ROUND 3 – UPDATE
The third round of the multilateral track of the Middle East peace talks was concluded at the end of May. The multilateral negotiations, part of the peace process launched in Madrid in October 1991, are comprised of five working groups dealing with issues of regional concern environment, regional security, refugees, water and economic development.
This latest round of talks was the most productive yet. Although problems still exist, it appears that these negotiations have now moved beyond introductory presentations and into concrete planning and research.
The following is a summary of the progress in each working group:
I. WATER (Geneva, April 26-29, 1993)
In this round, this working group produced a number of operative decisions in a number of areas:
1. Enhancing water supply:
Japan will move forward in the planning of a brackish water desalination plant in Jordan, the European Community will continue its research and desalination project in Gaza, and Canada will collect data on technologies to increase water supply. Significantly, Oman offered to create scientific centers for desalination research.
2. Regional water cooperation:
The UN will hold a seminar on fresh water management, and the EC offered to organize a regional training program. A US proposal for a regional weather forecasting workshop is also on the table.
3. Water conservation:
The World Bank offered to carry out conversation surveys and projects, including a survey in the West Bank and Gaza and in Jordan. The Bank will also hold a seminar on water demand management. The US will organize a wastewater seminar, to be held together with talks in the Environment working group.
Although the Palestinian delegation’s demand that their ‘water rights’ first be established caused needless delays in the proceedings, Israel is pleased with the progress made in this group. The next round of talks was tentatively set to take place in China this fall.
II. REFUGEES (Oslo, May 11-13, 1993)
In this round, sensitive political issues were relegated to the ‘back seat’, and the discussion was pragmatic and professional, with all parties Israel, Arabs and others contributing to the constructive and positive atmosphere.
The working group entered into a detailed discussion of international projects designed to alleviate the living conditions of refugees where they reside, both in the territories and in the region. All items on the agenda were addressed. It was decided that several projects be pursued prior to the convening of the next session, shepherded by specific countries.
1. Data bases:
Following the presentation of an initial socio-economic survey of 2,500 Palestinians in the territories, Norway will follow up with an experts seminar to examine the findings and sumbit recommendations. A similar survey will be conducted in Jordan. The EC will prepare an inventory of existing international projects relevant to refugees, to be discussed at the next session.
2. Family reunification:
It was agreed to address the humanitarian aspects of this issue, and the French emissary, currently studying the issue will continue his mission in this regard.
3. Human resources development, vocational training and job creation: The United States, which is shepherding this effort, will send a study mission to assess Palestinian needs, with immediate priority to be given to paramedic training.
4. Public health and child welfare:
All parties agreed to cooperate fully in this field. Italy, which was chosen as shepherd, will hold an experts meeting before the next meeting of the working group.
5. Social and economic infrastructure:
The EC will act as shepherd and widen its survey (para. 1 above) to include the needs of the Palestinian refugees in the area of social and economic infrastructure.
Both in the plenary and behind the scenes, Israel offered help and support for projects designed to improve living conditions for refugees. Israel proposed, for example, that Palestinians be invited to participate in international cooperation courses organized by Israel’s foreign ministry, in such fields as public health and agriculture. Israel also suggested that the Children’s Medical Center in Israel cooperate with doctors and hospitals in the region.
The next session will convene in Tunis in the fall.
III. ENVIRONMENT (Tokyo, May 24-25, 1993)
Following the initial plenary meeting of the working group, a number of informal sessions were held for exchanging views on the expert level. Some of these discussions led to projects which will be pursued in the intersessional period.
The World Bank has undertaken to establish a network of regional institutions engaged in research and knowhow in this field. A technical mission will be sent to the region to prepare an inventory of existing institutional capabilities and experience. This will be followed by an experts meeting to discuss the fight against desertification.
2. Maritime pollution and emergency preparedness:
The importance of regional cooperation in fragile marine ecosystems (such as the Gulf of Aqaba) was re-emphasized. Following a workshop on hazardous material accidents conducted in the US last February, a seminar on maritime emergency preparedness will be held in Japan (June 7-24).
3. Education and public awareness:
Jordan presented its experience in this area and proposed to set up a regional center for environmental education. Israel’s suggestion to declare 1994 Environment Year in the Middle East was welcomed by all parties.
4. Sewage and waste disposal:
The US will hold a workshop (July 27 – August 4) on wastewater treatment facilities for small communities. Italy will hold a workshop on solid waste management. Japan will undertake a waste disposal project in Jordan, and has proposed a training program for industrial pollution control.
The next meeting of the working group will convene in Egypt in mid-October.
IV. REGIONAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT (Rome, May 4-5, 1993)
This working group contains great potential for the entire region, and in this round of talks, this potential has begun to be realized. The proceedings advanced from conceptual discussions to concrete activities, negotiations among experts in sub-committees has begun, funding has been made available, and many projects were agreed upon:
1. World Bank involvement:
The World Bank will prepare a regional study for the next session, advance recommendations for priority projects regarding regional infrastructure, and carry out the relevant feasibility studies. During the period between sessions, the World Bank will also conduct bilateral and multilateral meetings between the parties on the level of experts.
2. Work in progress:
Japan will organize a regional workshop on tourism, as part of its tourism project, and the US and EC members will pursue activities and consultation with the parties on the various projects they are promoting.
3. New projects:
Among the new projects supported by the working group were a Middle East road survey, an electricity grid inter-connection survey, and projects to promote agricultural cooperation, trade cooperation, and financial investment.
For the first time, a willingness to provide large-scale funding was announced by the project sponsors (‘shepherds’). The US will provide $14 million, Italy $3 million, the EC $2 million, and Spain $400,000 for projects in the territories. In addition, the EC will contribute $6 million for studies on roads, electricity, agriculture, commerce and financial markets.
During the course of the session, Israel expressed the hope that the Arab boycott against her be lifted in the near future. Following the full session, regional parties met for the first time in a regional forum, to discuss project coordination with the shepherds. Unfortunately, the Palestinians boycotted this forum.
The next round of talks is scheduled to take place in September, perhaps in Morocco.
V. ARMS CONTROL AND REGIONAL SECURITY (Washington, May 18-20, 1993) In this round, discussions continued on both the confidence building measures and long-term objectives for arms control and regional security. For the first time, Palestinians participated in this working group.
Here, too, emphasis was placed on intersessional activities, involving primarily the experts. Among the projects agreed upon in preparation for the next plenary meeting are:
Activities planned are the observation of an airbase in the UK, observation of a NATO military exercise in Denmark, and a visit to a communications facility in the Hague.
Workshops have been planned on the following topics: verification, to be held in in Cairo; communications (with the Netherlands acting as mentor); the exchange of information on military activity (with Turkey as mentor); long-term arms control objectives and declaratory measures (with the US and Russia as mentors); and maritime measures (with Canada as mentor).
Other intersessional activities will include the compilation and analysis of arms control proposals for the Middle East; possible additions to and analysis of the CBMs list tabled by the co-sponsors in Moscow in September 1992; analysis of the scope of the Middle East region for the purposes of arms control and regional security; and study of the idea of a center for conflict prevention.
Israel welcomes the progress made in this round of multilateral talks, which engaged in the discussion of concrete matters, including the question of funding for proposed projects. Another positive development is the importance placed on the intersessional activities of the various working groups, thus ensuring continuity.
Israel regrets the continued absence of Syria and Lebanon from the multilateral talks and hopes that they will attend the next round, to be held in the fall.