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Disputes and divisions in the Eastern Mediterranean are not on maps but in the hearts and minds of all of us involved, our histories and traditions – Evarist Bartolo

Is it not better to dream a bit than to rush into further confrontation with eyes wide shut to all the grave consequences that will follow such escalation
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The following is a speech delivered by Malta’s Foreign Minister Evarist Bartolo on Friday 14th May, which CDEIU is carrying as it presents a timely invitation to ‘dare to dream’ at a very sensitive moment in the Middle East.

“Existing disputes in the Eastern Mediterranean will not be solved by force. They require more than ever dialogue and negotiations. In recent months we have seen hopeful signs to a return to open dialogue. The Bible exhorts us to “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” We know how difficult this is, even among neighbours within the same block of apartments, let alone when neighbours are countries with divergent interests and a long history of conflict and mutual distrust.

In The Narcissism of small differences Sigmund Freud tells us how communities with adjoining territories and close relationships are especially likely to engage in feuds and mutual ridicule because of hypersensitivity to details of differentiation.

The situation becomes even more complex when there are other differences that are big. All the states involved in these disputes: Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Egypt, Libya and beyond … have to patiently persevere to find ways forward through dialogue and negotiations, however difficult, without humiliating each other. Our role as friendly neighbours is not to add fuel to the fire, unless our agenda is to exploit these differences for our own ends.

Appeals for dialogue and negotiations cannot be dismissed cynically as being naïve. Even a hard-nosed realist like Foreign Minister Andrey Gromyko used to say: better ten years of negotiations than a day of war.

And as Robert Mc Namara tells us, learning from the terrible lessons of the Vietnam War: ‘You’ve got to communicate with your enemies. Both sides made mistakes. Millions of people were killed because we both missed opportunities.” He said that in hindsight, nuclear war was averted in the Cuban missile crisis because both the Soviet Union and United States leadership who took the ultimate decisions to de-escalate and find compromise, managed to put themselves in each other’s skin.

Within the leadership on both sides there were those who wanted war and saw compromise as a weakness. Had they prevailed, nuclear war would have ensued. Learning from our history is necessary. Looking at our mistakes in hindsight is commendable but if we want to work to make our world a bit better, or at least a little less terrible, we must also show foresight.

The disputes and divisions in the Eastern Mediterranean are not on land or in the sea, or on maps but in the hearts and minds of all of us involved, our histories and traditions.

All the states and communities in the Eastern Mediterranean involved in these disputes need somehow to be involved fully in trying to address these disputes and find ways of co-existing in a spirit of compromise, compromise, not capitulation.

Is this dreaming with eyes wide open?

But perhaps is it not better to dream a bit than to rush into further confrontation with eyes wide shut to all the grave consequences that will follow such escalation?

If we cannot love our neighbours as ourselves, is it not possible to find ways of living side by side without being in constant conflict and tension with each other?

Speech by Malta’s Foreign Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo during the Delphi Economic Forum on Friday 14th May which was also addressed by Foreign Affairs Ministers of Spain, Cyprus and Greece.