Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Nomi Bar-Yaacov, Foreign Policy Adviser on Middle Eastern Affairs


  What should HMG policy focus on with regard to the Middle East Peace Process? What should Tony Blair, the new Quartet envoy focus on?


  HMG should give its full backing to Mr Blair, the newly-appointed Quartet envoy, whose mandate should to be expanded to include a serious political role if he is to stand a chance in succeeding in his mission. Mr Blair is unlikely to be able to achieve progress on the institution-building and economic front (his current mandate) unless his mandate is expanded to include a political and security role.

  HMG and Mr Blair's top priorities should be to get humanitarian aid and the flow of goods into Gaza in order to avoid a humanitarian disaster in the Strip, and to support President Mahmoud Abbas and his Emergency Government in order to help stabilize the situation in Palestine and avoid a return to violence.

  Support to the Emergency Government should include not only the resumption of direct aid to the Ministry of Finance, but also the resumption of meaningful peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. This should address the thorniest issues in the conflict, including final borders of the two states, the status of all settlements, the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. Prisoner releases, Israeli release of Palestinian withheld tax revenues, the lifting of restrictions on the freedom of movement, and the halting of targeted killings are all welcome confidence-building measures (CBM), but they are insufficient at this stage to restore confidence in a peace process. It is important to link confidence-building measures to serious negotiations on a comprehensive peace settlement.

  A genuine effort to address the needs of Palestinians living under occupation is vital. What they need is a real, not only verbal, commitment to a viable and contiguous Palestinian state. It is therefore necessary to focus on securing an end to occupation now, if the vision of a two-state solution is to be realized.

  The West Bank and Gaza must be treated as one entity for the purpose of peace negotiations. After the violent takeover of Gaza by Hamas in mid-June, the West Bank and Gaza have effectively been severed politically. Gaza must not be left behind in the political process.

  Current HMG and Quartet efforts should also focus on getting the Palestinian government to release the IDF's Corporal Gilad Shalit who was kidnapped from Israeli sovereign territory in June 2006. His release coupled with the release of Palestinian prisoners would serve as a vital confidence-building measure.

  It is important for the Quartet to devise a strategy to monitor and limit the smuggling of arms through tunnels from Egypt into Gaza.

  After the short-term goals of strengthening Abbas and the Palestinian Emergency Government are met, attention should be given to promoting a process of reconciliation between the Palestinian factions. It is counter-productive to ignore Hamas' victory in the January 2005 elections, and popular support for the movement, especially in Gaza. Hamas is part of the fabric of Palestinian society and engaging with the movement is the only way to prevent radical elements within the movement side-lining more pragmatic moderates. Polls indicate that if elections were held in the Palestinian Authority (PA) today, Hamas would get a third of the vote.[38]


  Both HMG and Mr Blair, as the Quartet's representative, should focus all efforts in the short term on supporting the newly-formed Emergency Government in order to avoid the collapse of the PA and a return to violence.[39] The Emergency Government is only a temporary government according to Palestinian law and given that it excludes members of both Hamas and Fatah, the two largest Palestinian parties, it clearly cannot represent the Palestinian people for long. Therefore, once the situation stabilizes, attention will need to be given to a national process of reconciliation. It will be up to the Palestinians to decide whether they choose to hold fresh elections, or whether they opt for a new National Unity Government.


  Following the violent takeover of Gaza by Hamas in mid-June 2007, the question of how the international community should deal with Hamas has become even more complex. It would appear that the international boycott of Hamas has strengthened the extremes and marginalized the more moderate pragmatists, like former Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, who received nothing in return for his more conciliatory and progressive approach. The mood in Gaza at present is extremely defiant.

  The Quartet should judge Hamas by its performance: its actual commitment to non-violence should be judged by its adherence to a Hudna or ceasefire and its willingness and ability to control and crack down on opposition groups like Palestinian Islamic Jihad which advocate violence against Israel and oppose any peace process.

  Recognition of Israel should also be judged by Hamas' willingness and commitment to negotiate with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders. Hamas' agreement to empower President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate on its behalf should have been welcomed at the time.

  The issue of recognition of previous agreements is tricky since neither Israel nor the PA have carried out many of their obligations under Oslo, the Road Map and other interim agreements. Hamas' commitment to respect previous agreements, as stipulated in the Mecca Declaration of March 2007, should have been welcomed by members of the Quartet. It should have been viewed as a cautious first step, even if it falls short of the Quartet's demand of Hamas to declare full recognition of the State of Israel's right to exist. Small steps in a difficult process must be viewed as progress and should be encouraged.


  Both HMG and the Quartet, under Mr Blair's leadership, should put pressure on Israel to negotiate final status issues with the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas have agreed to meet bi-weekly. Confidence-building measures like prisoner releases and the transfer of withheld tax revenues are welcome, but they are unlikely to achieve their purpose unless they are linked directly to negotiation on a comprehensive peace settlement.

  In addition, HMG and Mr Blair should put pressure on Israel to dismantle the 102 illegal outposts in the West Bank and stop the expansion of settlements. The importance of settlement expansion should not be underestimated by HMG and the Quartet envoy.

  Mr Blair should also engage in discussions with Israel about the possible lifting of the multiple restrictions on movement of Palestinian people and goods since the Palestinian economy cannot function without freedom of movement. The Palestinian residents of Gaza should not be held hostage to Hamas' take-over of the Strip. The crossings between Israel and Gaza should be opened urgently allowing the flow of goods to resume in order to avoid a humanitarian disaster.

  More withheld tax revenues should be released to the PA and more prisoners released as part of a meaningful process.

  All of these actions would serve as vital confidence-building measures. They should be set as benchmarks for the peace process rather than undertaken as isolated ad hoc actions.


  The Quartet should work closely with the Arab Quartet, namely Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They have an increasingly important role to play in the peace process.

  The political process, security and economics must all be top priorities for Mr Blair, and addressed in tandem. One of the key mistakes that the Quartet made in the past was to allow the US to handle alone all political and security issues while the EU and UN were assigned to deal with economic aid. The latter found themselves pouring vast sums of money into a bottomless pit due to continuing insecurity and the lack of a meaningful political process. The only way to avoid this happening in the future is for the EU and UN to have a role in the political and security spheres too, working in close partnership with the US.


  There is a short window of opportunity now for a serious push to resume talks on the so-called final status issues: borders, settlements, Jerusalem and refugees.

  There is overwhelming support in the Israeli public for a peace deal and a window of opportunity to re-build trust is now open and it must be seized.[40]

  The parameters for final status are known to both parties to the conflict. The Arab Peace Initiative, endorsed by both Fatah and Hamas is an important landmark. It is not a peace plan, but rather a declaration of overture by the entire Arab world towards Israel on the basis of key principles. It rightly leaves the actual negotiations to the Israelis and the Palestinians. Other important framework documents include the Clinton parameters of July 2000, the Taba document of January 2001, and the more recent Geneva Initiative. All these can form a basis for serious peace negotiations. The Road Map is unlikely ever to be implemented since neither side is likely to carry out its commitments under Phase 1 of the plan. The Palestinians are called upon to dismantle all terrorist infrastructure and the Israelis to withdraw from much of the West Bank. The dismantling of terror infrastructure is only likely to come at the end of a peace process, not at its beginning.

  Mr Blair should engage with the Arab League and the Arab Quartet in discussions on how to best implement the Arab Initiative. The EU should also encourage the Arab League to reach out to the Israeli public, to engage in confidence-building measures which will help persuade Israelis that peace really has a chance. More work needs to be done by Arab states and HMG in the area of Israeli and Palestinian public opinion. In a recent Tel Aviv University March Poll, it was revealed that half the Israeli population was not aware of the Arab summit in Riyadh in March and has never heard of the Arab Peace Initiative.

  The disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration of armed personnel belonging to the various Palestinian factions will be key to achieving a lasting peace settlement. It should only be expected that DDR will succeed as part of a political process when sufficient guarantees have been given to the various armed groups that their security will be assured. Hamas is unlikely to ever give up its arms before a deal is done. It is simply not how the movement works, and based on experiences from other countries, including Northern Ireland, this should not come as a surprise.

  Similarly, Israel is unlikely to withdraw from parts of the West Bank without an agreement since it will be concerned about Palestinian groups arming themselves very close to the border with Israel. Israel has not had much success with its unilateral withdrawals.


  One of the main problems in the PA is the multitude of security forces and the factional allegiances they hold. Most members of the Presidential Guard and the Preventative Security Service are allied to Fatah. That is why Hamas created its own security force, known as the Executive Force, which took control of Gaza in only four days of fighting in mid-June. It is important to recognize that Hamas views this move as a pre-emptive strike against Fatah.

  Creating a unified and competent security apparatus in Palestine will be one of the most difficult challenges facing Mr Blair, but also the most important one. The scale of the challenge should not be under-estimated by international actors who are placing pressure on President Abbas to restore security in Palestine. As with DDR, it is not realistic to expect significant progress in integrating the diverse security forces into a national force unless this task is approached hand-in-hand with the political and economic components.

  Mr Blair should engage with other international partners to support a comprehensive Security Sector Reform (SSR) programme, with each partner working in their area of comparative advantage. This task is too delicate to be left to one country to lead. It is also imperative that there be a coherent framework for international assistance in the security domain. This will be necessary to ensure that donors do not work at cross-purposes. An appropriate balance must be struck between improving the governance of Palestinian security forces and bolstering their capabilities.

  Striving for "One Authority, One Gun" should be the aim of SSR in Palestine.


  It is important to support the new Emergency Government directly and to ensure that it funnels appropriate funds to Gaza.

  Following the victory of Hamas in the January 2006 elections, the EU devised a Temporary International Mechanism, known as TIM, to bypass dealing directly with the Hamas government. The TIM is intended to ensure that money gets to Palestinians in need and that salaries to PA employees are paid, at least in part. It basically provides a social welfare net.

  The EU must now work towards the goal of creating a Palestinian economy which will replace the TIM. Palestine must not become a welfare-state.

  It is time to engage directly with the Ministry of Finance, headed by Salam Fayyad who is currently Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Finance Minister. He is a man well known to the HMG and other members of the Quartet, a former finance minister in the previous Fatah government to whom much credit was given by donors for the reforms he carried out at the time.

  More efforts should be made to ensure the freedom of movement of goods. Israeli restrictions on the movement of goods are often intrinsically linked to security. More creative thinking is necessary in order to ensure that goods get in and out of the PA, especially Gaza, also in time of strife.

  A prosperous Palestine is in the interest of not only Palestinians but also Israel and all neighbouring countries. Only prosperity will bring stability, and only security and progress in the political process will allow for vital and urgent economic reforms to take place.


  HMG should support the immediate resumption of Syrian-Israeli peace talks. The contours of such an agreement are known to both sides and the time is certainly ripe. A Syrian-Israeli agreement will in all likelihood lead to a Lebanese-Israeli agreement and would greatly facilitate an Israeli-Palestinian comprehensive agreement as well as the normalization of Arab-Israeli relations in the region.


  In sum, it is time for the Quartet to move from thinking along the lines of conflict management to actually getting into the nitty-gritty of conflict resolution. It is time for the Quartet to come up with a detailed and comprehensive peace plan, with a new strict time-line. The required parameters are known to both sides and further time should not be wasted.

  Mr Blair should also engage more broadly, by reaching out to public opinion both in Israel and the PA, helping to explain the Arab Initiative, stressing that it is a beginning rather than an end in itself, and helping to bridge the gaps in knowledge and perception across the Palestinian and Israeli divide.

  It is time to discuss the thorniest final status issues and overcome the taboos. In order to be effective, the new envoy will require a broader and stronger mandate than his current one and HMG support to chart a new path, a new approach, severing from past policies, which led nowhere.

17 July 2007

38   According to a Poll conducted by Khalil Shikaki's Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) on 26 June 2007, if new parliamentary elections were held that day, Fatah would receive 43% of the vote and Hamas 33%. Support for all other third parties combined stands at 12% and 13% remain undecided. Back

39   According to a Poll conducted by Khalil Shikaki's Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) on 26 June 2007, support for the formation of an emergency government stood at 56% and opposition at 38%. It is noteworthy that opposition to the emergency government stood at 47% in the Gaza Strip. Back

40   A Poll conducted by HaGal HaHadash in Israel in July 2007, published in English on 17 July 2007, found that 66% of the Israeli population supports resumption of final status negotiations immediately with PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Back

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