Sunday, September 14, 2008

Uri Savir to 'Post': It's either continuation of Oslo or nothing

When Uri Savir stood on the White House lawn exactly 15 years ago to watch the signing of the first Oslo accord, he was certain that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be over within five years.

In hindsight, Savir - the Foreign Ministry director-general who was Israel's chief negotiator of the accords - now believes that Oslo marked a critical point in the process, but it was hardly the end point.
Getting there [to a final peace agreement] takes time," Savir told The Jerusalem Post on Friday.

"I am convinced that had [then-prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin not been assassinated and if Bibi [Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu] had not won the [1996] elections, we would already be at peace," Savir said.

Many Israelis believe that the Oslo process died with the failed Camp David talks and the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000.

But Savir said the negotiations now taking place between the government and the West Bank Palestinians, as part of the Annapolis process begun in November 2007, were an extension of what began on September 13, 1993.

"It is either the continuation of Oslo or nothing," he said.

"At the Annapolis Conference everything that was said was based on Oslo. That it took longer than we had hoped is a fact of life, but it is still the same process, even if there are some who would like to define it differently," he said.

This month, to coincide with the 15th anniversary of the accords, Savir released an English-language version of a book he published last year in Hebrew and in Arabic called Peace First: A New Model to End War.

While the book examines peacemaking from a global perspective, its analysis is based on Savir's experience with Oslo in the 1990s. Although Savir has become critical of some elements of the Oslo process, the accord, he said, was a necessary measure, without which it would have been impossible to move forward with a peace plan.

Israel was in the midst of a settlement drive and was heading toward de facto annexation of the West Bank and Gaza, Savir said. Oslo put an end to that and instead laid out a blueprint for a two-state solution.

It also legalized direct contact between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, thereby changing the nature of future negotiations, he said.

The fundamentals of Oslo were still intact, including the division of control in the West Bank and the structure of the Palestinian Authority there, he said. The basic issues in the permanent-status talks now under way were based on Oslo, Savir said.

But even though he believes these talks are going well, he fears they are about to be stalled once more by upheavals in the Israeli political system.

It's likely that a final-status agreement would have to be reached under new Israeli and American governments, Savir said.

He believes the peace process would be better served by Democratic presidential candidate Barak Obama than his Republican rival John McCain.

Obama, Savir said, would put more emphasis on foreign policy and an active American diplomacy. He would also make the United States more popular overseas and thus he could serve as a better broker for the process, Savir added.

Many of Obama's foreign policy advisers helped US president Bill Clinton and knew the issues very well, Savir said.

Savir himself is no longer involved in peacemaking at the government level. As the president of the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv, Savir's focus is on cooperative civilian projects between Israelis and Palestinians.

During the 1990s, he said, not enough was done to cultivate a culture of peace - a critical flaw that must be addressed if the peace process was to succeed, and if any agreement reached was to be sustained.

There should be more people-to-people contact and more economic cooperation, he added.

"We need to get closer. We need to have better cooperation or peace will not be sustained. That is one of the great lessons of Oslo," he said.

War had been modernized, but peace had not, he said.

A peace treaty, Savir writes in his book, is often treated like a divorce agreement, with a focus on distribution and amicable parting. But a modern peace treaty should be more like an arranged marriage that sets out the terms for sustained and continued relationship, he wrote.

In 1945 there were fewer than 20-high and medium intensity conflicts worldwide, but by 2007 that number had risen to 130, including 25 severe crises and six wars, he wrote.

A majority of the more than 100 partial and full peace agreements signed over the past two decades were in trouble or had fallen apart because the agreements were not supported by a culture of peace, Savir wrote.

Israel should have treated the growth of the Palestinian economy as a clear Israeli security interest. Regional tourism, he wrote, could also be a powerful vehicle to create peace.

Instead, Oslo "failed to establish a mechanism against increased social-economic gaps, which grew in each [Israeli and Palestinian] society," he wrote.

With respect to Jerusalem, the city could be split into three sections. Israel, he said, would be given the Western Wall, Jewish holy places and the Jewish neighborhoods for its capital. The Palestinians could receive the Arab neighborhoods, the Islamic holy places and the surface of The Temple Mount.

In the northwest of the city, there could be a section under joint United Nations, Israeli and Palestinian jurisdiction, wrote Savir. There, the UN could declare Jerusalem a world capital of peace.

A quarter of the UN's institutions could be moved to Jerusalem, including UNESCO and the headquarters for the UN's peacekeeping forces. A temporary General Assembly and the secretary-general could hold special sessions on peace-related topics there on an annual basis.

This article can also be read at /servlet/Satellite?cid=1221142463224&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

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