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Wolfensohn

I Can’t See You

Nigel Roberts's picture

Jerusalem, January 15. 2010

“War…yes, everyone knows what war is like. But occupation is more terrible in a way, because people get used to one another. We tell ourselves, ‘They’re just like us, after all’, but they’re not at all the same. We’re two different species, irreconcilable, enemies forever.” Irene Nemirovsky, 1942, on the attitudes of the occupied French.

    The controversial wall separating Israel from Palestinian administered areas, is further limits access and movement. Photos © Natalia Cieslik.

So-called dialogue

In 2005, at the time of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, I became involved in a series of discussions between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Government of Israel (GOI). This involvement stemmed from World Bank analytical work: we had argued that a healthy Palestinian economy was an essential part of the confidence-building needed if Palestinians were to ‘invest’ in reconciliation, and that Israeli restrictions on movement and access were crippling any such possibility. What’s more, we believed that it was possible to greatly reduce these restrictions without destabilizing Israeli securityor rather, that a pursuit of day-to-day ‘absolute security’ risked the achievement of any longer-term ‘sustainable security’, and that improved methods of managing the flow of goods and people could be used to the benefit of both parties.

This argument had some resonance in Israel, and subsequently with the PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA), and was adopted as a core part of the Wolfensohn Quartet Mission’s terms of reference. A series of negotiations took place and culminated in the Agreement on Movement and Access (AMA) brokered by US Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice in November 2005.

Despite its high profile, the AMA was never implemented. That’s a longer story.