Select Committee on European Union Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 77 - 79)



  Q77  Chairman: Dr Hassassian, we are very grateful to you for coming to give evidence to the Committee in their inquiry. Lord Roper, who is normally the chairman of our sub-committee, has asked me to express his apologies to you. He has had to have a minor operation on his hand and unfortunately that operation has fallen on today. He looks forward to reading your evidence. It will be an important contribution to the deliberations that we are having about the Middle East Peace Process. Would you like to make an opening statement? We have 14 questions that we would like to put to you, which means that we all have to be very disciplined. I said a few words of encouragement to discipline the Members of the Committee before you came into the room. Perhaps I can say the same words of encouragement to you so that we can have succinct and brief answers.

  Professor Hassassian: It is really a privilege to be here today and to address a distinguished audience. I do not claim to be an expert on European policies but I will try to answer all your questions to the best of my knowledge. My opening statement will revolve around the fact that the EU has played and will continue to play a seminal role in the peace process. The Palestinians believe that the EU is the largest donor to the Palestinians and since the Oslo process it has managed to pay half of the PNA's budget in terms of infrastructural development as well as inducing reforms. The EU has been at the forefront of efforts for peace in the Middle East and is still an active member of the Quartet alongside the US, Russia and UN partners. Its strategy is the resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict. It is a strategy priority for Europe and therefore we believe that the EU will continue to be a facilitator in the Middle East Peace Process. We have seen many visits by the high officials of the EU, starting from Javier Solana and ending up with Ambassador Moratinos.

  Q78  Chairman: Can you give us your evaluation of the current situation concerning the Middle East Peace Process? Can you link with it the questions about the road map and whether, with its incremental approach, it represents the right approach for progress towards a peace settlement? In that overall peace settlement, what part do you think the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative can play?

  Professor Hassassian: The Middle East Peace Process as we know is currently at a stalemate. The Oslo process which was based on incrementalism led dismally to the failure of the peace process because each phase was dependent on the execution and the implementation of the previous phase. The talks at Camp David in 2000 were epitomised by the breakdown of the talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Eventually, what we witnessed was the emergence of the second intifada. For the last six years we have not seen any kind of progress as far as talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis. Although there were concerted efforts by the European Union to mediate, to facilitate, to encourage, to induce both parties to the conflict to engage in the political process, it was to no avail. The current peace process is at a stalemate and there are several factors that work as an impediment for the sustenance of such a stalemate. On the Israeli side today we have a very weak government that is led by a right wing with Kadema, a coalition party that is falling apart, and with the minimum public support to Prime Minister Olmert. There is no clear vision whether to reinvigorate the peace process or to maintain the status quo. On the Palestinian side, we are struggling to form a national unity government that will be consensual in reflecting the strategy and vision of the Palestinians in terms of the vision towards peace and the formation and establishment of our state. However, the US and Israel and the international community through the Quartet have insisted on a Hamas-led government to acknowledge the three Quartet principles. Those three principles are recognising Israel, renouncing violence and accepting and honouring prior agreements between the PLO and Israel. Unfortunately if these three pre-conditions are not met there will not be any kind of movement towards a peace process.

  Q79  Chairman: Do you think those three conditions are unreasonable?

  Professor Hassassian: I do not. Since I represent President Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO, these conditions have been met by us in 1988 when we had accepted the two state solution. We believe that Israel has the right to exist. We have accepted that. We believe that we have to pursue through political means a peace process that will end up with the creation of a contiguous, economically viable entity, a Palestinian state. We still honour the prior agreements made between the PLO and Israel. However, Hamas is a faction and factions have the right to accept or not to accept the state of Israel. In the final analysis, the PLO headed by President Mahmoud Abbas is going to negotiate with Israel because the election of Hamas to government was the result of the Oslo Peace Process. De facto Hamas has accepted the Oslo Peace Process and consequently participated in the elections. Maybe it did not proclaim outright to accept the state of Israel, but now it is referring to the right of the existence of Israel, also as de facto. However, on the question of renouncing violence, the only faction that committed itself to a truce between it and Israel is Hamas. Hamas has shifted 50% in changing its policies. Maybe it did not move forward enough to respond to the three principles. Now, with the formation of a national unity government where Hamas will have only nine portfolios, the control will reside in the president's office and the other members of the Cabinet that will conduct future relations with Israel.

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