WASHINGTON: The head of the UN nuclear agency said Tuesday that despite a sense of insecurity in the Middle East and in other world trouble spots, a glimmer of hope exists that could bring peace between the Arabs and Israel and elsewhere.
Mohamed El-Baradei, an Egyptian, said since Israel has agreed for the first time that the Palestinians should have a state, and the Arabs conditionally agreed in 2002 to have full, normal relations with Israel, the time has come to move forward.
True regional peace, El-Baradei said, would lead not only to an Israeli-Palestinian settlement but also to stability in Iraq and Lebanon; settled relations among Iran, the Arabs and the West; and development, good governance and modernity throughout the region.
But if the Palestinian question were to be resolved, a decades-old burden of Arab-Israeli tensions would be lifted that would improve immeasurably our ability to deal with these and other challenges, El-Baradei said in an annual lecture on peace at the University of Maryland dedicated to fellow Egyptian Anwar El-Sadat.
Like Sadat, El-Baradei and his International Atomic Energy Agency have received the Nobel Peace Prize. Sadat made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1977, spoke to the Israeli Knesset of no more Middle East wars, and was assassinated three years later for his overture.
El-Baradei quoted a comment by former US Secretary of State James A. Baker III in last year s Sadat lecture that the Middle East problem is a tragic version of the old chicken or egg question.
El-Baradei said: If the parties involved can look beyond the pointless question of which comes first, the chicken or the egg, perhaps the peace process can finally get the needed period of incubation and can give birth to a new era in the Middle East.
El-Baradei laid out several necessities, all far from accepted fact now, for the glimmer of hope to become a flame of peace. The basics, however, were the mutual, if conditional, recognition of Israel and Palestine.
He pointed out that Israel for a long time denied even the Palestinian identity, let alone a right to a homeland; between 1967 and 2002, the unified Arab policy was no peace, no recognition, no negotiation with Israel.
Ironically, El-Baradei said, the basics of a settlement have been on record at the United Nations since 1967 in two resolutions that followed the Six-Day War regarding recognition and withdrawal from conquered lands.
He said all parties with a stake in the region should be involved, and discussions should begin with a blueprint of the settlement, then work backward toward details to implement it.
To date, a key failure has been the tendency of the international community to work on this issue by fits and starts, he said.
This must change. The resolution of this conflict is too urgent, its impact too important, to allow it to be sidetracked by changes in leadership or to be derailed by intervening violence. As dialogue progresses on the process, he said, another discussion should be under way on regional security.
This discussion should cover the elimination of weapons of mass destruction, limitations on conventional weapons and an array of confidence-building measures, El-Baradei said.
He said true peace requires dialogue and interaction.
We have suffered from a more fundamental Catch-22: the less we interact, the more we believe in negative stereotypes; and the more we believe in negative stereotypes, the less we interact.