Earlier today, the FBA seminar Israel and Palestine- the way forward was held in the center of Almedalen. The seminar tent was crowed and there was no sign of the rain that was so dominating yesterday. As promising rays of sunshine were finding their way into the tent, I was thinking that this year the most important forum in Swedish politics will be remembered not only by interesting events and seminars, but hopefully also by Swedish summer weather at its best.
After the seminar I managed to get hold of the Israeli author and columnist for Almonitor.com Akiva Eldar and the FBA General Director Sven-Eric Söder to exchange a few words on the topic. They both participated in the seminar, together with the former Prime Minister of Palestine National Authority Salam Fayyad and author and journalist Göran Rosenberg.
The Israel-Palestine conflict has been endlessly long and tragic and there are no easy ways to tackle the issue. As we start our conversation I am curious on the role of the UN. The UN has more or less played a role in the region since the organization itself was created, but what kind of role does it play in Israel and Palestine now?
Both Sven-Eric and Akiva agree that the UN definitely could do more. The first UN mediator in the conflict, Folke Bernadotte, was active for less than 6 months in 1948 and during that time he managed to negotiate a truce, lay the foundation of two UN organizations and work out two peace plans. However, ever since he was assassinated in 1948 the role of the UN has declined, at least as a strong player on the scene of world politics.
The UN Security Council Resolution 1515, adopted more than 10 years ago, is yet to be implemented. The resolution suggested that by the end of 2005 a final status agreement with Palestine, ending Israeli occupation from 1967, was to be reached. Akiva stresses that the UN now needs to get serious in implementing its own resolution. Sven-Eric points out that the UN is playing a crucial role on the ground, for example the work that UNWRA is doing sometimes makes the difference of life and death for many people.
Akiva suggest that the UN sends a message to the Israeli and Palestinian people and acts in accordance with its own resolution as well as takes action against clear and brutal violation of the international law. The UN should use its power to protect both people, he says. What the UN also can do is to, in a clear and detailed program, make sure that a withdrawal from the occupied territories is being implemented and monitored by a peacekeeping force, similar to what the UN is doing in other parts of the world.
When I ask them what role they think Sweden could play, Sven-Eric says that Sweden is and has been a faithful partner and enjoys a good reputation in both Israel and Palestine. There is plenty to build on, he says, both bilaterally and through the EU and its common foreign policy. Within that framework, Sweden can continue to support through capacity building efforts, education and training as well as secondments. He also stresses that the 7 million SEK that Sweden annually gives in development cooperation support to Palestine is a key component as well as the fact that Sweden continues to be the fifth largest donor to UNRWA.
Sven-Eric also underlines the importance of constantly keeping the issues on the agenda. That is something that Akiva agrees with and he says that Sweden should continue to make sure that critical issues are creating headlines.
On the topic of settlements, Akiva is of the opinion that Sweden should be more outspoken and follow fellow European countries ‘protests against Israeli settlements´. He claims that a majority of the Israeli public is willing to withdraw from all territories in return for peace but that settlements are the biggest hurdle. Peace and settlements is an oxymoron, Akiva states. He continues saying that there is a difference between what is good for the Israeli people and the interest of the Israeli government and Sweden, together with others, needs to make it clear that if there is no serious Israeli attempt, there will be no business as usual. Sven-Eric interpolates and points to new dynamics that can be decisive and that has to do with an increased focus on trade. What used to be an unthreatened focus on politics, now has been somewhat challenged by trade and industry issues. When pure business models keep investments out, it has a direct effect on the settlements.
Coming to an end of our chat, I ask what they foresee in the years to come. Sven-Eric says that he thinks that the before mentioned trade interests will grow even stronger and influence the dynamics. Sven-Eric is convinced that it is not in the interest of Israel to maintain status quo since development and growth is sought, something that cannot be achieved unless the settlement issue is resolved.
Akiva predicts that there will be a shift from a bilateral to a regional issue and he suggests using the Arab Peace Initiative as an instrument. Akiva speaks of reverse engineering – meaning that both parties have to sign an agreement, including timeline – and then start building trust. A first step towards a final status agreement would be to freeze the settlements and to create normalization. We have to try something else, he says. Repeating bilateral talks will get us nowhere, we have to try something else.
When I thank the two gentlemen for their time and leave them to enjoy the rest of the beautiful summer day, Akiva’s final sentence echoes in my ears: Instead of arguing on how to cut the cake, increase the ingredients in the cake!
Photo: Top Akiva Eldar, Bottom Sven-Eric Söder