27 years ago, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, together with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for their efforts to try and make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Shimon Peres said: “As we part a world of enemies, we enter a world of dangers. And if future wars break out, they will probably be wars of protest, of the weak against the strong, and not wars of occupation, of the strong against the weak.”
Since then, the Middle East has remained a killing field for all kinds of wars: of protest, of occupation, of defence, of retaliation … with every new death giving birth to new resentment, anger, hatred and revenge … perpetuating the cycle of violence.
While praising the Israeli Defence Forces for winning the wars Israel had with its neighbours, Shimon Peres, said that they show us “that the victors do not necessarily win peace.”
All kinds of wars have been tried and tested in the Middle East, filling it with graves “as far as the eye can see” said Yitzhak Rabin at the same ceremony in Oslo. He went on to say: “Military cemeteries in every corner of the world are silent testimony to the failure of national leaders to sanctify human life … There is only one radical means of sanctifying human lives … the one radical solution is peace.”
The last time this solution has been really attempted and in good faith has been in Oslo. Since then, not only Rabin was assassinated for his efforts to make peace, but extremists on both sides, feeding on each other have killed and are still killing all attempts at building peace. Wars have not worked. It is peace that has not been given a real chance since the Oslo Accords.
To give peace a chance the evictions must stop, the rockets must stop, the airstrikes must stop. But the absence of war is not enough.
There will be no peace until both the Israelis and the Palestinians enjoy equal human rights in two sovereign and secure states recognising each other’s right to exist.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved unless the Palestinians and the Israelis enjoy the same and equal rights and freedoms guaranteed under international law both in Israel and in the Occupied Territories.
The believers of the three religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity worship the same God. None of them are children of a lesser God.
There will be no peace and security till Palestinians are forced to live in despair, trauma, discrimination, unemployment, poverty, and humiliation which give rise to radicalism.
Talking to our Egyptian colleague Sameh Shoukry yesterday, and thanking him for his mediation efforts, his message to us all was clear: “We are working hard but we need the support of our European partners and the US to convince Israel that’s in all our best interests to avoid escalation and meet the challenges of radicalism.”
Let us not go forward to the past terrorism of the last 50 years. Let’s prevent terrorism by addressing seriously the causes of terrorism.
Learning to live together, instead of tearing each other apart, has become the main challenge of the 21st century. While saving the planet from the climate emergency let us do all we can to have human beings still living in it, even in the Middle East.
This is a speech by Malta Foreign and European Affairs Minister Evarist Bartolo during Informal Meeting of EU Foreign Ministers, 18 May 2021