Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

The Negotiations…And Thinking Outside The Box | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

I was struck by what the great writer Anis Mansour said in an interview with Egyptian television. The important thing to draw from the interview was when [Anis Mansour] narrated his experience with the late President Anwar Sadat in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, during Sadat’s first visit [to Israel], which shocked both the region and the world.

Anis Mansour recounted that Sadat requested to meet him in his room to gauge his reaction and ask about what he had seen in Israel following his arrival. Anis Mansour told him that the public were astounded, and that they would not believe it until they saw him [Sadat]. According to Anis Mansour, President Sadat said that this [public reaction] means that we have regained Sinai, and his [Sadat’s] interpretation of this was that it is public opinion that drives governments in Israel, in contrast to the [Arab] masses who chant “we support you in spirit and blood.” If the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, [Menachem] Begin, had procrastinated or refused Sadat’s offer of a visit under any pretext, then the issue would have taken another 100 years [to resolve].

The above story is appropriate in light of the vicious circle surrounding the issue of direct or indirect negotiations [between the Palestinians and the Israelis], and the preparation and discussion for this, with mediators coming and going; all the while a kind of despair and pessimism lingers for all parties concerned. There are few signs of progress, especially with the presence of a right-wing Israeli government that comes out with a new settlement project or another issue to return the situation to its former state whenever there are any signs of progress in the negotiations.

There is only one player on the field that everybody is waiting for to produce something, and that is US presidential envoy [George] Mitchell. On the Arab side, it seems that in the event of an ongoing impasse the only alternative is to take the issue to the UN Security Council in the autumn, if no progress has been forthcoming. Nobody knows what the UN Security Council will do, or what they will be able to offer, but there are past experiences, most notably Resolution 242.

Conducting negotiations, strategies and compiling documents are important matters of course, because things will eventually be resolved on the negotiating table, as everyone agreed long ago. But has anyone on the Arab side considered a parallel plan of appealing to Israeli public opinion for the sake of peace? This would place a significant element of pressure on the Israeli government, prompting them to give priority to resolving this issue rather than wasting time; this is in the hope that there will be no Palestinian cause in 20 or 30 years time [as this would have been resolved].

Some may not like this idea [of appealing to Israeli public opinion], but what would happen if there was serious thought put into investigating ways or a campaign to appeal to Israeli public opinion to support a just peace, moving the Israeli public away from right-wing ideas and settlement construction, and strengthening the belief that in the end, the future is going to be based upon coexistence, even if there is a new war.

There is an English proverb that encourages what it describes as “thinking outside the box” in order to resolve difficult problems. In this instance, the “box” is the framework of conventional ideas that everybody is imprisoned by, and they will remain trapped in this vicious cycle until they can find a way to break out of it. Sadat thought outside the box and he got what he wanted.