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Fares Delivers a Conference at the Russian Academy in Moscow& Becomes an Honorary Speaker - January 21, 2002
In the frame of his trip to Russia where he was decorated the International Orthodox Unity Fund Prize, Deputy Prime Minister Issam Fares also delivered a conference at the Russian Academy in Moscow where he received an Honorary Doctorate. He was the guest of the Russian Diplomatic Academy where Russian diplomats are trained to become ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps. The President of the Academy, Ambassador Yuri Poukine and his deputy Yuri Kashlev as well as high members of the Academy welcomed the Vice-Premier Issam Fares and his wife Mrs. Hala as well as the members of the delegation at the gates of the Academy and then in the president’s office in the presence of the Arab ambassadors. Later on, everybody proceeded to the Conference Hall where the President of the Academy handed Mr. Fares the Academy special scarf and congratulated him for having become an honorary speaker at the Academy. He pointed out that Mr. Fares was the first Arab to receive an honorary doctorate from the Academy and the first Arab political personality to deliver two conferences at the Diplomatic Academy.

Mr. Fares said that he was very happy to accept the invitation of the Diplomatic Academy to speak before this honorable assembly about peace in the Middle East.

Fares becomes the Honorary Speaker at the Russian Diplomatic Academy

Mrs. Hala Fares attends the conference given by her husband, the Honorary Speaker

Fares: "This award goes beyond my person to reach the Antochian Orthodox Church"
Conference Delivered by the Honorary Speaker Mr. Issam Fares
I recall with proud my visit to Moscow and the meeting we held on October 1997 when I was granted the honorary doctorate. I remember this great honor very well and I thank you deeply for it.

When we speak of peace in the Middle-East, we mean by this a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and all related conflicts. This is a central problem that should be resolved in order to achieve a just, global and permanent peace in the Middle East. Such a peace requires the consensus of all parties and a solution to the Palestinian problem as well as to the relations between Israel and its neighbors, in order to create a Middle-Eastern New Order. It is a very complicated and long-term objective. Why is it complicated? Why does it raise up all these emotions, violence, tension and hatred? I will try to explain.

I am pleased to accept the invitation of the Diplomatic Academy to address its distinguished audience on “the prospects for peace in the Middle East”. I recall with pride my visit to Moscow and my meeting with you in October 1997 at the occasion of awarding me an Honorary Doctorate. I cherish this honor and thank you for it. When we speak of peace in the Middle East, we mean resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as well as related conflicts in the region. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is central and should be resolved as a condition for the realization of the comprehensive, just, and enduring peace in the Middle East.

This kind of peace requires agreement by all parties in the region on the desired solution in Palestine, on the relations between Israel and its neighbors, and on the relations of the new Middle Eastern order to the rest of the world. This is truly a tall order, and a highly complicated objective.

Why it is complicated? Why it has accumulated so much passion and anger? I shall attempt to address.
The Zionist Organization held a Conference in Basle, Switzerland at the end of the 19th century and decided to establish a Jewish state. Places in the Americas and in Africa were considered for such a state and were dropped in favor of Palestine. Palestine, the Organization felt, will attract Jewish immigration due to ancient Biblical ties.
During the First World War, Britain then at war with the Ottoman Empire, promised the Organization a “home” for the Jews in Palestine provided this “home” did not compromise the rights of the Palestinians. Britain at the same time promised the Arabs independence from the Ottomans at the end of the war. With these two promises it got the support of the Jews and of the Arabs. The Jews helped her technologically and militarily and the Arabs conducted a massive rebellion against their Ottoman masters. Instead of independence, the Arabs were parceled into states under British and French mandates. Britain, as the mandatory power over Palestine, encouraged Jewish immigration; and the Jews began to work for a “state” not a “home”, as promised in the Balfour Declaration. Palestine thus became a battleground between Palestinians and Jews. The Palestinians were supported by their Arab and Muslim brethren throughout the World, and the Jews in Palestine were supported by the world-wide Jewish community and by countries in the West where the Jews were effective minorities.

The Second World War and the Nazi-Fascist persecution of the Jews in Europe speeded Jewish emigration to Palestine and led to the intensification of the conflict.
The newly born United Nations Organization entrusted with peace in the world by the victors of the Second World War, sent a Fact-Finding Commission to Palestine. Upon the recommendation of the Commission, the UN voted in 1947 to partition Palestine into three entities.

1) One, including Jerusalem and Bethlehem, was to have a separate status under UN Trusteeship.

2) One to be a Jewish state. The Jews, who were 1/3 of the population, were allocated more than half of Palestine.

3) One to be a Palestinian state. The Palestinians, whose land Palestine was, and who numbered then 2/3rd of the population were allocated less than half of Palestine.

In the wars that followed, Israel expanded the area allocated to it, and in 1967 it occupied all of Palestine including Sinai’ in Egypt, and the Golan Heights in Syria.
The Security Council in its meeting of 22 November 1967 adopted Resolution 242 which called for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories and for the recognition of the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of every state in the area. This is known as “the Land for peace Resolution”. Israel did not comply with this Resolution.

In its meeting of 22 October 1973, and following the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the Security Council adopted Resolution 338. This Resolution called on the parties concerned (Egypt, Syria, Israel, Jordan) to start immediately “the implementation of Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) in all its parts”. We should note that the Resolution called for “implementation” not for “negotiation” that may offer less than the Resolution demanded.
In the wake of the Gulf War in the early 1990s major efforts were undertaken by President Bush the father, to bring about comprehensive peace in the region. A conference was held in Madrid in October 1991 to bring about a settlement in the region in line with UN resolutions 242, 338, and also Resolution 425 which called for the unconditional withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon. It should be recalled that Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 and occupied its capital Beirut. In due course, Israel withdrew from Lebanon except the Sheb’a Enclave. It withdrew from Sinai in return for a peace treaty with Egypt.

Syria and Lebanon call for full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights and from the Lebanese Enclave in Sheb’a, and they insist on a package that addresses the rights of all the parties in the region. To pit Israel against one Arab state at a time, will not in Lebanon’s and Syria’s opinion, bring about regional peace. Jordan and Egypt signed Peace treaties with Israel, but these treaties did not bring about the peace that the region needed.
Negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians have led nowhere. They are now bogged down on virtually all the issues. These issues are Jewish colonies on Palestinian land, the fate of Palestinian refugees, the status of Jerusalem, and the Land for Peace Resolution.
I shall address these issues briefly.
While negotiations were taking place between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel was busy building colonies in the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights. There are now over 200 of these colonies. Israel calls them settlements, hoping by that name to minimize the political impact of its expansionist policies.

About 300,000 Jewish colonists live in these colonies. They are mostly fundamentalist and anti-Arab. These colonies are in violation of international law. Article 49 the Fourth Geneva Convention (1949) states the following: “The occupying power shall not deposit or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.

Israel has done that, and was not penalized. Furthermore, it has posted army units in these colonies to protect them from their Palestinian neighbors. In all negotiations so far the most that Israel has offered is to remove colonies in the depth of the prospective Palestinian state, but to keep the most important and the most extensive colonies around Jerusalem. The problem remains unresolved.

Palestinian Refugees
Palestinians were evicted by Israeli forces from their homes, villages, and properties in 1947, 1948, and 1967. They escaped as refugees to Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and then to the Gulf States and beyond. Estimates in 1995 put the Palestinian population at about 6.5 millions, of whom according to UNRWA, about 3.2 millions are refugees in its “area of operation”.

By Resolution 194 adopted in 1948, the UN General Assembly affirmed the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and to be compensated for their losses. The Resolution was reaffirmed dozens of times, but was never implemented by Israel.
Israel has insisted that Palestinian refugees should remain in the countries where they have taken refuge. There are some 400,000 Palestinian refugees in my country Lebanon. We and they insist on their right to return as per Resolution 194. The question of the refugees, like the question of the colonies, remains unresolved.

By UN decision of 1947, Jerusalem, as a city important to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, was to be internationalized. The Jewish militias, however, pre-empting the internationalization of Jerusalem occupied most of it before August 1, 1948, the date on which Britain completed its evacuation from Palestine. The Israelis occupied the rest of Jerusalem in the war of 1967, and declared the City of Jerusalem to be “the eternal capital of Israel”. To the Palestinians, Jerusalem as the home of al-masjed al-Aqsa, the third holiest shrine in Islam, is a religious symbol of great importance. So far, the Palestinians are offered a bit here and a bit there as to deny them the claim of having East Jerusalem as their capital. Jerusalem therefore remains an issue and quite a difficult one to resolve.
As for the return of the land occupied in 1967, discussions between the Palestinians and the Israelis led to the rise of the Palestinian Authority under the Chairmanship of Yasser Arafat. The Authority was allowed limited powers over a number of towns and villages in the West Bank and Gaza. In intensive meetings at Oslo, at Camp David, and at the White House a mood of optimism arose, and soon evaporated. We hear that Israel offered the Palestinians the most that any Israeli government can offer.

What was offered was something like this. Israel offers a future Palestinian state on some 90% of the land of the West Bank and Gaza. The prospective state will consist of four cantons, the canton of Gaza and three cantons in the West Bank. The cantons are riddled by Israeli colonies. The cantons are crisscrossed by highways that connect the colonies and allow speedy action by the Israeli army. Israel will keep its army on the Jordan River. It will control the sea, the borders, and the airspace of the prospective Palestinian state. What was offered is clearly in violation of UN Resolutions and of the Geneva conventions.

When the offer was made by President Clinton, Arafat responded “and with this Mr. President you expect me to stay alive”. Undoubtedly President Clinton was doing his best to achieve a historic peace in the Middle East. But there were major hurdles in his way. The American position has been too closely tied to Israel since its creation in 1948 to be truly empathetic to the Arabs. The US has committed itself to maintain Israeli military superiority against any possible combination of Arab armies against it. It tolerated the rise of Israel, its closest ally, as a nuclear power, while it denied vigorously the right of an Arab state to acquire a nuclear military status. Between 1967 and 2000 the US, as government and people, donated over 150 billion dollars to Israel. Furthermore, the US under Israeli influence has developed a highly negative image of the Arabs, especially in its movie industry, in its television programs, and in its press.

Accordingly, the Arabs began to equate between Israel and the US and to doubt whether the US could deliver to the Palestinians their rights under UN resolutions. The Arabs wonder why does Israel look down upon them and make of them a historic enemy. As they review their history they find that the Arabs and Jews lived well together. They see matters differently. It was the Romans, not the Arabs who ousted the Jews from Jerusalem, and it was the Arabs under ûmar Ibn al-Khattab, who returned them to Jerusalem after an exile of centuries.

It was the Crusades, not the Arabs, who massacred the Jews in Jerusalem, and it was Salah al-Din (Saladin) who returned them to Jerusalem. It was the Spaniards, not the Arabs who ousted the Jews from Spain, and it was the Arabs of the Maghreb who welcomed them in their midst. Much of Jewish learning was attained under Arab empires and through the medium of Arabic.

I mention these facts to provide some balance into a picture that has been severely clouded by the heat of the current events.
In conclusion, it is going to be difficult to reach a just and comprehensive settlement in the Middle East if the negotiating formula remains the same. Israel and the US are a powerful combination pitted against a poor and stateless Palestinian Authority. The negotiating formula should be changed to provide a greater role for Russia and the European Union. Russia understands the Arab World. It supports Arab causes. It insists on the implementation of UN resolutions. The European Union can also play a greater role. Russia and Europe will provide the needed diplomatic balance to attain comprehensive peace. Peace by pieces did not work. It will not work. What Lebanon and Syria insist on is to mobilize a collective effort involving all the parties concerned to agree on a package. The package will be the just and comprehensive and stable peace which the region craves.

There is no easy road ahead, and there is no alternative to the peace process. Meanwhile the Arab-Israeli conflict needs a cooling off period. International observers should be brought in to break the cycle of violence and prepare the ground for a new psychology of negotiations, and perhaps for a daring self-criticism. The implementation of the recommendations of the Mitchell Commission is an important first step in the logistics of peace. The violence must stop. The expansion of colonies must stop, and the parties must sit together and work out an agreement in the context of UN resolutions.

A consideration of values is not out of order in the resolution of the Middle East conflict. The US could develop a policy in our region based on values which it insists are an integral part of its foreign policy. And Russia, with the Holy Orthodox Church behind it, can return to the Middle East in a new spirit and in the universal concern of its own Orhodoxy. In the 19th century Russia considered the Middle East of great importance. It opened schools; it supported churches; it expanded its commercial interests. Its writers spoke of Russia as a custodian of moral values and as the guardian of the brotherhood of man.

Peace in our region is so complicated as it requires the long term commitment of Russia, Europe, and the US. What is at stake in our region is not only military and strategic, but also cultural with great implications for the future. Violence will not bring about the desired peace. Only quiet diplomacy will work, but it will only work if it is based on justice, reason, and fair play.