News & Events

Print/PDF this page:

Print Friendly and PDF

Share this page:

Law School Conference Considers Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process

A conference held at Yale Law School on April 7 examined the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, reviewing past negotiations and considering prospects for future agreements. The program was sponsored by Yale Law School, the Orville H. Schell, Jr. Center for International Human Rights, and the Yale Middle East Law Forum.

In the afternoon session, leading actors in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority discussed the prospects for lasting peace in the region.

The speakers included negotiators from the Israeli and Palestinian sides, as well as an American official who was involved in the process under President Clinton. Shlomo Ben-Ami is the former Israeli minister of foreign affairs and chief Israeli negotiator at Camp David; Hassan Abdul Rahman is the chief representative of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Palestinian National Authority in the United States; and Robert Malley is the director of the Middle East Program at the International Crisis Group and a former special assistant to President Clinton for Arab-Israeli affairs. The panel was moderated by Ernesto Zedillo, Former President of Mexico and Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.

Law School Dean Anthony Kronman opened the discussion by recalling the response that many people had to the negotiations that took place at Camp David in July 2000 and terminated in January 2001 with a resumption of conflict. "As we watched, listened, followed the reports day by day from Camp David, never did peace seem closer." The frustration when negotiations fell apart was more profound, said Kronman, because of how near and possible peace had felt.

"That peace must come is beyond doubt," said Kronman. Peace will be created through efforts to return to the difficult process of negotiation, compromise, and settlement. He urged the panelists both to look at what had gone wrong with earlier negotiations, and to use that understanding to think about how to move forward.

Moderator Ernesto Zedillo also looked back to activities in the year 2000. He was in Israel in March 2000, working on a free-trade agreement between Mexico and Israel. "I did it because I thought that in the future that is going to be a great area of the world. . . . I also thought [the treaty] could be a very modest gesture from Mexico to the region." He said he left Israel feeling hopeful.

"Now we have to look to the future," Zedillo said.

Shlomo Ben Ami stated that Israeli-Palestinian peace is a central pillar to the stability of the entire Middle East. And he said that the collapse of the peace process was not caused by negotiation tactics or slight differences. "The problem is one of a clash of emphasis. . . . In my view, it is much more fundamental." The differences between the two sides include religion, memory, language, settlements, and refugees.

Ben Ami said he didn't know of a case in history where two parties established trust while one was an occupier and the other occupied. While he admitted that no agreement could be fully just to both sides, he added, "Peace is not without justice. . . . Peace is about stability, because you will never agree, between the two parties, what is justice."

"There is no easy way to peace. There is no peace without agony," said Ben Ami. He called for future negotiations to be conducted under an international mandate for peace, including monitoring and supervision with sanctions--"mechanisms of implementation that are very strict and binding." Agreements should not be open ended, but should provide an agreed framework, with small margins for maneuvering between the parties.

Hassan Abdul Rahman concurred with Ben Ami's assessment of the importance of peace between Israel and the Palestinians--as well as its challenges. He called it a "conflict about existence" and noted that for many years the two parties did not acknowledge each others' right to existence. "I know what is the future between us and the Israelis. The quarrel is over the past."

"The Palestinians approach this knowing that the balance of power is not in their favor," he said. They hope for a process that works by a "balance of interests" but Abdul Rahman said that peace would be impossible as long as one side was superior and had more privileges. He also described the tremendous pressures put on the Palestinian populace and its leaders by the disproportionate use of resources by Israeli settlers within the Palestinian territories.

Abdul Rahman said he thought the roadmap drafted by the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, was a good start for the peace process, because it spells out the final outcome of an independent Palestinian state. "We have started unilaterally implementing the roadmap," he said. "We want . . . to make a down payment on the process." He also suggested both parties agree on a time frame for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Robert Malley said he was disappointed that the current U.S. administration, which has been willing to exert its will in other areas of foreign policy, hasn't engaged more in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. And he was concerned that the level of engagement wouldn't rise much. "After Iraq, U.S. priorities will still be Iraq," he said. But Malley said that the situation didn't have to remain stagnant.

Malley outlined several current elements of optimism. After the long spell of violence, with its economic and emotional difficulty, he said, "people are tired of the way their lives have been." In addition, Malley saw "subterranean convergence" on several key issues, such as the size of a future Palestinian territory and the right of return. He also said that several Arab countries have come to see peace as vital to their own self-interest.

Malley identified good and bad elements to the roadmap. He praised its support for a sovereign Palestinian state and its delegitimization of Israeli settlements, but he worried it didn't contain a definite enough endpoint. Malley called for the U.S. to support an international effort to drive the peace process forward. "Put a peace plan on the table and say 'This is what we feel would be a fair solution,'" he said.