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Turkish Journal - Turkey, A Major Power In The Middle East Still May Have A Role To Play

Turkey, A Major Power In The Middle East Still May Have A Role To Play

PLO Representative to the United States, Ambassador Areikat: Settlements And Peace Negotiations Cannot Go Hand In Hand

Friday, March 4, 2011
By Janet Ekstract, NEW YORK
(Turkish Journal)

Berman Jewish Policy Archive (BJPA) at NYUs Robert F. Wagner Graduate School Of Public Service, hosted Ambassador Maen Rashid Areikat, PLO Representative to the United States, March 2, where he spoke about the urgent need for a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine.

Areikat, whose background includes having served 11 years at the Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD) of the PLO, spoke very candidly about the PLOs stance: How do you expect Palestinian leadership to get engaged in discussion when we are getting ready to do this and Israel announces that more settlements will be built in Arab neighborhoods. Its an issue that has to do with credibility of process and it will show whether Israel has good faith or not.

Berman Jewish Policy Archive Director, Professor Steven M. Cohen echoed Areikats sentiments when he said, I have a real respect for a nationalist Palestinian state and you have inspired us and hopefully we will go forward together in peace.

Areikat reminded everyone, We Palestinians were asked to be accountable and transparent. The IMF told us to live up to so many standards, fighting corruption. I think we have come a long way in transforming ourselves into transparency.

The ambassador had the same concerns that many speakers at J Street Conference voiced: time is running out and the priority now should be returning to the negotiating table for talks that produce solid results.

What role, if any Turkey stands to play in future Middle East negotiations is uncertain for now but Areikat commented, I think Turkey continues to play an important role if things are ready to move. He added: Turkey is a major power in the Middle East and until recently, they had an excellent relationship with Israel. Turkey is a Muslim country and at one time, it was the only Muslim country that had relations with Israel and that enabled Turkey to play a good role before the period of tension.

When Turkish Journal asked Areikat what steps would have to happen in order for both sides to be on the path to peace, he said several things would need to take place.

First, he said, Negotiations have to be very clear, every process must be led by conclusion. There has to be a clear cut time frame because Areikat emphasized, you cant get involved in a process that will lead nowhere. He stressed that there has to be a limit for reaching an agreement, with the help of the international community.

He said, The painful truth is that Israel continues with settlements. And he remarked: The only thing of concern for us is we need to know what are the terms of reference for this process. We need to know the endgame of this process. We were lost in technicalities, procedures and we never had the chance to sit across from the Israelis and say, You say you support a Palestinian state, what does that look like for you? We need to do this.

Any two-state solution will eventually require committed cooperation between both Israelis and Palestinians. Areikat says he definitely envisions that day and he discussed some of the major issues that will need to be dealt with.

Eventually, we have to deal with the Israelis especially on the issue of water. There is a serious problem of water shortages in the region and you know its a fact that the Israelis in the West Bank, take our water and sell it to us at the price they sell it to their own settlers.

Areikat remarked, The best solution to the water issue is equal distribution. I see a great potential for cooperation between the two states in the future on all these issues.

Another issue that is critical he said is the refugee situation: The resolution of the refugees, there are six million registered. A majority of Palestinian people are refugees and they are scattered all over the world. We are willing to work with the Israelis to address these demographic concerns.

He also added, Our job is to provide Palestinian refugees a set of options they can pick from.

The ambassador made it clear that time is of the essence and that contrary to what some may think, there is a breaking point: Most critical for Palestinians is where will the process lead? We are under occupation now, denied our freedom and rights. After a certain period of time, we want to be at Point B, full freedom. We cannot continue in a process that wont have an end to occupation.

Areikat mentioned that the mass uprisings across the Arab world are no coincidence and stem from a number of factors and that these events are a sign of the times. He said people want to know their governments are accountable to them. He also said the Palestinian people want to know that the PLO is accountable to them and their interests.

He said that now is the time for both sides to move back to forging a genuine peace.

But his warning was clear, no one can wait forever, To continue subjugating the Palestinian people, denying the freedom of 4.5 million people its going to be difficult for Israel to deny this in light of whats happening in the region.

In order to encourage a two-state solution remaining a viable option, Areikat said in the U.S., that Jewish groups who support this concept must talk to others about it.

And for Israelis? He said, Israel must empower segments of the Israeil population who believe a two-state solution is possible.

What about for the Palestinians? Areikat explained, We need to empower those on the Palestinian side who seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict who believe in peaceful coexistence.

When asked if he thought a real peace was possible, he answered, If we deal with all the issues that will address the concerns of all parties, we will definitely remove all reasons for continued conflict.

He discussed the expectations that he feels the Obama administration should acknowledge, We cant go back to the same failed policies. In order to realize peace and in order to satisfy needs, concerns and interests of all parties, we must put all issues on the table between both parties without holding anything back

Areikat added, We are definitely in need of a different approach.

He also said that the wisest move would be to abandon management crisis efforts and get back to the real solution.

The ambassador likened the relationship of the sides to a marriage: We are in a forced marriage. We need to get a divorce before we even contemplate dating again.

As to the question of returning to a negotiation in spite of continued settlement expansion by the Netanyahu government, Areikat had this to say: The fate and the future of Israeli settlements in Arab territory will depend on us in the future. The future of these settlements is up to us. Israeli illegal activities are against international law inside Palestinian occupied territories.

The Arab Peace Initiative, Areikat said, offers the simplest and most flexible formula on the refugee issue, which is one of the roadblocks to peace. But he said his Israeli counterparts have never read it. We want Israel to recognize the principle of the right of return and we want to agree with Israel on that right of return.

He expressed his disappointment when he said, Its really, really disappointing up to today that no one in Israel agrees to the Arab Peace Initiative. We tried to educate them about it.

Does Areikat shudder at the thought of future negotiations and does he ever contemplate the thought that there might never be peace between the two peoples?

I think we need and there is room to focus on shared interests. I dont have nightmares about the future. When I think about how this conflict is going to end, still I think there will be two states governed by bilateral agreements, governed by the U.N. and other international bodies.

What Areikat says he doesnt understand is why some Israelis maintain that even when the Palestinians achieve their own state that they fear they will be attacked.

He said, I envision a day when people will be able to move between the two states freely and why would we want to fire on them if we have our own state?

And he added with hope, We think of the day after in a different manner - that it will be peace, it will be cooperation, it will be good neighbors.


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