Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Speed control in foreign affairs

Diplomacy and diplomats are rarely in love with speed. Sometimes, they look like living completely out of time. Your "now" could mean, in terms of diplomatic efforts, at least one year or so. Achieving concrete results is always a matter of patience, thinking more than ten times and mostly, avoiding to show off too soon the results.
This pace is visible in what you could call the big international "files". An example. During the last presidential campaign, president Barack Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay. But, of course, it is not only a political decision and behind the curtains, lots of diplomatic negotiations were necessary in order to secure a safe final deal.
When it comes to the issue of the Middle East peace process, from outside it is a neverending process, not yet reaching its final solution. But, as long as you have to deal with complicate partners and with weak or lack of coherent institutional frameworks, it is not a wonder we are still far from a solution.
The communications in this issue are extremely delicate, as long as any declaration could, in fact, create expectations or disappointments and, in fact, complicate the diplomatic process. But, making declarations on this issue is a guarantee of winning the attention of the public opinion. And, in some situations, it is hard to avoid this temptation.
It is how I am trying to read the latest French declarations regarding the Palestinian state. In an interview for Journal de Dimanche, published February 21, the French Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Bernard Kouchner, declared:
What’s important at the moment is to build facts on the ground: France is training Palestinian police officers; businesses are being set up on the West Bank… Then we can envisage the rapid proclamation of a Palestinian State and its immediate recognition by the international community, even before its borders are negotiated – I’d be tempted by that – by [recognition by] European countries. I’m not sure of being followed or even of being right.
The declaration was made ahead of the visit in Paris of the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas. After the meeting with Abbas, February 22, not other declarations were made. The declaration from Journal de Dimanche could be considered more than fortuit: police officers and business interest are not, by far, the conditions to talk about a state. You need, for example, legal institutions, reliable fiscal authorities, law enforcement authorities etc. And, what is more surprising for somebody who, as Kouchner had a certain experience with "new" states, is the danger of talking - at the official/diplomatic level - about a state without knowing what the borders of this state are.
The experience he apparently gathered in the Balkans, as first UN Representatives and Head of the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), between 1999-2001, was not illustrative enough of the difficult process of building a state? Very hard to understand this concern for "speed" instead of looking for realistic solutions.
February 23, he is back. Together with the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, Kouchner signed an article: "A Palestinian state, when?". Stressing the need for a "tough, credible reform based on financial transparency and fighting corruption", to be implemented by the Palestinian Authority, the authors are stressing "the inexorable outlines of the final settlement: absolute security for Israel, recognition when the time comes of a Palestinian State on the basis of the 1967 borders with land swaps, and Jerusalem as the capital of the two States". "Recognition when the times comes". "(...) when the times comes". No speed here.
Spain is currently holding the EU six-month presidency and have a long experience in dealing with the conflict in the Middle East. The diplomacy chief Moratinos was between 1996 and 2003 the European Union special Representative for the Middle East Process. The experience of Spain with the Middle East was controversial in some respects.
Spain continued to consider itself as a bridge between the Arab world and Western Europe, and adopted frequently a pro-Arab stance in most Middle East conflicts. For years, Spain was the only West European country that did not recognize Israel. The Spanish government finally established diplomatic relations with the state of Israel in January 1986. Shortly after, Spain accorded diplomatic status to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission in Madrid in August 1986. This political support turned at the end of the 1980s into an expanded trade and cultural relations and Spain intended to profile itself as a bridge between different cultures.
Spain hosted in October 1991, the Madrid Conference, who made possible, for the first time ever the reconsidering of the dialogue formula between the main stake-holders in the Middle East, by focusing on an intensive multilateral and bilateral level of negotiations. In 2005, Spain launched together with Turkey the Alliance of Civilisations aimed to bring together the European heritage and to create bridges between Europe and the Middle East. In the same year, during the OSCE chairmanship-in-office, Spain hosted in Cordoba the OSCE Conference on Anti-Semitism and on Other Forms of Intolerance. Shortly after taking the EU presidency, this January, Spanish authorities supported any kind of efforts "to ensure that Middle East peace negotiations resume as soon as possible".
Everybody is waiting for results in the Middle East. So many years of waiting, so many negotiations started and shortly after aborted, so many public declarations. But, in the same time, pondering a final solution, could be The Solution in the area, and not a solution. Working under the pressure is specific to diplomats. But their main capacity should be to be able to find the best answer. A combination of intuition, general culture and wisdom.

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