“Sustaining the Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations effort: Why the talks must not fail”: A public symposium with Hans-Gert Pöttering and Ami Ayalon

On October 2nd, 2013, the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung held a public symposium at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem on the theme of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and the talks that are currently taking place. The event was organized together with the Blue White Future movement, co-founded by Ami Ayalon, former head of Shin Beat General Security Services and a speaker at the conference. Blue White Future is an organization promoting a two state solution with the aim of securing the future of Israel as a Jewish democratic state. Other speakers included Dr. Hans-Gert Pöttering, former president of the European Parliament and International Chairman of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, as well as Michael Mertes retired state secretary and director of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in Israel. Gilead Sher, co-chairman of Blue White Future and former Israeli chief negotiator under Prime Minister Ehud Barak was the moderator during the discussions. The main aim was to provide the public with the two perspectives of the European Hans-Gert Pöttering and the Israeli Ami Ayalon, accompanied by a panel discussion.

The European Perspective

During his talk, Dr. Hans-Gert Pöttering insisted on calling the European Union, as former president of the European Parliament, a friend of Israel. The European Union is supporting Israel as a state and supporting the people of Palestine at the same time, trying to create a situation in Palestine where people can live as human beings. Pöttering emphasized that the European Union is a defender of the right of Israel to exist as much as Palestine. As International Chairman of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, Pöttering said that this foundation, in Israel, is a platform for talks and diplomacy. He added that the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung is “strongly in favor of Israeli security as well as “in favor of a Jewish state.” He rejects the idea of a bi-national state, and therefore presented himself as a firm supporter of the two-state solution. He was very straight forward on that topic: there should be two states for two peoples. As a friend of Israel, Pöttering believes that Israel is a part of the Western World and should deepen its relationship with the European Union, but this requires without question the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Pöttering pointed out the question of settlements in the West Bank to explain how Israel is harming its image throughout the world by conducting policies that are illegal in international law. Therefore as a friend of Israel, he advises the country to fall in line with international law so as to prevent its isolation.

As for his thoughts concerning the negotiation process, Pöttering showed how much he supports the current talks and is in favor of their success, sharing at the same time his anxiety that if these talks don’t work out, it could be close to impossible to reach a solution. Pöttering believes this is a time of great hope, close to twenty years after the unfulfilled promise of Oslo, as certain circumstances are united to create peace, including, he mentioned, the fact that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas is determined to make peace, which makes him a good partner for Israel.

The former president of the European Parliament wants the success of the talks, and shared his optimism, reminding that only five years after the end of the Second World War, France and Germany were uniting under the initiative of Robert Schuman.

The Israel Perspective

Ami Ayalon is a former Member of Knesset who was interviewed as one of the former heads of the Shin Bet in the movie “The Gatekeepers.” He was replacing Meir Dagan who was on a business trip at the time of the conference, and reassured the public by saying that after forty years of friendship, he was in a good enough position to present his position.

Ayalon started his speech by declaring: “I would truly like to share that hope from Europe but I am not a partner of that hope based on this present negotiations.” He explained that there is currently a lack of hope in Israel based on chagrin, sadness and a never ending violence. Ayalon would be in favor and a believer in negotiations taking place on independent tracks: both sides, the Israelis and the Palestinians, should work independently to achieve peace, instead of only relying on the present negotiations. He says: “These direct negotiations did not work in the past and there is no chance it will work. I hope I am wrong so we must continue.”

Ayalon expressed concerns about the state of Israel and what he considers are dangers to Israel. He stated that there are in fact two main threats: the first one comes from Iran, with its militant Shiite philosophy combined today with the ownership of a strong military capability, and the second threat comes from the loss of identity by Israel as a Zionist state. Moreover, the biggest danger is the status quo: “the clock is ticking (…) we do not believe words. The status quo is dangerous, it is good for extremes.”

For the last two or three years, the Middle East has been in a state of violence, of confusion and is going through a cultural struggle with the inner conflicts that are touching Islam. Therefore, the Middle East, as an important economic center for the world, has become a global problem.

Finally, Ayalon emphasized nonetheless that he does feel optimistic, and this comes from the idea, as he said, that the solution “is in our hands.”