Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 40 - 59)



  Q40  Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr Khalidi. Are you happy that we move straight on now to the questions?

  Mr Mekelberg: Actually, the questions reflect what I want to say.

  Q41  Chairman: What I would draw your attention to in these questions is that we are concerned about the European Union and the Middle East, as we are of course a Committee which is considering the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union. I would be grateful if you would like, both of you, to indicate how you characterise the current situation regarding the Middle East peace process. Mr Mekelberg?

  Mr Mekelberg: One of the problems with the second and third points which Ahmad made is this issue of the peace process. We had nearly 14 years of process without peace and the problem of setting pre-conditions all the time without converting it into a peace agreement. How can we move much quicker in a more determined way into signing peace, assuming that we are all talking about a two-state solution? If this is still on the cards and we agree that there is a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on a two-state solution, and we have not moved to something which is damage limitation and conflict management, or alternatively to a one-state solution, which I am definitely not a supporter of, so if you believe that a two-state solution is the one that can guarantee security, can guarantee the prosperity of most people, and then we have to take into account the wider Middle East, then we need to find a process. One of the questions refers to the Road Map and if it is still viable, so to make a process where there is no emphasis, what we saw since 1993 is an emphasis on the process and not enough on the end game, where it leads to. The Road Map, for the first time there were some asking what was the end game, where was it all going to lead. One of the problems now is the regional commitment on any level. If you look at all the main potential participants in such a peace process, none of them is committed, none of them is capable. For a viable peace process we need viable, legitimate governments that can function and can make decisions. We need it in Israel, we need it in Palestine, we need the European Union, and you know the European Union is a committee and it is probably difficult, is it Eastern European? Are we talking about the Union as a Union or are we talking about 27 countries? Can we achieve the Common Foreign and Security Policy on this topic or not, and the United States; wherever we look we cannot see strong enough governments, or capable enough governments that can deal with the peace process. Let me say, Washington is important; following the mid-term elections in the United States it is very difficult to see an administration there that is committed day in, day out, week in, week out, for negotiations, mediation and to take the necessary first step to reach a two-state solution. In Europe it is a problem to reach a Common Foreign and Security Policy. Britain under Tony Blair has played a very significant role in the peace process; some would say positive, some others might tell you not. I think Tony Blair played a significant role in that. He is about to leave office. We do not know how the next administration here in London is going to deal with the peace process. Then come the Israelis and the Palestinians and we have two Governments which lack legitimacy in order to sign any peace agreement, a permanent, final status agreement. On the Israeli side, especially following the fiasco of Lebanon, the Israelis are waiting for the Winograd Report, the commission by High Court Judge Winograd, and whether this Government can survive at all is at the mercy of this committee, and anyway the political system is not very stable right now. There are other issues; you have probably read. The President is about to face trial, other ministers, so it is not a kind of Government that I can see can take bold decisions in the direction of peace. On the Palestinian side, and I am sure Ahmad is in a better position to deal with the Palestinian side, there is a dual, if not triple, administration now between the PLO itself, which is the legitimate source of negotiations with the Israelis, and then the Palestinian Authority which is divided at least between the Fatah and the Hamas and beyond. This does not seem—and what we have seen recently where we have seen clashes occurring and let us hope that it does not deteriorate into a civil war—to be a situation which is conducive to a proper peace process. It is also the commitment you see. We have too many "Kodak" moments in all these forces. The Secretary of State comes and visits, they all simply leave, and Abu Mazen, go to Davos and have a meeting, so another photo opportunity. There are too many photo opportunities without the link with the real issues, which is, at least to start with, the humanitarian issue among the Palestinians, ensuring security, and beyond it is the general situation, so the general situation right now in the Middle East, which I think is also not conducive to the peace process.

  Dr Khalidi: My comment will look at actually two or three of the questions together, if you do not mind, rather than one by one, because they are all linked. I have to disagree very slightly with Yossi here. There is a sense at the moment amongst the international community, including the United States, and certain elements on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides, that there may be reasons or an opportunity now to try to get the peace process back on track. The argument stems largely from the view that dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict at this juncture will help to realign forces in the area towards other threats, other perceived threats, ranging from Iran to radical Islam. One of the elements of the Iraq report, the Baker-Hamilton Report, which was not adopted in its entirety but one of the elements which may just have sunk in to some parts of the administration in Washington, including the State Department, is that, yes, indeed, some attempt to address the Arab-Israeli conflict will help. The question is what kind of address or management and what direction and what the outcome is likely to be. The consensus at the moment, as far as I understand it, in Washington and within the Foreign Ministry in Israel, is that perhaps there is a way in which you can merge phases one and two of the Road Map and then try to link this to a very general outline, agreed principles, on what the final status would look like. You would move in a clear direction and address Palestinian concerns, which have always been, "How can we enter a process when we don't know what the end result will be?" Here, rather than do a full, comprehensive, final status agreement, you set yourself a more limited goal of limited principles, a framework of principles, with a timetable, so you act in two or three phases, incorporate elements from the Road Map but you elucidate the final status without necessarily having a full final status agreement and you enter into negotiations on that later on. The rationale behind this is not only based on perhaps a sense from some of the Arab countries, the United States and Israel that there is another threat looming on the horizon, but also, and precisely because most of the leaders in the area are weak, this may be, in fact, an incentive to them to try to achieve something. Part of the argument says that Ehud Olmert, for instance, needs political movement for the Palestinians in order to restore his own credibility and justify his own move away from what he promised his people, which was he was going to do it unilaterally. Now he says that he is willing to do it through negotiations, and precisely because he is weak there is a need; and the same applies to the Palestinian side, although the Palestinian side has its own problems, which we can talk about later. The important thing for me here is that although this is an approach which may have some traction, my argument would be that the only way you can get substantial movement on the peace process now is to marry between two things. First, a robust external role, not one of pure crisis management but a really strong, robust, supporting role from the United States and the EU; and, second, a link-up to the regional dimension, whereby you bring in regional parties, and specifically, in this case, Syria. I would say that one of the keys to moving on the Palestinian track would be to incorporate Syria into a broader negotiating process, because this will have a positive impact on the Palestinian track, it will increase the pressures on Hamas, it will broaden the prospects for peace and it will correspond to what the Arabs have been calling for, for some time, under the guise of the Beirut 2002 peace initiative.

  Q42  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Could we ask Mr Mekelberg whether he agrees with the point about Syria? I thought that was a very important point which has just been raised and I would be interested to hear whether you agree with that point?

  Mr Mekelberg: I agree in principle. I think it will not work. I think, if we can look for a comprehensive peace process, which includes Syria and will take Syria outside the conflict equation, it is desirable, and if we hear correctly, they were just recently negotiating and almost what stood between peace was the park around the Sea of Galilee, so it is a lot of fruit trees and grass and then there is peace. If they agree according to the recent initiative, it is all agreed short of a few things. However, we have to go back to the Barak Government.

  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Perhaps we could come on to that. I do not want to crash into Lord Crickhowell's time. I am so sorry. Thank you; that is very helpful.

  Q43  Lord Crickhowell: Dr Khalidi started by saying "Don't go for it, if there is no commitment." A simple message. Mr Mekelberg started by saying there cannot be any commitment because of the weakness of the various parties and the lack of legitimacy. I was a little surprised, but I understand the argument, that the United States and others may wish to go for something because of the importance of the binding solution on other problems in the Middle East, Iran, and so on, may be an opportunity. I could not see, having heard the first two statements, they gave no commitment, there cannot be a commitment, how there could be an opportunity, and then Mr Khalidi said "Ah, but there could be possibly, if there is a robust external role and a link with the regional parties." Do not we still face the problem of the lack of legitimacy and the extraordinary weakness of the governments of so many of the crucial parties? Given the description which was given to us very clearly by Mr Mekelberg about those problems, can we get and is it wise to go for a first stage, with the rather remote prospect of it leading eventually to something else, given the weaknesses that we heard described so vividly in the opening statements?

  Mr Mekelberg: I think we have been facing even something else, because actually so far we are talking about governments and we ignore the people, because if you read surveys we see that both Palestinians and Israelis do want peace and they actually want peace on the basis of a two-state solution. It is how we bridge this gap between two things. Both communities or people want peace based on basically what was agreed in Camp David, Taba, even Geneva. However, they do not believe that the other side want it as much as they do. It is to do two things: firstly, and this is I think where the European Union can do a lot, to try to help through education, through all sorts of social projects, it makes you see that the other side wants it as well, the majority of them, because so far we have been hijacked by the extremists and on this peace process we have been hijacked by the extremists. The other thing is how to translate this into votes when there are elections. At least 70% of people on both sides see that they can also vote for parties they support, because if one of the anomalies of it you go and say it, you know in service, "I want peace, I want to back a two-state solution," and you support parties that do not support this, because of the lack of trust, because they do not think that anyone sees their point. Before it is possible let us support parties that are strong, to show the other side how powerful we are, and then if ever we will be able to we will go to negotiations. We have to bridge these two gaps which I think are crucial. Whether, as Ahmad says, actually because they are weak, I suspect the three Governments are more likely to go to war than to go for peace, and I think history has shown that time and again. I hope that I will be proved wrong, but it is not, I do not think we saw in the past the tendency is to go; hence, what can again bridge this gap is international commitment which helps both sides to see sense. By commitment, I do not mean just pressure, there should be also incentive. We use a lot of terms of pressure and leaning on other governments; it is also an incentive to see what you can gain out of unity, out of a peace process. I think that is the way to proceed. Do you agree?

  Dr Khalidi: I concur with Yossi. I do not see any contradiction between saying "If you're not going to do it seriously, don't do it at all" and saying "If you're going to do it seriously, go all the way and do it very seriously." I think that is a very consistent position. There is, and I agree with Yossi, space for an international role which goes beyond giving just money or voicing slogans. The Europeans used to take a very robust political stance. If you look at the history of the EU, going back to 1980, in fact, the Venice Declaration, I think, was a critical turning-point in the peace process because it did adopt the principle of incorporation, the principle of reaching out and it put the PLO in a position where eventually the PLO became a partner, by recognising the PLO's role and by recognising the rights of the Palestinians, it played a very positive role. We do not have that now from the EU. We have an EU that plays the role of financier, and now, at this particular point, a selective one, it does not even finance this Palestinian Government, and it seems to be happy to leave the politics to the United States, and we have seen where that has led us. I am convinced there is space for an EU role, a more robust political role, a diplomatic role which goes beyond mouthing slogans and following in the footsteps of the United States.

  Q44  Lord Lea of Crondall: I was very interested that Mr Khalidi did mention Iran, and perhaps he could just clarify how he thinks that is essentially part of this equation in a practical sense, because some people think that it might even make the whole thing even more impossible somehow to embrace it; could he clarify that? Then I would be grateful if Mr Mekelberg would say whether he thought it was a factor that we should embrace?

  Dr Khalidi: I am glad you asked me that question because I think it is very important to understand the role of Iran in this. Iran is a player on the Arab-Israeli scene, it is a player in different ways, it is a player through its natural extensions via the Shi'ites of south Lebanon. Iran, incidentally, has always had strong relations with the Shi'ites of south Lebanon. It is not something that has come about as a result of the Islamic revolution in Iran, it is an historical set of relations that has to do with the movement of people; people study in Iran. The leaders of one of the main Shi'ite movements in Lebanon, Amal, actually came from Iran. It came prior to the Islamic revolution and it exists, and it is a natural zone of influence for the Iranians. That brings Iran almost immediately onto the borders of northern Israel. The second thing is that Iran, of course, has relations with Syria and via its relations with Syria it is an indirect partner to what happens on the Syrian, and thus on the Arab, front, because Syria of course is part of a broader Arab front, so Iran has a role to play there. Iran has built up links with the Sunni Islamist movements, in particular Hamas, and, by the way, perhaps surprisingly, with Fatah as well, Fatah on the Palestinian side. The secular, nationalist, Fatah movement has established over a period of years good relations with Iran and has been supported and financed by Iran, so Iran is a player. Does that mean that Iran is necessarily a negative force? I would argue, not. I would argue first that one has to accept that Iran has a natural zone of influence via the Shia of south Lebanon and there is not much you can do to sever that without creating an artificial situation in Lebanon. Second, that Iran will not stand in the way, and they have said so, by the way, the Iranians have said so; they may object as a matter of ideology to a Syrian-Israeli agreement but they will not stand in its way, because their relations with Syria have other dimensions as well. Third, that its relationship with forces on the Sunni side, such as Hamas, are largely tactical and they have to do with the arm-wrestling that is going on between Israel, Iran, the United States; it is a chess board. Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brothers. There is no serious ideological convergence between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Shi'ite Iranian revolution; there may be tactical interests which bring them together, but they are not identical.

  Q45  Lord Lea of Crondall: Mr Mekelberg, have you got any reaction to that?

  Mr Mekelberg: Yes; it reinforces what Ahmad said. Iran is a player there and it moves between the ideological and the tactical; part of it is tactical, part of it is ideological. Where I beg to differ is whether it can play a positive or a negative role. In the current situation it is bound to play a negative role because, as any revolution, it tries to create a more conducive environment for its existence, and revolutions are usually kind of paranoid entities, that they want to explore the revolution but at the same time feel it is under attack. There are some reasons for that, taking into account eight years of war with Iraq and with all the current issues, and let us not forget the nuclear issue. In this context, I cannot see, unless there is an engagement with Iran, and if I can broaden the discussion here, in a sense, it is about the nuclear, and they can use the nuclear issue to widen the discussion in the concern with Iran then they might actually play a positive. If you gain in exchange for some issues and some compromises on the nuclear issue and put it in a much bigger package with Iran then they can play also positive. If it is not, if they feel that they are under constant attack, they will play also the spoilers on the Israeli-Palestinian track.

  Dr Khalidi: I do not disagree with that.

  Q46  Lord Hannay of Chiswick: The proposition that it would be better not to try at all if you are not trying really seriously sounds attractive, until you ask yourself and what would be the consequences of the international community stating now that it was not going to try at all because it was all too difficult? Perhaps the two witnesses could comment on what they think the likely consequences would be if the international community imposed effectively a policy of benign neglect on the whole Palestinian process for the next couple of years? The second question is this: I sympathise very much with the views, I think, of both of you that there needs to be a structured and really continuous effort to get a peace settlement, not just photo opportunities and flying visits by ministers, and so on. Do you believe that it is possible to have a peace process which can be sustained through atrocities committed by extremists who are opposed to it, on either side, or within either side? In fact, can you get to a situation, like this country got to in the Northern Ireland peace process, in which there is a determination to carry on the process whatever was thrown at it?

  Mr Mekelberg: I am not suggesting, and I do not think Ahmad is suggesting, an imposed solution. Any imposed solution will not last for long. It is positive encouragement of a solution which shows both sides, or all sides, involved what is the price for continuing the conflict and what are the benefits of ending the conflict. All that I am saying is based on the assumption that the majority in both communities wants peace. If this is a disservice to them which actually misleads us then all that I am saying probably is wrong; but if this is correct, the idea that you have to find a way to impose and change behaviour and encourage, so you do not have to impose, you can encourage and direct and change this behaviour. I think what we have seen since September 1993 is that the extremists have actually managed to derail the process and even direct the process, whether it is hegemony or by assassinating Itzak Rabin, the settlers, we see the Israeli side and the Hamas and Islamic jihad with the suicide bomb, whoever wants to keep building the settlements, it all was in the direction that the minority of both communities managed to hijack the process. We have a problem, which I do not think is unique to the Israelis and the Palestinians, which is the problem of moderates; the moderates are not as keen on their moderation as the extremists are keen on their moderation. Probably we need some fanatical moderation in which the people in the centre or people who believe in co-existence and bring this conflict on the very basis of what is agreed so many times, they will be there in the streets, promote these ideas and also elect and vote for these kinds of parties.

  Dr Khalidi: I was not suggesting, and I do not think Yossi is suggesting, benign neglect. What I was trying to point to was the suspicion that the United States may now be making the right noises, not because it really wants to see an Arab-Israeli peace but because it wants the Sunnis to come on board in some kind of new alignment against Iran. My comment was that if indeed this is what the United States is doing then it is better for us not to pin any hopes and to realise from the very start that this is not a serious process and to go through the motions of creating expectations and in the end not delivering, which can only be negative. On the issue of violence and its impact on the process, I think it was Rabin who said "We will negotiate as if there's no terror and pursue terror as if there are no negotiations," and I think that, for me, is the right formula. Bearing in mind one very important fact; since Hamas took a decision to join the political process, some time in late 2005, over almost a year and a half now, it is very notable that Hamas, which is the largest so-called extremist movement on the Palestinian side, has not actually committed any major act of violence. The Israelis do recognise this; not much of the outside world recognises this. It is, in my opinion, a direct result of Hamas' engagement in electoral politics and vaguely, and broadly, within the confines of a political process. That is what you get, I think, when you reject the politics of exclusion and you open up the door for people to participate, you do bring down the level of violence.

  Mr Mekelberg: If I can try to comment on violence and negotiations with the Israelis, they are negotiations under fire and you do not negotiate under fire, and that, actually. By doing so, we let every single suicide bomber decide the future of the conflict, and this is one of the biggest mistakes. If you have to move, if you are in any circumstances, sometimes you have to take a few weeks off, because politically it is not sustainable, but the direction should be do not let any single sort of violence, on any side, derail a process.

  Q47  Lord Anderson of Swansea: One final comment on the links between Fatah and Iran. In the anniversary celebrations of Fatah and Gaza at the beginning of January they tried to tar the Hamas as Shi'ite because of the killing of Saddam Hussein; perhaps the relations may not be so close. On the peace plan and the Road Map, that was obviously devised in very different circumstances, before the January election of Hamas. What I heard you say, Dr Khalidi, was this, that the first two stages should be merged and there should be a timetable; well there already is a timetable. What possible benefit can there be in merging stages one and two when the stage one, which foresaw, one, the freezing of Israeli settlements when there has not been a freezing of Israeli settlements, and, secondly, the curbing, or demilitarising, of the military groups in the Palestine Authority; that has not happened. Is this not just a despair either to imagine that you could get any further by merging two stages which you have not reached, or by vaulting over these two stages and addressing the key issues of refugees, Jerusalem and the final status one straightaway? Can there be any real mileage in either the merger or the vaulting over those stages?

  Dr Khalidi: I hasten to add, this is not my plan. It is not something that personally I am endorsing but I am saying I think this is what is being cooked.

  Q48  Lord Anderson of Swansea: And your comment on that?

  Dr Khalidi: I think, for one thing, the Road Map is largely an illusion now, certainly in the way it was laid out and the way it was conceived, the phases of it. You point out rightly, there has been no dismantlement of illegal outposts, there has been no freeze of settlements, there has not been a disarming of Hamas and, frankly, I do not think you are ever going to get these things as small change. Part of our lessons from the negotiations over the last 10 or 15 years is that, very often, the amount of effort and energy that you exert into secondary and minor issues is better deployed in trying to deal with major issues, because you might as well go for the big bang than for the small whimper. Sometimes you get neither and very often, as the case is today, you find yourself in a quagmire. Nonetheless, what is being conceived of now, as I understand it—I called it merging phase one and phase two of the Road Map, it does not have to be characterised as such—the idea is to give the Palestinians a large chunk of territory, to stick some kind of flag on this and to link this territorial movement forward to the outlines of a final status agreement.

  Q49  Lord Anderson of Swansea: Presumably, the rationale of the incremental approach is that, step by step, you begin to build a degree of confidence. How can that happen, how can there be a sufficient reservoir of confidence if you are going for the big bang problem straightaway?

  Dr Khalidi: I must confess, I never bought into the step-by-step, building confidence thing. I think, again, our experience shows us that step-by-step creates mistrust; what it creates is a sense that what has happened in the negotiating process so far is that you have entered into a system of mutual obligations that neither side has kept, and so, rather than gradually increasing confidence, you have eroded confidence. Rather than getting both sides to be further engaged and confident they can move forward together, you are always looking back and the arguments are always about things that have not been fulfilled. All the time, Palestinians and Israelis say "Well, you didn't do that and you didn't do that; because you haven't done that we can't move forward." You need to find a mechanism where you get out of this log-jam, where you are not caught in this system of mutual obligations that are not kept.

  Mr Mekelberg: I think we have two approaches. One is represented by Oslo. Oslo is the step-by-step and building confidence, with no clear ending. The other one is represented by Camp David and Taba. Let us deal with all the issues, for once forget about confidence-building measures, because anyway we destroyed any confidence, if there was any. Though there were achievements between 1993 and 2000, economic, social and political achievements, we ignored a lot of achievements and really we looked on the down side instead of building on their achievements. So there were two, and the Road Map tries to go between. The first phase is about confidence-building measures; the second phase is a combination of giving some political solution and confidence-building measures; and the third phase is supposed to go back to Camp David and Taba. So it is actually to merge the two approaches into one so that you have an end game, you have a timetable and you have confidence-building measures. Since we are already in 2007, when according to the Road Map the launch should have been in the end phase, actually having a two-stage solution it did not work as well.

  Q50  Lord Anderson of Swansea: We have fallen at the first hurdle. What makes you think that any other approach would take us forward?

  Mr Mekelberg: We are still, according to everyone, we hear that we are in the pre-phase one condition, so we have not even reached phase one of this, and the disengagement from Gaza was supposed to be phase one, as part of pre-phase one, and then on gradually. It is making a mockery of the Road Map, meaning that the Road Map is based not even on bilateralism but on multilateralism; disengagement is based on unilateralism and not engaging anyone but yourself, or the Israeli Government, in this sense. If you do not move so you can decide unilaterally, I accept the Road Map, I put God knows how many conditions, I cannot even remember how many conditions.

  Dr Khalidi: Fourteen.

  Mr Mekelberg: Fourteen are there. Then I move to the first phase, because the idea of the first phase is security for the Israelis, no violence, the cessation of violence and make the life of the Palestinians liveable: fewer checkpoints, removing some of the outposts, and so on, more work permits, and so on and so forth. If you do not move into this one you cannot move to the other one.

  Q51  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: You were talking a moment or two ago about the violence and how the moderates do not believe as much in moderation as do the extremists in extremism. Talking to you on the same day last week, Israelis and Palestinians, and they both agreed, I spoke to them separately, that the violence was worse than ever it has been at the moment, and violence, as far as the Palestinians were concerned, of course, between the Fatah and Hamas, what do you think are the real sparking points, the real determinants of the actual violence when it happens now? It is very important to keep the big picture in mind, but the things which go wrong, on a day-by-day basis, which start this terrible cycle going, of revenge and counter-actions against each other, I would be interested in your view of the Palestinian community and the Israeli communities, what is the debate about what really sparks off violence? Somebody was telling me there are 520 checkpoints now on the West Bank, whereas five years ago there used to be 100. Is it that sort of thing, on the West Bank, is it the problems over prisoner exchanges, and we have all the business, obviously, of Corporal Shalit; is it anything that could be done about the money which is held by Israel which would help Palestinians have better lives? What is that debate within the two communities about what really gets the violence going?

  Mr Mekelberg: I think that there is post 2000, and you know we have the second intifada and Olmert was assured in the following six and a half years, now he is completely lacking confidence and everyone works unilaterally, and life for the Palestinians is not what you could regard as liveable, you cannot really run any political entity or society or whatever when you have so many checkpoints and you cannot move from one place to another. The wall, the security barrier, or whatever one calls it, makes it even more difficult to have any economic activity, any reasonable social activity. For the Israelis, number one obviously is their security, and it was more analysis. I think the damage done by the suicide bomber to the peace process, to the understanding and also to understand the nature of the other side, will take a long time to repair. It is never completely irreparable but it takes time. The Bush community, if complete, there is lack of trust, they talk among themselves, they do not speak to each other, though I must say, within this context, there are a lot of NGOs, a lot of glasnost organisations that try to do something. Some will say it is a bit nai"ve, it is a bit basic, but it is there, it is one of the things which has to be enhanced, but again they are living in conflict too. The good thing about 1993 and 2000, there was some hope in both communities that it would lead to something; okay, Oslo did not specify exactly where it would go but there was a kind of idea, there was a tacit understanding that it would lead to something. Life became more liveable and there was more work and more jobs and actually the Palestinian economy grew at a faster rate than the Israeli economy in these six, seven years, so there was hope and understanding. Now it has gone and they cannot see it and the message that is coming from the leadership is that a viable peace solution, a viable living process is not there, and this I think has to change.

  Dr Khalidi: Sadly, the level of inter-Palestinian violence today is higher than the level of Israeli-Palestinian violence. I do not mean that I regret the fact that there is no Palestinian-Israeli violence; but the situation today on the Palestinian side is unprecedented. I would say that there are a number of reasons for this. There is, of course, a power struggle between Fatah and Hamas; there are certain elements within Fatah that have never accepted Hamas' victory. I think that there are sharp political, and even ideological, differences between the two that should not be ignored. Nonetheless, I think, when you look at the broader picture you have to remember a number of things. You have to remember that this is a 40 year old occupation, 1967-2007, 40 years; it is the longest occupation in modern history, as far as I know. Through that period you have had somewhere between 650,000 and 700,000 acts of imprisonment, Palestinians who have passed through Israeli jails, including multiple jailings, which is a vast number, on the basis of around 3.84 million people. You have today around half a million settlers, if you include East Jerusalem, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. You have a 700 kilometres wall that is going up, in some places twice as high as the Berlin Wall. You have the hundreds of checkpoints. You have in Gaza, in particular, after the Israeli withdrawal in 2005, a very large prison; so you have naturally an enormous amount of accumulated frustration and anger and a severe process of impoverishment alongside the failure of the peace process. In Gaza, in particular, it has been called de-development. If—a big `if'—Hamas had been given a chance to govern in the wake of its electoral victory, if the international community had dealt with it differently, then my guess is that you would have had a completely different situation today. You would have had a situation where the Palestinian internal political process would have been relatively stabilised, where Hamas would have been put in a position of responsibility. Incidentally, this is exactly what Abu Mazin had in mind prior to the elections of 2006, because he was the chief advocate of bringing Hamas into the process. His argument was "The only way that Hamas is going to be rationalised, as it were, is to bring them into the process, give them responsibility and make them understand that if they bear responsibility in a responsible way there are rewards for them, and if they do not they cannot survive." This never happened and the net result of all of these factors is a collapse on the Palestinian side.

  Q52  Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: Let me try that out, because you have talked about engagement with Syria and Iran, what about engagement with Hizbollah and Hamas from the outside world? This is one of the issues that we have constantly now. Here we have the people who are engaged in different sorts of violence and from all different sorts of points of view. We know that the Israeli Government finds it very difficult to think of engagement with Hizbollah and Hamas, we know that the Americans find that difficult, they find it quite difficult with Syria and Iran but particularly with the terrorist organisations. What is your view about engagement from the EU, or from others outside?

  Dr Khalidi: As we speak here, we have to remember that there are talks in Mecca going on between the PA President and the Hamas leadership. It is not guaranteed, of course, but the most likely outcome will be a government in which Hamas is going to be a leading partner, the premiership will be retained by Hamas, most likely it will be kept or given to the current Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, so this is not going to be a government in which Hamas' role is fudged; it may not be a Hamas government but Hamas will be very evident there. The EU and the United States and Her Majesty's Government will have to decide how they are going to react to this, because it will also be matched by a political programme which, in my opinion, will not meet outright the criteria which have been set by the quartet, but will also fudge, in one way or another, find a language that people can interpret in different ways, but it will not be a clear acceptance on the part of Hamas of international conditions. It is a question, and here we will have the opportunity to bring together the main elements within Palestinian policy, in a national unity framework, and unless this elicits a positive response from the outside world we are going to enter into yet another, even more disastrous cycle of inter-Palestinian conflict and collapse.

  Mr Mekelberg: I think we face a real conundrum as to how you deal with extremist groups. On the one hand, it is very difficult to sit and negotiate with a party which calls for the obliteration of a country, so it is problematic; the same goes for the Hizbollah and the Hamas. If you assume that actually negotiating within the political process will make them more moderate, there is a reason for doing it; but if we give them more political power, the signal that you send them that, yes, it is acceptable to have such an extreme platform or policy and it is part of the political discourse to call for the obliteration of another country, so we send the wrong signal. If they are in government and instead of dealing with all the big issues, the ideological issues, they have to deal with cleaning the streets and all the mundane tasks of government, especially in the sense of the political authority, because they do not have any legitimacy to negotiate, it is in the hands of the PLO, then eventually they will prove to be a failure, so we will actually engage them in politics because we believe that they will fail, not because we believe that they will succeed. In this sense, we are in almost a Catch 22 situation, what do we do—is it better to have them in government or send a signal that we do not want such an extreme position.

  Chairman: I do feel that we ought to be moving on to the role of the European Union. Lord Chidgey.

  Q53  Lord Chidgey: Gentlemen, it has been quite fascinating so far, listening to your discourse on the situation in the Middle East and the way forward, but I cannot help noticing, particularly as this particular function of ours is the role of the EU, that most of your comments have been concentrated on primarily the United States's role and Israel's role and then, latterly, the Palestinian role. It is almost only in passing that you seem to have mentioned what the EU has been doing in the past, what it could be doing in the future, and very little has been mentioned about the perception of the parties in the Middle East to the EU's role, or a role that the EU should have or could have. Maybe I am misinterpreting your views on the importance, or otherwise, of the EU in the Middle East peace process, and I hope I am, but I would like to hear from you, quite succinctly, if I may suggest, exactly, precisely what the parties in the Middle East peace process feel would be the most productive role of the EU in the next one year, two years, five years, 10 years?

  Mr Mekelberg: I would like to create here a dichotomy, to set the scene, a kind of split between hard power and soft power, and it seems the Americans are in charge of hard power and the Europeans of soft power, and the other one is the Europeans are more in favour of the Palestinians and see more poor Palestinians and poor Arabs in America, the Americans are for the poor Israelis. I think in this dichotomy we have to move and play around with this a bit to have a viable role for both and to create a situation in which neither is seen as partial towards one of the sides, and both of them play on both levels, on the hard power and the soft power. If the assumption is the Americans are going to deliver on the issues of security, the issues of borders, and all that the Europeans can do is give money and then build infrastructure, then when this infrastructure is destroyed to throw more money at rebuilding infrastructure, it will be a bit pointless. The Europeans, I think actually have to be involved actively in the peace process itself, in negotiation; but again it is up to the European Union to come up with the common foreign policy, what Europe as Europe thinks is right.

  Q54  Lord Chidgey: You are suggesting that the lack of a common foreign policy weakens the EU's involvement and authority in this?

  Mr Mekelberg: If there are 27 foreign policies, or, let us say, if the European Union is divided as to the way forward, it will be very difficult both for the Palestinians or any capital in the Middle East to say, "Is it to Henry Kissinger; who do I call when I talk to the European Union, who do I `phone?" If there is an address in the European Union, if there is a common foreign policy towards ending the peace process, yes, the position of the Europeans will be strengthened. Whether both sides want it is a different matter. The way it is seen, I think the Palestinians want a stronger European Union around the table, I think the Israelis do not want a stronger one. I think, the way I see it, the European Union, and here I talk also as British, not only as Israeli, if we see all this money we need to have influence, we have to influence the process, we cannot say just "Oh, we're just writing the cheques for you; whatever the Americans say, we are going to pay for it." No, we have to have a say, to say we have different interests, as Europeans, we have different interests in the region from those of the Americans, whatever is left of the transatlantic relations after Iraq, but it is also European and the Mediterranean and the Barcelona process, which is our interest, as Europeans here, to deal in, and that is why we have to be in the forefront of the peace process.

  Dr Khalidi: I could not agree more with Yossi and in my capacity as a British citizen as well I would like to emphasise—

  Q55  Lord Anderson of Swansea: And a taxpayer?

  Dr Khalidi: I want my tax money to be effective, and it has not been. I think there are four roles that one can conceive of for the EU. There is the economic role, of course, which seems to have become the dominant one and the one with the least return, it is taken almost for granted that Europe will pick up the cheques, and I think that has to change. There is a security role. There are two types of security role. There is a security role that the Europeans have been playing behind the scenes, largely in terms of support for the Palestinian security services. I cannot say that is a bad thing necessarily; it does not make me jump for joy because I do not think that our main problem is that of not having enough policemen. Nonetheless, there is a role for the EU in supporting and building up the actual apparatus of state. There is also a role for the EU to be looked at in terms of international peace-keeping, if you like, in support of any agreement. Although the Israelis have had a traditional allergy to this, nonetheless, in Lebanon, they have begun to accept that there may be space or a role for an international force which can do something in their favour. I would like to see Europeans thinking in terms of deploying troops on the borders between Palestine and Israel, in one form or another, either as monitors or as a peace-keeping force, as part of an agreement. The other role that the Europeans can play, which they seem to have ceded, is that of speaking out on issues of substance. As a Palestinian, I would like to see the EU revert to the kind of stance it took in the eighties, where it had a strong stand on things like Jerusalem, things like settlements, not just because it loves the Palestinians but because of the recognition of the fact that unless some breaks are put on settlements activities, on the changes of the status quo in Jerusalem, we are not going to get a resolution of the conflict, which is in the interests of everyone. Even out of self-interest I think the Europeans can stand up and say more and do more on issues of substance. Finally, there is a role in terms of political engagement, and I go back to what we were talking about a few minutes ago. I would like to see the EU engaging with Hamas, and where possible with Hizbollah, being willing to stand up and be separate from the United States and be willing perhaps even to take some risky actions in this domain, because the pay-off, in my opinion, is very big, so I would like to see the EU take a clear and positive role in terms of engagement with forces that are generally considered to be on the extreme side.

  Q56  Lord Crickhowell: It is precisely on that point that I was about to ask you the question of the area for a positive role for the EU and, in the light of what you have said previously about Hamas, it just happens that the House of Commons International Development Committee has just produced a report, in which it says: "The international community's policy of isolating a democratically-elected government is questionable under conditions of ongoing conflict. We understand the reasons for the decision but doubt whether it is, in fact, the most effective response; indeed, the withholding of revenues by Israel and the boycott of a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority by existing donors has led to the Hamas Government increasingly to look elsewhere."

  Dr Khalidi: Moving closer to Iran, yes.

  Q57  Lord Crickhowell: In the light of that, you said there is a role for Europe here; what do you think then, in the light of what has happened with Hamas, what is the line that you would like to see the Europeans taking in order to re-engage Hamas in the process?

  Dr Khalidi: I think, at this particular juncture, we have to see what comes out of Mecca, because one can talk about what the Europeans could have done last month or the month before, but now we are talking about potentially a new phase. If the net result of Mecca is a national unity Government which has Hamas members in it, which is my guess is what will happen, then my hope would be that the EU would be ready to engage with it positively and directly and not try to find other ways of trying to bend or twist its arm under the guise of not meeting the conditions that were set by the quartet.

  Q58  Lord Lea of Crondall: My Lord Chairman, can I ask Mr Mekelberg to clarify something, because it seemed to me that, first of all, on this point about who wanted the EU to have a more coherent, stronger role, he said, as I understood him, and correct me if I am wrong, that he rather regretted the degree of stereotyping that goes on, about Israel being related to the United States and Palestine being related to the EU. Then he went on to say it is not just a question of stereo typing because it is precisely—did he not say this—that Israel does not want a stronger EU role: is that what he said?

  Mr Mekelberg: Israel has very close ties with the European Union economically; it is the main trade partner, more than the United States. Politically it is different; politically Israel prefers to see the United States as the main broker. I might have different views on this, but the way that it is seen in Jerusalem is that they prefer to see the United States as the main broker and, as far as Israel is concerned, the division between the United States dealing with the peace process, with the negotiations, or involved in the diplomatic efforts, and the Europeans more on the economic issues, is fine by most of the Israeli Government. I think it was the same since Rabin and it is the same now; they prefer to see the Europeans not part of the peace negotiations, meaning dealing with issues of security, the issues of refugees, borders, and so on and so forth. One thing which I absolutely agree with is that Lebanon has changed a bit; with all the faults, and we know what happened in Lebanon, the deployment of a multilateral force is a change. There has been an international force in the Sinai for the last 25 years and there has even been a small force in Hebron, for quite a long time; however, this is seen as an exception. The multilateral, of now almost 12,000 in Lebanon, I think, changed the perception actually that multilateral, including a European force, can serve as peace-keepers within there, and it can set a precedent, an important precedent, as far as agreement with the Palestinians is concerned.

  Q59  Lord Lea of Crondall: So it is not just stereotyping, it is the fact that perhaps Israel is happier to have its umbilical links as the main partner with the United States and it is a bit reluctant to see the United States cede any role to the European Union which is implicit, and where does that leave the quartet, by the way?

  Mr Mekelberg: Where does it leave the quartet; the quartet is the United Nations, Russia, the United States and the European Union. I do not think Russia is much involved anyway that deeply and the United Nations is in a state of flux, in any case, which leaves the European Union and the United States as the two main partners of the quartet; the rest is a bit less significant. In this context, I think the onus is on the Americans to prove to the Palestinians that they are honest brokers, because the Palestinians, and correct me if I am wrong, do not see the Americans as honest brokers, and I think the same, many Israelis will look at the Europeans and say "I am not so sure I want them around in negotiations, I don't trust them enough." From the Venice Declaration, and even before, in the 1970s, they started supporting them financially, even before 1971, there is kind of a perception in Israel that the Europeans are friendlier, with the exception, by the way, of the United Kingdom, and Tony Blair, in this sense, who are seen in Israel as different. The perception is the Europeans are much friendlier to the Palestinians, they see the Palestinian cause and they prefer this over the Israeli cause. The reality is different, but this is the perception, or the best perception.

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