US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in the Middle East to restart the peace process, but Avi Primor, Israel's former ambassador to Germany, said the American efforts amount to nothing more than lip service.
EU troops could bring the Middle East peace process forward, Primor said
Avi Primor was Israel's ambassador to Germany from 1993 to 1999.
DW-WORLD.DE: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said last week that he thought a peace agreement could be reached by the end of 2008. One of the reasons he gave was because US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice assured him of it. Is it wishful thinking?
Former Israeli ambassador Avi Primor
Avi Primor: I think Abbas is an optimist because he really wants this solution. He stands for compromise, he is for freedom, he is against terrorism. But he has, unfortunately, little power, not only because Hamas is his opponent and because he has already lost the Gaza Strip, but also because he has to fight hard in the West Bank not to lose power to Hamas there as well. But that's not really the point. The question is what can Condoleezza Rice get started? US President Bush gave a speech on July 16 in which he laid out a new peace plan and called for an international conference, to be attended by Condoleezza Rice, in the autumn. So now the one who has to actually implement the peace plan is Condoleezza Rice.
Will Condoleezza Rice be accepted by all sides as an acceptable negotiating partner during these talks?
She will be accepted by everyone, without a doubt. I have my doubts about whether she will have the power of the president behind her to actually force a particular direction -- because this new peace process needs to be forced. I do not think that the president is serious about this peace plan, but that he is paying lip service to it to ease pressure from Condoleezza Rice. So he can say, "Okay, go play a little with the Israelis and the Palestinians and maybe you can invite a few other Arab countries to your conference, Saudi Arabia would be ideal, but I don't expect much of it." I remember that Condoleezza Rice wanted to support then President of the World Bank James Wolfensohn, Blair's processor as Middle East envoy, but that she did not have the support of her president and she failed, just as Mr. Wolfensohn did. Nothing has changed since then, and I do not think that Bush, at the end of his term, is really aiming to get something started; even though he has all the means to do so if he wanted.
What kinds of powers would Condoleezza Rice have to receive to make the plan more than lip service?
Rice will need the president's complete support to reach a deal
Bush's peace plan put forth several components that he had previously mentioned in his first speech dealing with the Middle East in 2002, so it is a bit of a repetition: Israel has to leave its settlements, the Palestinians have to fight terrorism, a compromise for Jerusalem needs to be reached, the problem of refugees needs to be solved, an independent Palestinian state needs to be build and recognized and cooperated with. These are all great things and Israeli politicians recognize that. But they don't have the political power to implement such a plan, just like the Palestinian administration does not have the power to implement the fight against terrorism. Had the president used all his powers, had he been ready to send money and maybe even troops to ensure security, then he would have been able to push both governments into accepting his plan. He has not done this since 2002, and he's obviously not ready to do it today. In this respect, Condoleezza Rice's mission is only lip service.
Hasn't this conflict for some time been a proxy war, with Iran and Syria looking to gain influence on one side and the USA and the West on the other?
I think that Syria can be separated from Iran because Syria wants to negotiate and make peace with Israel, but the Americans are preventing it. The Israeli government isn't excited about it because it does not have the power to relinquish the Golan Heights. But it would have fundamentally accepted the Syrian president's offer that a way could have been found -- if the Americans were satisfied. But they are not. Still, I believe there is a way. All the peace plans since 2000 -- from the first Clinton plan to the Bush plan and the Quartet's and the one from Saudi Arabia -- have all had the same components. Everyone knows how the problem can and should actually be solved, but no one has the power to do it. At its most basic, the problem is security. If there were someone who was ready to put troops in the occupied territories after Israel left them -- robust troops that could actually provide security -- then I think the governments would be strong enough to implement the various peace plans. The only ones who can manage something like that today and also have the will to do so are the Europeans -- assuming that the Americans do not object to it. That's where Condoleezza Rice as well as Tony Blair could be helpful.
What step has to come next in order to move toward a realistic peace treaty?
New EU Middle East envoy Tony Blair could help get EU nations to contribute troops
The European Union needs to draft a peace plan. That's not a problem since all the peace plans are similar anyhow. But this time it should be an initiative from the European Union to send robust troops to the Middle East. That does not have to be exclusively European troops, it could also include Arab troops, such as from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan or Islamic troops like the Turks, and maybe even NATO. They should take over power in the occupied territories so that Israel can leave the region. But all of this can only happen if the American do are not against it.
How great are your expectations for Condoleezza Rice's visit and for her Middle East conference in the fall?
Very small, because, as I said, I expect that the American president isn't really behind it, and that it's all just lip service for him. And so everyone else, the Israeli as well as the Palestinian government, is also only going to pay it lip service. I don't know if the Saudi government is going to take part in the conference as Bush would like. They won't do it if they are not sure that the Americans are actually seriously behind it, and that is not the case. I think the whole thing is just going to be a spectacle.