Ambassador Charles W. (“Chas”) Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Remarks to staff of the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and, separately, to members of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs –
You have asked me to speak to current American policies in the Middle East, with an emphasis on the prospects for peace in the Holy Land. You have further suggested that I touch on the relationship of the Gulf Arabs, especially Saudi Arabia, to this. It is both an honor and a challenge to address this subject in this capital / at this ministry.
The declaration of principles worked out in Oslo seventeen years ago was the last direct negotiation between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs to reach consequential, positive results. The Oslo accords were a real step toward peace, not another deceptive pseudo-event in an endlessly unproductive, so-called “peace process.” And if that one step forward in Oslo in 1993 was followed by several steps backwards, there is a great deal to be learned from how and why that happened.
There can be no doubt about the importance of today’s topic. The ongoing conflict in the Holy Land increasingly disturbs the world’s conscience as well as its tranquility. The Israel-Palestine issue began as a struggle in the context of European colonialism. In the post-colonial era, tension between Israelis and the Palestinians they dispossessed became, by degrees, the principal source of radicalization and instability in the Arab East and then the Arab world as a whole. It stimulated escalating terrorism against Israelis at home and their allies abroad. Since the end of the Cold War, the interaction between Israel and its captive Palestinian population has emerged as the fountainhead of global strife. It is increasingly difficult to distinguish this strife from a war of religions or a conflict of civilizations.
For better or ill, my own country, the United States has played and continues to play the key international part in this contest. American policies, more than those of any other external actor, have the capacity to stoke or stifle the hatreds in the Middle East and to spread or reverse their infection of the wider world. American policies and actions in the Middle East thus affect much more than that region.
TO READ THE FULL SPEECH GO HERE: