Examination of Witnesses (Questions 77
THURSDAY 1 MARCH 2007
PROFESSOR MANUEL S HASSASSIAN
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
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.
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.