The Refugee Working
Group: One Year Later
Source: Israel-Palestine Journal 2, 4 (Autumn
Notes for Remarks by Marc Perron
Assistant Deputy Minister (Africa & Middle East)
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade
to the Institute for Social and Economic Policy in
the Middle East
John F. Kennedy School of Government
February 24, 1995
Professors Hausman and Thurow, ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs
and International Trade, I would like to thank you
for this invitation to join you again at Harvard.
[Editors note: Mr. Perron delivered an earlier
speech at Harvard in February 1994.]February
always seems to be a busy month in Ottawa; this year
is no exception. Although I can't imagine why he would
want to do it at this time of year, President Clinton
arrived in Ottawa yesterday. This always gives rise
to a bit of extra work. On Monday, our finance minister
is expected to bring down one of the toughest budgets
we've seen in a long time. I'm spending a good deal
of effort trying to protect my parish. As you may
know, we're also looking at another referendum on
Quebec sovereignty later this year. This is a fundamental
issue for Canada which preoccupies all of us.
Against this kind of background, I relish opportunities
such as this to get away from the trees and take a
look at the forest. It's been roughly a year since
we last had the chance to talk about the Refugee Working
Group, or "RWG". At that time, I tried to
give you a bit of an RWG primer, explaining some of
the new lingo of the multilaterals which brings us
words such as "co-sponsor" and "gavel-holder"
and underlining some of the challenges as we saw them
at that time. Today, I would like to bring you up
to date on what the RWG has done since we last met
and share some of our ideas for the future. I also
want to highlight the complementarity between what
we are doing in the RWG and a growing range of "track
two" initiatives such as the Harvard refugee
project. The more that I look at this relationship;
the more opportunity I see for mutually-beneficial
linkages in our work. One possibility that I specifically
want to explore while I am here is the opportunity
for involving some of the Canadian specialists who
have been working with us in Ottawa in the Harvard
project. This is one of the reasons that I asked Professor
Rex Brynen from McGill University to join me on this
visit. Professor Brynen is one of a group of "brainstormers"
that we convene from time to time for a critical look
at where we are going with the RWG. He and other members
of this group have been working in a range of areas
which might very nicely complement your project.
The complementarity of the bilateral and multilateral
tracks of the Middle East Peace Process is one of
the distinguishing features of the Madrid framework.
While our primary purpose here is to talk about one
element of the multilateral track, we have to keep
things in perspective. As engrossed as we may be in
the multilaterals, the main event is the bilaterals
and at this moment the main event is not going well.
With their suicide bombers, the opponents of peace
have taken a heavy toll. Prime Minister Rabin and
Chairman Arafat will not have the political space
they need to move the process forward unless and until
the peace process begins to deliver what their respective
constituencies want - enhanced security for the Israelis,
expanded autonomy and better economic conditions for
the Palestinians. Without movement on the Israeli/Palestinian
track, the prospects for serious progress on the other
bilateral tracks and in the multilaterals become very
limited. The Cairo summit on February 2nd and President
Clinton's follow-up meeting with foreign ministers
in Washington on February 12th represent important
beginnings towards the establishment of a "coalition
for peace" against the rejectionist forces. As
difficult as the situation may look at present, the
parties are fundamentally convinced that there is
no realistic alternative to the peace process. With
determined support from the international community,
they will be able to continue to take the risks required
to make it work.
Let me now turn to the main part of my remarks today
where I will try to answer four questions:
- What has the RWG done since we last met?
- What have we achieved?
- Where do we see the RWG going in the future? and
- What does all this mean for your work at Harvard?
What has the RWG done since we last met?
As a good bureaucrat, I of course have to say that
the RWG has done a great deal in the last year. Looking
back at my calendar for the last year, I can also
tell you that I genuinely believe it. In more-or-less
chronological order, major RWG events since last February
- an inaugural "shepherds' meeting" in Paris
- an "international mission" to refugee camps
in Lebanon and Jordan in April (I
have brought along a few copies of the mission report
for those who are interested.);
- The sixth plenary session in Cairo in May;
- intersessional workshops on the European Union's
inventory of assistance activities for refugees in
Bristol in April and July;
- needs assessment missions to the region for the child
welfare theme in March and the public
health theme in June;
- a workshop on Palestinian nursing in Cairo and a
mission to the region to solicit the regional parties'
views on an RWG "vision paper" in September;
- the second shepherds' meeting in Paris and an intersessional
meeting on the data base theme in Oslo in October;
- an intersessional meeting on the family reunification
theme in Paris in November; and
- a mission to Syria and Lebanon and the seventh RWG
plenary session in Antalya in December.
As "gavel-holder" for the RWG, we also
participate in a number of other peace process-related
structures including the Multilateral Steering Group,
which oversees the entire multilateral process and
the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee which coordinates assistance
to the Palestinian Authority. Since last February,
we have been involved in Steering Group meetings in
Tabarka in July and in Cairo in January.
We also participated in several meetings of the Ad
Hoc Liaison Committee, where we have a particular
interest in ensuring that the needs of the refugees
and displaced are taken fully into account in the
broader plans and programs being developed for the
West Bank and Gaza. Finally, I had the pleasure of
accompanying Minister Ouellet to the first-ever North
Africa-Middle East Economic Summit in Casablanca in
October, where I made a presentation
on the RWG.
There is, of course, an important difference between
being busy and being productive. To be sure, the RWG
has been very busy since the last time I was at Harvard.
But what have we achieved?
When I last spoke to you, I noted a number of problems
that the RWG was facing. While some of these problems
are still with us, we've made important progress in
addressing others. Let me provide a few examples which
I think will underline a fairly substantial record
of RWG achievement over the last year.
One of the problems that I referred to the last time
I was here was that of finding the right balance in
the RWG between the Arab interest in dealing with
questions of principle and the Israeli preference
to concentrate on specifics.
The importance of this question of balance was highlighted
during the "international mission" to refugee
camps in April, 1994 that I mentioned earlier. I had
the pleasure of leading this mission which brought
senior-level officials from Egypt, the European Union,
Japan, Sweden and Switzerland into direct contact
with refugees and refugee representatives in 5 camps
in Jordan and 6 camps in Lebanon. If there was one
message that we consistently heard in each of these
camps, it was that efforts to improve the refugees'
living conditions do not absolve the international
community of its responsibility to address their rights.
As much as they appreciate the assistance they receive
from UNRWA and other sources, above all else, the
refugees want to live in dignity with a recognized
Given the nature of the RWG's work, the challenge
of finding the right balance between projects and
principles is one that is likely to be always with
us. I believe, however, that we are making some headway
on this front. Let me provide three examples which
I feel support this belief.
The last time that we were together, I came here
almost directly from the first-ever informal meeting
of the Multilateral Steering Group. Held in the thought-provoking
environment of a Canadian winter at Montebello, Quebec,
this meeting came up with a number of good ideas,
including the notion of a set of overall guidelines
for the multilateral peace process.
Although the guidelines exercise is still very much
a work in progress, the current "working draft"
specifically recognizes the broad nature of the RWG's
role. While I must underline that this text is still
very much subject to change, the guidelines' preamble
on the purposes of the multilateral process states
that the RWG is intended "to help realize the
vision of a Middle East without refugees by improving
the current living conditions of Palestinian refugees
and displaced persons without prejudice to their rights
and future status, by easing and expanding access
to family reunification, and by supporting the process
of achieving a viable and comprehensive solution to
the refugee issue." If this reference stands,
it will substantially assist the RWG in striking the
right balance between projects and principles.
On the question of balance, the second example that
I would like to note is the "Quadripartite Committee"
provided for in Article XII of the Israel/PLO Declaration
of Principles, or "D.O.P.". This Article
calls for the establishment of a Quadripartite Committee,
with representatives from Egypt, Jordan, Israel and
the Palestinians, which would, inter alia, "
decide by agreement on the modalities of admission
of persons displaced from the West Bank and Gaza in
1967, together with necessary measures to prevent
disruption and disorder."
With an immediate mandate to address the situation
of the displaced, the Quadripartite Committee has
a very important role to play. At its last plenary
session in Antalya, the RWG noted the progress made
towards convening the Quadripartite Committee and
expressed its availability to assist. We understand
that the potential support that the Quadripartite
Committee might receive from the RWG is among the
topics that may be discussed at the Committee's first
meeting, which is scheduled to be held in Amman within
the next few weeks.
The final example that I would like to refer to on
the question of balance is the Israel-Jordan peace
treaty. Article 8 of this treaty recognizes that the
massive human problems that have been caused by the
conflict in the Middle East cannot be fully resolved
at the bilateral level. The treaty goes on to identify
the RWG as one of the fora wherein the parties will
seek to resolve problems related to the 1948 refugees.
While the question of the 1948 refugees is, of course,
reserved for final status negotiations; there is a
great deal that can be done now to help prepare the
ground for these negotiations. I will come back to
this in the next part of my remarks.
Another problem that I referred to at our last meeting
was a shortage of practical, immediately do-able projects.
I am pleased to note that, at least for the short-term,
this is a problem which has been largely overcome.
To their great credit, UNRWA was very quick off the
mark in responding to the new circumstances brought
about by the D.O.P. Within weeks of the famous handshake
on the White House lawn, UNRWA had elaborated a comprehensive
"Peace Implementation Programme", or "PIP",
including a host of immediately-implementable projects
for refugees and the displaced in the West Bank and
Gaza and in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. The PIP programme
provided a very timely and effective framework within
which the international community could provide tangible
evidence to the refugees that their situation had
not been forgotten.
The RWG has been an important source of support for
the PIP programme. At our sixth plenary session in
Cairo, the United States, Canada and others pledged
over US$ 15 million for a range of schools, clinics
and other PIP projects in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
Saudi Arabia has committed US$ 20 million to UNRWA
for PIP projects in the West Bank and Gaza.
Since we last met, the RWG has also undertaken a
number of concrete projects of its own. To respond
to priorities identified in their assessments of public
health and child welfare needs among refugee communities
in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, Italy and Sweden respectively
have committed close to US$ 10 million in new funding.
As noted in a recently-compiled summary of RWG and
RWG-related activities which I will be distributing,
our other "shepherds" - Norway for data
bases, France for family reunification, the United
States for human resources development, job creation
and vocational training and the European Union for
economic and social infrastructure - have all been
very active in moving their respective themes forward.
At last count, the RWG was involved in over 100 specific
activities ranging from workshops and seminars on
the various themes, to the construction of schools
and clinics in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and
Lebanon and technical support for the Palestinian
Bureau of Statistics.
To close this portion of my remarks on the RWG and
concrete projects, I would like to bring you up to
date on one more initiative. When Israel withdrew
from the Sinai in 1982, more than 5800 residents of
an abandoned military base in the Rafah area of Egypt
became separated from their families in Gaza. Known
as "Canada Camp", this former UN Emergency
Force base found itself on the Egyptian side of the
new dividing-line between Israel and Egypt. Since
this time, family members on one side of the fence
in Canada Camp have had to shout across a no-man's
land to relatives on the other side.
Under a 1989 agreement between Israel and Egypt,
some 130 families were able to return to Gaza by 1991.
Unfortunately, these transfers came to an end when
the funds required to support them were no longer
available. I am pleased to report that, in close cooperation
with Israel and Egypt, this transfer process has now
been resumed. With financial support from Canada,
the first of 70 household heads from Canada Camp crossed
into Gaza to begin construction of homes in a neighbourhood
known as Tel-al-Sultan in July, 1994. In total, more
than 1,000 former residents of Canada Camp will benefit
from this initiative. With additional support to be
made available by Canada and others, we are also hopeful
that, in time, all of the residents of Canada camp
will join their families and friends in Gaza.
A third problem that I referred to the last time
that I was here was the RWG's need for a favourable
political climate in order to move ahead with some
of its more ambitious initiatives. On this score as
well, the RWG has been relatively fortunate of late.
As some of you may know, the RWG had the distinction
of being the first multilateral plenary session to
be held in an Arab state. Coming just weeks after
the breakthrough on the Oslo channel, this meeting
in Tunis in October, 1993 proved to be one of the
best the RWG had ever had. We got lucky again in Cairo
in May, 1994 when the RWG's sixth plenary session
was convened within days of the signing of the Gaza/Jericho
implementation agreement. Clearly, the multilaterals
can do a bit of surfing when the bilaterals are going
well. Unfortunately, the converse is also true.
To provide just one example of how an unfavourable
political climate can frustrate the best humanitarian
intentions, I would like to share with you a recent
experience we had in Lebanon.
One of the main recommendations of the report of
the International Mission to refugee camps in Jordan
and Lebanon was that the RWG should set up an Emergency
Housing Fund for up to 6,000 Palestinian refugee families
displaced by reconstruction works in Lebanon. In response
to this recommendation, Canada announced a contribution
of C$ 1 million to an emergency fund set up by UNRWA.
The Canadian contribution was seen as seed money towards
a much larger project which would provide decent housing
for refugee families on land to be made available
by the Lebanese government. Like any other RWG initiative,
the emergency housing project was considered to be
without prejudice to the refugees' future status.
For reasons which are not entirely clear, the Lebanese
government's plans to acquire a plot of land on which
to begin constructing the emergency housing became
public in August. Within hours of this "leak",
the Lebanese press was full of stories of international
plots to permanently settle Palestinian refugees.
As Gavel-Holder for the RWG, I was deemed to be the
ringleader of this dastardly scheme.
To quell the uproar caused by inaccurate reports,
the Lebanese government referred the emergency housing
project to a "special committee". During
a visit to Beirut in December, I was told that -in
the current political circumstances - the project
had to be indefinitely "postponed". Canada's
C$ 1 million contribution to UNRWA is being returned.
The good news is that Canada is no longer being accused
of trying to resettle Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.
To the contrary, the latest rumour going around Beirut
is that the reason we recently re-opened our Embassy
was to grant the refugees immigrant visas! The bad
news is that as Lebanon's reconstruction programs
continue, more Palestinian refugees are finding themselves
on the street.
Despite this disappointment on the emergency housing
project, I am more than satisfied that the RWG has
made significant progress towards resolving some of
the problems that I noted last time. Before moving
on to our plans for the future, however, I would like
to highlight a new problem which is facing the RWG
and the multilaterals in general. In a way, this problem
is a product of our own success.
As I mentioned earlier, the RWG and the other multilateral
working groups were able to ride the wave in the heady
days after the D.O.P. and the parallel progress on
the Jordan/Israel track. With this fresh impetus from
the bilateral track, our plans became more ambitious
and our calendars more full. With several new countries
added to the process, plenary sessions became increasingly
unwieldy (we had 43 delegations in Cairo) and more
and more work was channelled to intersessional activities.
For the Palestinians in particular, human and financial
resources became very thinly stretched and the overall
system approached overload.
This new problem was one of the "structural
issues" considered at the Steering Group's informal
meeting in Cairo last month. While a number of options
are under consideration, possible reactions include
"clustering" working group plenaries in
consecutive sessions at a single site and stretching
out the period between plenary sessions in favour
of more frequent, and smaller, intersessional meetings.
The Regional Economic Development Working Group has
set up a "Monitoring Committee", including
the "core regional parties" and the shepherds,
which will effectively act as an Executive Committee
to direct the group's work in the period between much
less frequent plenary sessions. On the basis of the
Cairo Steering Group meeting, it would appear that
we are moving towards annual Working Group plenary
sessions with other mechanisms such as the REDWG Monitoring
Committee - affectionately known as McREDWG - coordinating
the effort between plenaries.
From an RWG perspective, we haven't really thought
the overload problem through. While I don't see the
RWG as part of a "cluster" of the more economically-oriented
working groups, we also need to make sure that these
working groups take the needs of the refugee community
into account. I would be interested in your ideas
on this score.
I would now like to turn to the third of the four
questions I wanted to address today. That is, where
do we see the RWG going in the future?
When I was going over the things that the RWG had
done since we last met, I mentioned a mission to the
region to receive the regional parties' comments on
a "vision paper" for the RWG. As another
of the bright ideas born in Montebello, the vision
paper in fact goes well beyond the RWG. From the RWG
perspective, what we are looking at is one component
of a much broader exercise intended to take a long-term
view of the region ten years into the future. As part
of this exercise, each of the multilateral working
groups has been asked to prepare a paper setting out
both a vision and a set of priorities to pursue as
they move towards realization of the vision. Together
with an introduction and a chapter on financing to
be prepared by the co-sponsors, the papers prepared
by each working group would constitute an overall
vision for the Middle East which the parties could
work towards achieving.
While the schedule for completing the vision paper
has slipped somewhat, the Cairo Steering Group meeting
confirmed that this remained an important priority
and set late March as a deadline for completing an
initial draft. Based on comments received from the
regional parties during the mission I mentioned earlier,
a draft of the RWG chapter has been submitted to the
co-sponsors and will shortly be circulated to the
As you will appreciate, I am not at liberty to go
into the details of the draft paper. I can, however,
share with you some of the basic elements of our approach.
For anyone who has followed the RWG closely, these
points will come as no great surprise.
Unlike most of the other working groups whose long-term
vision relates to opportunities that will be created
once comprehensive peace is achieved; the RWG is dealing
with a challenge that must be resolved as a precondition
to peace. The RWG's vision of a new Middle East is
straightforward - in ten years' time, we would like
to see a Middle East without refugees. The challenge
is not in defining the vision. It is, rather, in determining
how this vision will be realized.
What can we say about the process by which this vision
of a refugee-free Middle East might be realized? From
my perspective - and I hasten to add that not all
RWG members would necessarily share this perspective
- a number of points would seem to be commonly accepted.
First, I think it is recognized that a lasting solution
to the refugee issue cannot be imposed. Rather, such
a solution would have to provide the refugees with
options from which they could make a free and informed
choice in accordance with the requirements of international
Second, it seems clear that the process of developing
these options will require a free and open dialogue
between the parties involved - a dialogue that addresses
and tries to demystify "taboo" words and
concepts like the right of return, compensation, resettlement
and the future international status of a Palestinian
Third, there is no doubt that some of the options
which are developed in the course of this process
will not appeal to some of the parties. If the refugee
issue was easy, it wouldn't have been reserved for
final status negotiations! Like the other final status
questions, the refugee issue will be resolved through
a process of give and take, where none of the parties
get 100 per cent of what they want. This process will
be fundamentally political, with the final solution
part of an inter-related package of agreements on
all outstanding issues.
Finally, it's clear that the international community
will have an important role to play in supporting
the options which emerge from the process. Whatever
the final settlement, it's difficult to imagine outcomes
that will not require significant financial support
from the international community.
For the most part, the process of arriving at a political
solution to the refugee issue will take place within
the bilateral track of the peace process - through
direct negotiations between regional parties and/or
trilateral or quadripartite mechanisms established
under the various agreements. As I said earlier, however,
there is a great deal of work that can be done now
to prepare the ground for these negotiations. For
some of this work, the RWG is in a position to lend
In the course of preparing the vision paper, we have
done a great deal of soul-searching about the RWG's
work to date and how that work supports our goal of
achieving a refugee-free Middle East in 10 years time.
While it is not up to Canada to draw conclusions in
this regard, we do have a number of impressions which
we will be reviewing with the co-sponsors, the regional
parties, and others in the context of the vision paper
exercise. I would like to share some of these impressions
First, it seems clear that the task of mobilizing
the resources required to improve the refugees' current
living conditions without prejudice to their rights
or future status remains a fundamentally important
role for the RWG. At precisely the time when the refugees
need to be reassured that their situation has not
been overlooked, there are disturbing signs that the
resources available to UNRWA and other refugee support
agencies could shrink. We cannot allow this to happen.
Second, there would appear to be a continuing need
for the other two functions that the RWG has performed
- defining the scope of the refugee problem and encouraging
a dialogue on the issues involved. As circumstances
change, however, and particularly as the time period
for final status negotiations nears, we may need to
take a more focussed approach to these functions -
an approach that gives greater emphasis to strategic
In my opening remarks, I referred to the complementarity
between the RWG and a growing range of "track
two" initiatives such as the Harvard project.
Unfortunately, other pressures prevent us from participating
in these initiatives to the extent that we would like.
We do, however, closely follow the proceedings of
track two activities and try to pick up ideas from
these activities. Not so long ago, I received a summary
report from a conference on refugees held in Greece
in November. Reading through this report, I was genuinely
struck by the unfettered range of the conference's
discussions and the inventiveness of some of the ideas
that came out of it. I'm sure that the Harvard project
has facilitated the same kind of discussions that
came out of the conference in Greece and look forward
to receiving an update on your work. At the same time,
I can tell you quite frankly that I'm a bit envious
of the kinds of debates that you are able to have
on track two. I also wonder to what extent we can
transfer elements of these debates to "track
As the multilateral process matures and groups such
as the RWG gain in confidence, there should be greater
scope for us to get involved in areas that we have
thus far tended to avoid. Given the progress that
has been achieved on the bilateral
track - and if you stop and think about it a great
deal has been achieved - we should be able to tackle
head-on issues and concepts that we have only danced
around in the past. What are these issues and concepts?
What would a more strategic approach to the RWG's
Looking first at the RWG's "defining the scope
of the refugee problem" function, I think there
are several areas that we could get involved in which
would provide the kind of strategic policy support
that the parties will require as we move towards final
status negotiations. To provide just a few examples,
the RWG could support:
- the provision of basic and objective data on the
number of Palestinian refugees, their living conditions,
citizenship and employment status, links to family
and property in Israel, etc. Through the efforts of
the RWG and, especially, Norway as shepherd for the
data base theme, the availability of sample survey
data on the refugees has expanded considerably. At
some point, however, there will be a need for more
comprehensive, benchmark data, the kind of data that
can only be obtained through a census;
- targeted surveys of Palestinian refugee communities
outside the West Bank and Gaza, intended to provide
both objective and subjective assessments of intentions
and preferences with regard to "final status";
- an analysis of the absorptive capacity of the West
Bank and Gaza and of the socio-economic and other
implications of a large influx of Palestinians from
outside these areas;
- assessments of the future transfer of UNRWA functions
to the Palestinian Authority;
- consideration of questions regarding naturalization,
integration, resettlement and the long-term residency
of Palestinians in their current countries of asylum;
- assessments of the relative costs of various options
for resolving the refugee issue, including consideration
of the "compensation" issue and formulas
To be sure, some of the above-noted questions and
concepts are hotter than others. I can think of no
quicker way to have the RWG self-destruct than to
introduce some of these topics into our next plenary
session. This underlines the need for continued attention
to the RWG's other current function - encouraging
a dialogue on the issues involved. Here again, I think
there is some scope for the RWG to take a more strategic
approach, concentrating on identifying and testing
options and generating alternative scenarios that
could be fed into the political process. I will come
back to this point in a moment.
In addition to the three major functions that the
RWG has performed to date, developments in the process
generally might give rise to a fourth function - one
that we might refer to as "monitoring and support".
As I noted earlier, at its last plenary session in
Antalya, the RWG offered its support to the Quadripartite
Committee. While I don't want to speculate as to how,
or even whether, the Quadripartite Committee might
take up this offer, it strikes me that one of the
first things that the Committee will have to do is
come up with a mutually-acceptable data set on the
number of persons displaced in 1967, their current
locations and intentions with regard to return to
the West Bank and Gaza. This may be an area in which
the RWG could be of assistance. Once decisions on
the repatriation program have been taken, the RWG
might be able to play a role in mobilizing the expertise
and financial resources required and monitoring the
program's implementation. In the longer-term, the
RWG could perform similar monitoring and support functions
with respect to decisions taken on the 1948 refugees.
As our time is running short, I would now like to
turn to the last of the four questions that I set
out to answer today - What does all of this
mean for your work at Harvard?
As I said in my opening remarks, I see a great deal
of potential complementarity between the RWG and the
whole range of track two refugee initiatives. Looking
specifically at the Harvard project, I see several
opportunities for mutually-beneficial cooperation
in each of the three major current functions of the
First, in terms of defining the scope of the refugee
problem, the RWG has neither the time nor the resources
to start reinventing wheels. While there may still
be some original work that needs to be done - particularly
in the realm of strategic policy research as I mentioned
earlier - most of the basic information is out there.
What we need is a little help in finding where it
is and in making sure that we are kept abreast of
the latest writings. As soon as I finish speaking,
I intend to go into serious listening mode to hear
your perspectives on the refugee
issue and your views on priority
areas for strategic research.
Second, with respect to mobilizing the resources
required to improve the refugees' current living conditions,
I would welcome any ideas you may
have as to new sources of support. While the business
people that I spoke to at the Casablanca summit listened
very politely to my presentation on the RWG, they
were not exactly digging into their wallets to help
us out! Particularly for the refugees outside the
West Bank and Gaza, there is a pressing need to demonstrate
that the peace process can deliver tangible benefits.
Third, I think there is incredible scope for the
Harvard project and other track two initiatives to
complement the RWG's work in encouraging a dialogue
on the underlying issues. In the past three years,
the RWG has gained a lot of confidence. At the intersessional
meeting on family reunification meeting held in Paris
last November, Israelis and Palestinians talked freely
and frankly about an issue that, not so long ago,
we struggled to get on our agenda. Through the vision
paper exercise, I hope to develop a consensus that
the RWG can take on other tough issues and explore
sensitive questions in greater depth.
When the RWG talks about strategic policy support,
however, the key word here is support. As the RWG
matures, we should be able to tackle more difficult
issues. At the same time, however, we need to be careful
not to bite off more than we can chew. We need to
temper our ambitions with reality and remember that
the multilaterals are intended as a complement to
the bilaterals, not a substitute. There are still
a lot of red lines with regard to what gets discussed
where and when.
This is where track two comes in. You have the luxury
of being able to talk out loud about things that we
can only whisper. You have things on your agenda today
that we won't be able to discuss in the RWG this year.
As the Institute's economic project demonstrated so
well, track two initiatives give people the kind of
space they need to re-examine basic positions and
think creatively. With the right kinds of communications
channels, there is the same scope for complementarity
between the Harvard Project and other track two initiatives
and the RWG as there is between the RWG and the bilateral
peace process. One can imagine a progression whereby
ideas get kicked around on track two until the time
is ripe for them to move into the RWG, where they
get kicked around some more until the bilateral parties
are ready to discuss them. I know that this places
the onus on Harvard to do most of the thinking but
if you can't come to Harvard for original thinking,
where do you go?
Let me close with one final thought on the topic
of communications channels. If we are going to achieve
the kind of synergy that I think is possible between
the RWG and the Harvard project, we're going to need
to find better and more frequent ways of staying in
touch. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, we have
a group of brainstormers at various universities in
Canada with whom we stay in quite close contact on
matters related to the RWG. One of these brainstormers,
Professor Rex Brynen of McGill University, happens
to be spending part of a sabbatical year at the Department
so it was fairly easy to liberate him to join me here
today. Some of our other brainstormers include Janice
Stein from the University of Toronto, John Sigler
at Carleton, Howard Adelman from York, Atif Kubursi
from McMaster and Elia Zureik from Queen's. With a
bit more effort than it took to get Rex here, we may
also be able to convince some of our other brainstormers'
universities to free up some of their time to work
with the Harvard project. This would make the expertise
of some of Canada's best Middle East specialists available
to the project while at the same time further developing
the links between this project and the RWG.
I look forward to discussing this and other ideas
with you today. Thank you.