Diplomats from Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine Discuss Conflict with DC Interns

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DIPLOMATS FROM EGYPT, JORDAN, ISRAEL AND PALESTINE DISCUSS CONFLICT WITH DC INTERNS

On July 12, the Center for Policy Analysis in Palestine (CPAP) held a panel discussion as part of a series for Washington-based interns. The panel brought together diplomatic representatives from Egypt, Jordan and Israel, as well as a spokesperson for the PLO, and was organized by Jonathan Kessler, executive editor of Middle East Insight. "This kind of gathering is a significant milestone," said Kessler in his opening speech, "as is each and every time that former enemies and those currently involved [in the Israel-Palestine conflict] can share perspectives."

First to speak was Karim Haggag, second secretary at the Egyptian embassy and personal adviser to the foreign minister of Egypt on Egyptian-Israeli relations. He addressed misperceptions of the conflict that he described as "so deeply entrenched that they are raised to the status of myths."

The most pervasive, he said, concerns the Camp David summit. The conventional wisdom is that Arafat could not agree to Barak's offer, and thus instigated the recent intifada. Such a simplistic explanation of the collapse of Camp David, he said, "disregards the fact that the Palestinian public has a will of its own. Arafat cannot turn them on and off like a light switch."

The intifada began not because of Camp David, the Egyptian diplomat argued, but because the Oslo agreement was never implemented. After Oslo, the number of Israeli settlers doubled, destroying the Palestinian people's hope for an end to the occupation.

The second myth, according to Haggag, is that the Oslo agreement is dead. "If Oslo is dead," he warned, "it is a very dangerous thing, for it dealt with reciprocal agreements between Israelis and Palestinians....The message we are giving is that peace will not come." The only discourse available to the Palestinians then, said Haggag, would be that of Hamas and Hezbollah.

The third myth is that the current Palestinian leadership cannot be bargained with. Haggag summarized the resulting conventional wisdom as, "If Arafat is not responsible for the violence, we shouldn't deal with him. If he is responsible, we still shouldn't deal with him.

"The message: the current leadership should be deposed," he observed. "The important question is, `What was it that replaced the PLO in Lebanon?'" he reminded the audience.

Manar Dabbas, second secretary at the embassy of Jordan, wished to "underscore regional attempts to defuse the cycle of violence." The Jordanian-Egyptian initiative, he said, laid the foundation for a political basis to continue negotiations. It was followed, however, by the Mitchell Report, which focused only on security issues rather than on the political steps necessary to resume talks. But the Palestinians, Dabbas said, cannot be expected to perform on the political scene under Israeli economic siege and closure. He urged regional efforts to end their economic deprivation and integrate them into the regional economy, and suggested that the current foreign trade agreement between Jordan and the United States should lay the foundation for such integration.

"Israel came to Camp David with a far-reaching agreement," claimed Daniel Meron, counselor for congressional affairs at the embassy of Israel and previous foreign affairs adviser in the office of the president of Israel. "All we got was a rain of fire, mortar, shells, and daily shootings for the last ten months."

Meron waxed eloquently on Israeli security concerns, but resorted to the exact myths Karim Haggag had attempted to dispel. "We say that Arafat can and should control the violence," the Israeli counselor said. "He knows who the terrorists are and he should arrest them."

Palestinian television teaches young children to engage in holy war, he alleged, while in Israel, "We teach our children to love our neighbors."

Meron advocated a return to the negotiating table, but only if Israel sees a true and unequivocal attempt from the other side to stop the violence. …