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Reflections on the summit at Sharm el-Sheikh

Wednesday 16 February 2005, by Abdessalam Najjar

Interview with Abdessalam Najjar

How has the summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, and the agreement by the leaders to stop the violence contributed towards peace in our region?

The conference, and the declaration by Sharon and Abu Mazen that the two sides would cease violent acts is something positive, and strengthens the hope for a brighter future. As such, there is nothing wrong with it. But, on the other hand, politicians, or even media people who hasten to say, “that’s it – the peace process is back on track and the problems have been swept aside" – this is going too far. If we look at the situation carefully, we can see that the violence continues. The occupation itself is a most terrible form of violence. A whole population is subjugated. People are unable to move around and conduct their lives properly. Not only this, but there is an attempt to blur recognition that this is in fact occupation. They want to institutionalize it under agreement. Israel is telling the Palestinians, “we’ll continue with the occupation, building walls and restricting your movement, but we’ll do this with your agreement, instead of with force.

The Sharm el-Sheikh summit offers nothing to change the feelings on the Palestinian street, nothing to remove the feeling that they are living under occupation. And while this continues, there cannot be peace. Even if the occupation ended today, there still would not be peace. But at least it would permit negotiations, on the subject of what kind of relations we will have in the future, what kind of cooperation we will have. In the situation of today there is no possibility for peace. It’s true that a verbal dialogue is preferable to bombs and bullets, but without a radical change in the conditions under which negotiations are conducted, they will not lead to peace. Peace can be built between two equal parties, two sovereign powers, who wish to work out a relationship and create a future that will be for the benefit of them both.

Do you think NSWAS has a role to play in helping bring about such a situation?

NSWAS is a model of cooperation on a very small scale. But it is a lively example of how relations between the two sides might look when they are no longer built upon inequality, occupation, and violence. It is an example of a relationship based on the will of both sides to work together to create a common future in conditions of equality. On this basis we are managing our lives. NSWAS could be a point of reference to show how the future might be in the entire region. This is what we see, from our experience, and what we want people to know.

But is it realistic to hope that the example here could be extended to the regional peace process ?

Is it realistic to believe that peace can emerge from summits like the one we have just seen? I can understand why politicians like to talk as if peace is around the corner. For them, it is political capital. But the media has also been speaking in the same voice. While it may be legitimate for politicians to create false hopes, we expect the media to behave more responsibly. It’s the media’s job to tell the truth; to show that peace will require much more than the words of the politicians. It requires a basic change in thinking. There simply cannot be peace between the occupier and the occupied. There is no such thing. And today they are telling us that Abu Mazen and Sharon will bring peace! Even if they want to, they cannot do it. First of all, the Palestinians need to feel that they have emerged from the occupation, and the Israelis need to understand that they have security in their lives, and only afterwards they can negotiate for peace – not before.

The way is still long. It will require great commitment from all sides - the commitment of places like NSWAS – and the commitment of politicians. In addition, I believe the two peoples will find it very difficult to extricate themselves from the conflict without outside assistance. There is the need for a third party to help them develop relations based on equal cooperation, rather than the relations of occupier and occupied we see today.


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