Lakhdar Brahimi recently chaired a panel discussion in London with two members of the Goldstone inquiry, Professor Christine Chinkin and Colonel Desmond Travers, a former member of Israel’s Knesset, Ami Ayalon, and Palestinian lawyer Karma Nabulsi. Here, he answers questions from the Elders’ team on some of the issues raised by the speakers and the audience.
Q: Can you have peace without justice?
Karma Nabulsi spoke eloquently about achieving peace through international law. She argued that without a legal approach that allows both sides to address their grievances, sustainable peace is not possible. The only alternative to a legal approach, she said, is through force of arms: the strongest dictates the terms of his peace. The weak must submit and accept the diktat of the strong. But of course the weak does not accept.
I agree with her; the use of force is not a lasting recipe for peace.
She was answering indirectly the official Israeli view that the Goldstone Report should have never been produced. This is a view often held by the strong and powerful: might is right. It is a total rejection of the very idea of international justice. Not unlike the colonial attitude of old. But the colonial days are over.
At the heart of this debate at LSE, we had in fact two debates. One was about Israeli occupation and the harsh, often cruel treatment to which Palestinians were subjected. The attack on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009 was the extreme manifestation of that behaviour and the Goldstone Report addressed those events in line with its UN mandate and the requirement of international law.
But there was also another debate that concerned more generally the tension that often arises between justice and peace – between using international law to address violations of human rights and what, in specific circumstances, needs to be done to reach a politically workable solution to a conflict.
Q: What should come first – peace or justice? Can you have peace without addressing grievances in a legally binding way?
When you have a situation like the one that exisits in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, "addressing grievances in a legally binding way” as you put it and peace are inseparable; they are practically one and the same thing: the first objective of the negotiation is in fact to end injustice, oppression etc.
But when a mediator gets to work to engineer a solution to a conflict, he or she may face a dilemma. One of the parties or the human rights community may take objection to the manner in which the mediation is conducted. I confronted such situations many times in my work around the world.
Q: But how do the two ideas of peace and justice connect?
Thanks to years of campaigning and advocacy by civil society and NGOs, we now know and accept that justice matters, human rights matter and that justice is part of the solution of conflicts. You cannot have peace without justice.
However tension arises around discussions of when and how justice can be seen to be done in relation to any peace process.
Different nations have found their own ways to justice or addressing the past and have done so at different stages along the path to peace. There is no 'one size fits all’ approach – the models used in South Africa, Chile, Argentina and Sierra Leone will not necessarily be viable in the Middle East.
Over the years, human rights activists and victims of war have asked me how I can sit down and talk with an individual or group that is known to have carried out serious violations of human rights – people they are demanding should be brought to justice. I understand their question, but I answer that the first step towards peace is putting an end to violence – and that requires that you speak to the ones who have the guns.
I agree 100 per cent that justice is indispensible, but at some stage you’ve got to talk to the bad guys. I fully understand that human rights campaigners and victims find this difficult. But the road to peace is never a simple or straightforward one.
It is important that the UN now will not be part of any peace agreement that gives blanket amnesty. Justice has been acknowledged as a fundamental component of any peace process.
The UN will sign agreements with those accused of violations, but the agreement cannot absolve them of those violations. For example at the Afghanistan conference in Bonn and in later constitutional discussions, the possibility of amnesty for human rights violations was raised and the UN said no – we cannot legalise the absence of justice.
The Goldstone report shows us what war has done and is doing in the Middle East. In that sense, the report is therefore a pressing appeal for peace. By highlighting the suffering of those affected by the conflict it should lead us to redouble our efforts in the search for a solution. I sincerely hope that we never need another Goldstone report - and the only way to ensure that is to achieve lasting peace.
Q: Who is to blame for the failure to reach peace in the Middle East?
Clearly Israel must be held accountable for their ongoing violations of human rights and international law in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank. They are also the party refusing to end occupation.
It is also a scandal that the Palestinians are so divided and that their leadership structures are failing the people so badly in every sense. They have to get their act together. But the international community is almost as guilty. It is clear that the Israelis and Palestinians cannot solve their problems alone. They definitely need help.
For more than 30 years the Americans have pushed the UN out of the process of trying to resolve the conflict in the Middle East – yet have rarely acted as an honest broker. The US says almost every day that they are 100 per cent with Israel.
Europe is also guilty because they condone what is happening in Israel, especially in relation to human rights abuses. I tell my European friends that they are disqualifiying themselves from talking about human rights because they refuse to act against the destruction of homes, the stealing of land, the collective punishment of Palestinians that is happening every day.
It would actually help Israelis, especially the peace camp in Israel, if there was more condemnation of Israeli abuses from the US and EU. Joe Biden’s sharp response to Israel’s announcement of more settlements was welcome, but was it an indication of greater resolve? We will have to see.
Finally, ordinary Israelis and Palestinians need to get a much more realistic picture of each other.
An Israeli intellectual once said that 80 per cent of Israelis want peace, but they are absolutely certain that the Arabs don’t want peace. At the same time, 90 per cent of the Palestinians want peace – and they are absolutely certain that no Israeli wants peace.
If they knew more, a little more about each other, perhaps we’d get somewhere.