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If Prof. Johann Galtung, the 76-year-old guru of peace advocates worldwide, were to be invited for a conversation with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert or with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he would tell them that some day, when the United States is sick of Israel's conflict with the Arabs, this country's leaders will look for non-military solutions.

Galtung, who visited Israel (for the 36th time) last week, as a guest of the Young Israel Forum for Cooperation and SHATIL (the New Israel Fund's empowerment and training center), had to make do with a short meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon. During that conversation, Galtung reiterated the idea he had previously mentioned in an interview with Haaretz: the establishment of a Middle Eastern community, a confederation between Israel and its five immediate neighbors: Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Palestine.

"Only such a confederation will enable Israel to exist in secure boundaries and maintain its character," said Galtung, who has written over 1,000 articles on mediation in the field of violence prevention and conflict escalation. "Before such a community is established," continued Galtung, "it is worth learning from the European community model following World War II."

Galtung has upgraded that model and proposes that alongside membership in the regional confederation, Israel also become part of the European Union, while its close neighbors would be part of a United Arab Community. Galtung's creativity concerning cross-border arrangements knows no boundaries. Instead of transferring Arabs and evacuating settlements, he warmly recommends the Swiss model: Jewish cantons in Palestine and Arab cantons in Israel.

Creative solutions

Galtung has played a pivotal role in over 45 national and international disputes, including between North and South Korea and in the Danish crisis that followed the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. He is the founder and director of TRANSCEND - A Peace and Development Network for Conflict Transformation by Peaceful Means, which now has professional members from over 80 countries worldwide.

According to Galtung, the Peace Park on the Peruvian-Ecuadorian border is an example of a durable and creative solution to conflict. "Compromise solutions usually leave both sides frustrated," explains Galtung. "The Peace Park is a solution that meets the needs of both sides and creates a new reality. Over time the two partners turned the park into a free-trade zone and the governments joined civilian initiatives for developing the site."

Galtung's opinion of the Oslo Accords, on the other hand, which came into being in the city where Galtung founded TRANSCEND 48 years ago, is that it was a recipe for failure. "The Oslo process was not a true peace process, but rather a limited move between the Palestine Liberation Organization and [the Israeli] Labor [Party]," he says. "The moment Oslo left forces like the [Israeli] Likud [Party] and Hamas by the wayside, it was obvious that they would oppose the process and sabotage it."

Galtung maintains that a true peace process requires the precise enumeration of all of the conflict's relevant players, the identification of their goals and the pinpointing of ways to bridge their various desires. Even today, on the eve of the Peace Conference in Washington, none of this has been done. This is why Galtung does not believe the November meet will yield significant results.

Starting at the core

Galtung proposes three ways for approaching a solution to a conflict: beginning with the core - the hardest issue to resolve; beginning with the fringe issues and moving from the easy to the more difficult; or working simultaneously on both fronts. Had he been asked, Galtung would have recommended the first option - drafting a declaration of principles designed to offer solutions only for the core problems between Israel and the Palestinians. He would also have suggested parallel efforts via various other channels, specifically the Syrian channel.

Galtung also feels that the negotiation format could be improved. There should be a pre-negotiation stage in which the mediator plays a decisive role before the crucial players start to negotiate the main issues, he says. The relevant mediator meets one-on-one with each of the parties, holding a genuine dialogue with them before they jump full force into the power struggles of the negotiations themselves. This is the stage at which the parties' needs are clarified and creative ideas emerge.

Galtung views Hamas as a rising force in Palestinian society, against the backdrop of the waning of the old elites, and warns that there is a possibility that the movement will take over the West Bank within five years. He wonders what movement will dominate Israeli society. The silver-haired mediator hopes it will be the young people. He prefers to converse with a minister's young, ambitious aide than with the minister himself.

"The young people are more open ideologically," says Galtung. "They want to offer innovative insights, different than those of their bosses, in order to blaze alternative trails for themselves."

The main purpose of Galtung's visit to Israel was to train young professionals. In a joint workshop for 30 Israelis and Palestinians, Galtung urged the participants not to put their fate in the hands of the existing political leaderships. He encouraged them to start formulating the future they want for themselves in the post-conflict era and to start creating and living the reality they want to see.

"Israel suffers from a great lack of peace research and study," Galtung lamented. "You invest so much in settling and waging conflicts, but hardly deal with studies of the era of peace. You have to reinstill the faith in peace and show the public that it has potential and purpose. Just like the younger generation, the media, too, has a role to play here. More space should be allocated to the activities of the peace organizations, at the expense of the preoccupation with the violent aspects of international relations. The proper balance is not between reports of Israeli violence and Palestinian violence, but rather between violence and peace."