways and means by which it could make that experience pay in the
Dr Ottolenghi: If one looks at
the experience of the Camp David talks, the Sharm el Sheikh summit,
the attempt by President Clinton in the twilight of his presidency
to propose a framework for a settlement and then the Taba talks
in the end, one sees that international involvement did no work.
One sees that bilateral talks did not work. One sees that the
players, left to their own devices, could not reach an agreement
and one sees that the players, helped by very powerful friends,
could not reach an agreement. The conclusion of that is that the
agreement cannot be reached. The question is has the equation
changed in the last three and a half years. My feeling is that
it has not changed. If anything, it has become more difficult
because the trust is lower than three and a half years ago, because
the recriminations are higher than three and a half years ago,
because the pain felt by the two sides is more intense and the
consequent diffidence or mistrust in the other side is much harder
to overcome. International involvement is obviously going to help
the Palestinians more than the Israelis because the Palestinians
are the weaker side, but the question is not so much whether that
involvement would or would not be helpful. The question is what
concessions can each side make to meet the other some way in between.
That comes to the question of what is the concern that must be
addressed. My colleague says that Israel's concern is security
and I have to very respectfully disagree with that assessment.
Of course, Israel's concern is with security but that is not the
only concern. The main concern is that if you look carefully at
the way things developed in the last 10 to 15 years what you see
is a striking asymmetry between the two sides. What you see is
that very slowly and very painfully the Israeli body politic has
changed, has shifted. Today, with the exception of the extreme
right, from the centre right all the way to the far left, there
is an agreement that the Palestinians have a legitimate, moral
claim. The question is the extent in practical, material concessions.
How much they get and to what extent would Israel withdraw, not
whether or not they do. There is a recognition of the legitimacy
of the claim. You do not find a similar recognition in the mainstream
on the other side. There is a grudging acceptance that Israel
is there to stay because of its strength but that makes Israelis
very wary because they say, "When we lose our strength or
if the Arab world one days perceives that we have lost our strength,
what is going to happen?" It is that issue of legitimacy
that is compounded in the security question and that is why Israel
will not accede to anything that might reduce its security. With
international involvement, Israel has had a very bad or maybe
mixed review in the past. Whether it is the UN forces in Egypt
or the UN forces in Lebanon, Israel has come to mistrust international
intervention. American intervention might be another question
but that of course, we have just been told, is not pleasing to
the Palestinians. If one thinks of how the Americans are being
received in the rest of the Middle East these days, one wonders
what would happen with American or UK troops on the ground in
Gaza or the West Bank.
Dr Gunning: One thing which is
interesting in this analysis is that the radical discourse on
Israel and the non-acceptance on Israel on the Palestinian side
is only partly ideological and rooted in the fact that they have
lost that land and therefore they want to hang on to it. It is
also partly a function of the radical situation in which people
live. If you look at other conflicts elsewhere, once the situation
becomes deradicalised, more moderate views tend to be more acceptable
and the more radical views become more costly. You could therefore
argue that if there is a process of deradicalisation and normalisation
the radical rhetoric that you hear now will slowly disappear.
Q263 Sir John Stanley: Do you think,
as far as the Sharon Government is concerned, particularly as
far as Prime Minister Sharon is concerned, his disengagement plan
is the first step on the implementation of the road map, or do
you think it is simply a cover for the continuing, de facto
annexation of the most advantageous parts of the West Bank?
Dr Ottolenghi: I have had a lot
of difficulty reading Sharon's mind in the last three years, or
before for that matter. What seems to me the most important aspect
of the disengagement plan is what you can do with it, what the
public will do with it, what the international community will
do with it. The Israeli publicand this is shown poll after
poll, month after monthwants out of Gaza. It wants out
of the West Bank too, interestingly enough. Polls consistently
show a readiness to withdraw unilaterallyi.e., without
anything in returnfrom isolated settlements in the West
Bank, but a much greater willingness to negotiate on the rest
of the settlements and the West Bank if there was a genuine partner,
if there was an end to violence, if negotiations towards a final
status arrangement could result. You have that as a factor. That,
to me, suggests that whether Sharon means well or this is just
a tactical effort to procrastinate, what ultimately will determine
the course of events is what the public wants. Remember, in the
last 12 years, the Israeli public has sent home four prime ministers.
It is not a bad record for such a fractured society and I think
that is ultimately what matters. This is an opportunity that cannot
be missed. It is the first time that an Israeli Government, of
its own free volition, demolishes, dismantles, evacuates settlements.
Whether that is the end game for Sharon or not, it is entirely
irrelevant. What matters is that there is a start, there is a
precedent and the ball will start rolling again. I think that
is what is really important.
Dr Gunning: I largely agree. I
do not have any more insight into Sharon's mind but it seems that
the Gaza plan came about more as a tactical manoeuvre in response
to domestic politics than as a well thought-out plan. Whether
this means that there is going to be a precedent set and that
this will continue into the West Bank is a different matter. At
the moment, my understanding is that the wall is being built and
extended into large settlements in the centre of the West Bank,
cutting the West Bank into three and there is not the political
will in the government to hand over any of that section of the
West Bank. Of course, there is more willingness to hand over the
more difficult-to-manage sections of the West Bankthose
areas with a high concentration of Palestinians where the Israeli
Government does not want to be responsible for Palestinian security.
Withdrawal from these areas is more likely to happen, but I do
not think that withdrawal is likely to happen, at the moment at
least, from the large sections of the West Bank that are on the
Israeli side of the wall.
Chairman: Gentlemen, that has been a
very helpful contribution for the Committee to consider. May I
thank you both very much indeed?
2 Note by witness: The fact that the Palestinian
Authority has shown some willingness to offer Hamas a few ministerial
parts, and that it has finally decided to hold municipal elections
(in which Hamas is expected to get some thirty per cent of the
vote) will only facilitate this process of integration and is
likely to encourage compromise. Back