ISRAEL - PALESTINE: TIME IS RUNNING OUT. HOPE IS STILL ALIVE.

Clinton meets Arafat, Arafat meets Barak, Clinton talks to Barak and Arafat in Washington... Clinton travels to the Middle East. Violence continues... Arafat goes to Washington... Violence continues. Barak goes to Washington... Violence is still there, at the very heart of the Holy land. Mr. Peres, secretary of state Albright, Mr. Ross - all of them shuttle like mad, sincerely strive to put an end to hostilities... Violence continues with more killings. Everybody grows more aggressive and restless. A car blast happened, a bus is hit by a bomb, military helicopters attack Palestinian cities... Violence continues. Arafat goes to Moscow; Putin calls Barak by telephone, they talked and Barak and Arafat talked too. Is there hope for peace? Can it be reached by political means? The Security Council appeals for calm. Israel rejects UN observer force. This sad "merry-go-round" seems to be endless.

The peace process begun in Oslo has disintegrated, some says "dead". Time for peace is running out.

How long will it take to find the way out of this impasse that lasts for decades, interrupted only by wars? Is there any statesman who has a vision of peace in the Middle East and knows how to reach the resolution of this bloody conflict?

How long will it take Mr. Barak or his successors to learn what Mr. Rabin knew, understood and achieved? When will Mr. Arafat understand that peace in the Middle East, especially creation of the Palestinian state, cannot be reached by one broker - the USA? Such questions arise, as many others, at the time of great sorrows and stress for Palestinians and Israelis. What diplomatic steps will help them?

In our opinion - by avoiding mistakes made by dreamers in foreign policy. A mountain of their efforts succumbed to violence that is one step aside from war. Why has it happened? Simply due to the fact that in practice their vision of Peace in the Middle East is blurred. Somehow it has occurred that hundreds of diplomats and politicians have spent thousands of hours, conducted dozens conferences and many summits and... the result is zero. How come?

It appears that the conflict will not be solved without establishing the main pillars of the Great Compromise that will show the way to Permanent Peace. 

Andrei Gromyko helped us to get to know the world politics. He spoke with us candidly and one could hear the firm conviction in his voice, when we discussed the situation in the Middle East. His vision was both pragmatic and firm.

Andrei Gromyko was of an opinion that the resolution of the Middle East problem, at the core of which are relations of Israel with its neighbours and Palestinians, is impossible without three main ingredients:

The withdrawal of occupation forces from all or almost all Arab lands. 
The satisfaction of the legitimate national aspirations of Palestinians, primarily their right to create a sovereign state.
Security guarantees for all states in the Middle East.

Nobody can create a long-lasting peace in the region - used to stress Andrei Gromyko - without reaching these aims.

How right he was and still is. USA presidents, prime-ministers of Israel, Mr. Arafat or his successors may meet fruitlessly for next one hundred years if the three pillars of Great Compromise are not erected to uphold the structure of Peace.

Israeli government, of course, may do everything possible to avoid and postpone the resolution of Palestinians' aspirations. This is a shortsighted approach. It is based on an assumptions that Palestinians do not possess an army of their own, their economy is weak, they depend upon the support of the Arab states, which in the past was rather shaky - "now we support you, now we don't". It is unwise for Israel to pursue such policy. Israel is dragged into a situation when political means to solve the conflict are compromised to a point when a majority of people on both sides has lost hope in the peace process. Quick actions are desperately needed to restore confidence in diplomacy and sane reason.

There is a forth dimension of success - to minimise individual aggression. Die-hard rhetoric and actions at the top, as well as belligerent attitudes of mass media, stir up hatred in masses. In the last three months they've had a demoralising effect on the peace process, diminished hope of progress at peace talks. As a result, combat between Israeli troops and Palestinians intensified. 

There is also a desire of extremists in Tel Aviv to increase Israeli presence in the Holy city's Arab quarter by providing a second entrance to the tunnel that adjoins both Islam's holy site, the Ab Aqsa Mosque, and the ruins of Judaism's Second Temple. Such a sensitive issue was dealt with in a way the victor behaves towards a defeated opponent. The tunnel opening, Mr. Netanyahu, at that time prime-minister, proclaimed, was "an expression of our sovereignty, our history". (Newsweek, October 7, 1996, p. 26) It was a very contradictory and unpractical statement. Even schoolchildren know that the history of Jerusalem is not only "our history" but "common history", Arab as well as Israeli's. To think otherwise is contrary to the truth and an attempt to place ideology of far right above reason and desire to compromise.

Bad policy in the Middle East triggers off physiological mechanisms of violent behaviour. People begin to accept factors affecting the actual elicitation of aggression. 

It is wrong to condone and use individual aggression that often amounts to terrorism against innocent people. Promoting justice by taking the law into "our own hands" brings the worst in the behaviour of individuals. Such actions complicate efforts to proceed with conflict resolution.

In the Middle East a long record of belligerence is a fact of life. Latest events confirm this. The most dangerous aspect of any policy is when religious values become individual aggression and warriors' values. In this case soldiers and citizens see themselves "fighting the right fight".

We should remember that early Christians adhered to pacifism. Only in the 4th century they began to accommodate to militarism and justify the participation of Christians in "holy wars". A pragmatic policy should do away with any moral justification for Christians and Muslims of participation in violence. Violence cannot avenge injustice or maintain justice. It leads to retaliation and horrors of war. The only way to break this vicious circle is through statesmanlike actions of political leaders who should act as pragmatists and not as conquerors. Prevention of further hostilities demands the development of a new code of ethics regarding peaceful interaction between the Middle East nations. Russian diplomacy can be of great help to achieve this aim.

The main cause of international conflicts is often to be found in human and social dimensions. This is a non-quantifiable and ignored area. Suppressed feelings and denied rights of the people produce humiliation and anger, provide enormous amount of fuel that can easily ignite a war. 

Every human group needs identity, recognition and security. The denial of the right to self-determination to the Palestinians is the main motivation for present tensions in the Holy land, the main root of all sufferings, which cast a sinister shadow on the prospects of peace.

The Middle East conflict is a problem to be solved and not a contest to be won. The sooner the creation of a Palestinian state is achieved, the better for all participants in the peace process. There is more sense and security for Israel in taking part and building a Palestinian state as a friendly neighbour than in generating ill-will and hatred.

All international conflicts involve interests and aspirations. Security is one of the main. Israel made a "security issue" the major obstacle to the conflict settlement. Israel as a state and its people have a legitimate right to negotiate such security arrangements. This is a categorical imperative. Here we come to the focal point of any conflict resolution process - how to take into account the rights of the Arabs, notably Palestinians, and the rights of the Israelis?

This can be reached only with the help of Europe and post-Yeltsin's Russia. For decades the Middle East conflict a mountain of stereotypes that block any agreement on Great Compromise. One of them is an opinion that the Middle East conflict does not need international security guarantees for all states in that area. In the past it was used in order to bar the Soviet Union and later Russia out of the region. Such actions kept the process of negotiations in a state of paralysis. What was the outcome? The Soviet Union was involved in the conflict not as an international peace guarantor but as a weapon supplier. Moreover Yeltsin's Russia was passive to the extreme in the Middle East.

Strangely enough, history repeats itself. Israeli government refused to agree that Europe, of which it claims Israel is a part, has a rightful stake in the negotiation process. This is a shortsighted approach that contradicts logic. If the USA has a right to participate in the settlement of the Middle East conflict, why Paris, Moscow or London should be ignored? France, Russia and Britain have a lot of interests in the region, as well as Israel and the USA.

International conflicts are better solved through comprehensive international mechanisms. Its driving-gear must be created. Israel and the Arabs are the main parties to bargain over, alter and trade their interests and needs. But they should also listen to the advice of other actors in the field.

Peace in the Middle East is not far away if all sides act in a responsible way and refrain from aggressive behaviour. An axiom should be security for both Israel and Palestinian states and the right of their peoples to live in peace with each other inside secure state borders. Their mutual trust, created by pragmatic actions, is the best security guarantee for Israel and Palestine to reach the Great Compromise and to enter into the Golden Age for the Middle East.

The map of the Middle East region should be fixed once and for all. Perhaps, down-to-earth work on demarcation of their borders will do more for peace than numerous diplomatic rounds of talks. The time for such work is ripe.

Moscow is trying hard to play a positive role in the resolution of the conflict though it will take time, especially as a result of its almost total abandonment of the Middle East scene during Yeltsin's years. Though they didn't bring any sensations, visits of Arafat and Israeli minister of foreign affairs to Russia in November 2000 contributed to some stabilisation of the situation, when the brinkmanship was on the verge of a new Middle East war. It will be a blunder for Israeli (Netanyahu has good chances to return to the post of prime-minister in forthcoming elections in February 2001) and Palestinian leaders to return to a flawed tripartite way of the Middle East settlement (USA - Israel - Palestine) after Republicans occupy their seats in the White House. It hasn't work for 50 years, including 10 years after the end of the "cold war"; it will not work in the future. The diplomatic potential of Europe, first of all Russia, Britain and France, is a forth wheel, the lack of which will not let "the car" of the Middle East peace process move any further.

With best regards,
Anatoli and Alexey Gromyko