Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue Group
Statement on the Current State of the Middle East
19 October, 2003
Despite the renewed violence between Israelis and Palestinians and the apparent collapse of the "Roadmap to Peace," there are still reasons to hope for peace in the Middle East. Progress towards peace can only be accomplished, we believe, through a combination of grass-roots efforts and externally enforced positive and negative sanctions. We also believe that it is in the critical interests of the United States to take a strong role in establishing peace: it will help repair and strengthen our credibility abroad and advance our national interests.
We believe this because of our direct experience. For over twenty years, the twenty-one members of the Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue group (SAMED), which has representation in equal numbers from the Jewish, Palestinian-Arab, and other American communities, has been pursuing dialogue, conflict resolution, and social activism towards the common goal of peace in the Middle East. We have learned that deep-seated differences can be resolved, but only in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.
In a letter to the President of the United States published in the May 31, 2003 Post Standard, we welcomed the release of "A Performance-Based Road Map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." We urged sustained effort by the President, since his administration's perseverance and commitment to achieving a peaceful solution would be essential for success.
Although initially some steps were taken toward a two-state solution, this progress was short-lived. Extremist groups on each side tried to undermine the plan or punish the other side for its failures to implement the plan. Punishment is not the solution; to be successful, Palestinians and Israelis must help each other to make steady and speedy progress toward a two-state solution. For example, members of each side must begin expressing respect for each other and begin recognizing each other's losses and hopes. Effective action must be taken against those from either side who violently oppose progress towards peace. And positive actions that mark progress toward a two-state solution must be taken, such as halting the Israeli construction of a fence/wall separating the peoples, the cessation of suicide bombings, freezing and/or eliminating the settlements, and furthering the democratic reforms within the Palestinian Authority. Given the mutual mistrust, significant unilateral action by either side is not likely and is certainly not sustainable. Mutual assistance in moving toward an accommodation that is acceptable to both sides is essential, but it is not sufficient.
At this time, Israelis and Palestinians are not able to make significant progress without the help of other parties. We believe that the U.S. government, in concert with other governments and organizations, must act quickly and in a balanced manner to counter disruptions and to move forward. General admonitions by U.S. officials or by others for Palestinians and Israelis to "do the right thing" will not suffice.
Relying on violence is doomed to failure. Why does it persist? It persists despite the severe losses and the great suffering of Israelis and Palestinians because political alternatives have not seemed plausible. The U.S. and other governments and organizations must work to establish the reality of an acceptable future accommodation and a way to get there.
The basic parameters of a peaceful future are fairly clear and accepted by most people on both sides. They include a democratic Israeli state within internationally recognized and secure borders, and a democratic Palestinian state with borders encompassing a contiguous territory. We believe the best solution includes borders that follow along the June, 1967 lines, with some mutual adjustments. Each state must have its capital in Jerusalem. Israel and Palestine would be ethnically Jewish and Palestinian, respectively; but full rights of citizenship for other ethnicities would be assured in each country.
In order to achieve the economic viability of both countries, cooperation between the two countries and with other countries within and outside the region is required. This must include an equitable management of water within the two countries and with neighboring countries. It must also include provision for the monitored but easy movement of people and goods between Israel and Palestine and with the neighboring countries.
Palestinian refugees must be helped by a combination of assisted options, including relocating into Palestine or elsewhere with full citizenship rights. Likewise, Jews living in settlements in the West Bank and Gaza must be aided in relocating within Israel or elsewhere. The U.S., neighboring countries, and other states and nongovernmental organizations must help implement these programs.
To achieve a two state-solution, external parties must be actively engaged, including the Quartet (United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia), the Arab countries, and nongovernmental organizations. Substantial reassurances must be provided so that the essential needs of the peoples on both sides will be realized. Likewise, unachievable preconditions to acceptance must not be imposed by any party. Thus, when Israel or the Palestinian Authority contributes to progress along the road to peace it will be rewarded, and if either party raises obstacles it will be negatively sanctioned.
We urge the U.S. administration to become proactive on an ongoing basis on specific issues, such as security, Palestinian institution building, humanitarian services, civil society, and settlements. Working groups that meet frequently must be established in each of these areas. Each working group must include Israeli and Palestinian members, but also members, as appropriate, from the Quartet and from Arab governments.
We firmly believe a two-state solution is still possible. We cannot imagine an achievable alternative that would be acceptable to most Israelis and Palestinians. Once two states living side-side have been established, other political and economic arrangements that provide greater mutual benefits will become possible.
Progress toward the establishment to an independent democratic Palestine alongside Israel will benefit all the peoples in the Middle East. Peaceful accommodations between Israel and Palestine will also help lessen the threats to American security at home and abroad. After all the failures of the past, the obstacles to be overcome are larger than ever, but the necessity of taking immediate action is even greater. The consequences of inadequate efforts to achieve a peaceful settlement are dreadful to contemplate.
Currently, there is a grass-roots effort amongst Palestinians and Israelis known as The Geneva Accord to define a new path to peace. Over 100,000 citizens have signed up for a new plan that shows great promise, and the number of signatures is snowballing each month. We will discuss this plan, and its implications for US involvement in the peace process, in our next article.
Your efforts in this regard are essential. If you agree with the need for action by the United States Government, send a copy of this article to the President, your congressman, senators and friends.
Submitted by the 21 members of the Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue Group, in part:
Jim Brulé, Fayetteville