During the two-and-a-halfday interactive discussion, participants debated the changing strategic landscape in the Middle East, the ongoing repercussions from the Arab Spring, prospects for the Middle East Peace Process, and other current issues.
Against the backdrop of the escalating violence in Gaza, participants discussed the current situation in Palestine, and how to make progress towards lasting peace between Arabs and Israelis. Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said: “The two-state solution is the only viable solution. However, that does not mean that achieving it is inevitable. The international community must understand that and all stakeholders have to do their part to reach this goal.” Another topic of discussion was the ongoing conflict in Syria. In this context, UN and Arab League Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi emphasised in his address to the Forum: “There is only one sustainable path out of the situation in Syria – and that is a political solution.” However, participants cautioned that neither the conditions inside Syria, nor the international political situation are currently supportive of such a solution. Participants were united in their alarm over the ever-increasing pace of destruction and the mounting loss of innocent lives.
Participants agreed that the role of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has been strengthened in recent years. This was observed during the recent conflict in Libya, and in the swift and effective way that the GCC countries worked together in support of a peaceful transition of power in Yemen.
The presidential election in the United States and its regional implications were analysed in detail. Participants were reminded that US permanent involvement in world affairs was only a few decades old, and that isolationist tendencies in the US were on the rise. One of the key points of debate was to what extent Washington’s commitment to regional stability would be affected by trends like rising US energy self-sufficiency and the policy of a �pivot’ towards Asia.
Former US Secretary of State Dr Condoleezza Rice challenged others to think about US engagement in the Middle East not just as an attempt to contain negative trends, and to realise the benefits from closer economic and political cooperation.
Taking part for the first time this year, South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan observed: “This unique retreat gathers the insight and experience of key players at this crucial moment in history, providing a valuable perspective on the current issues unfolding in the Middle East. The in-depth discussions and lively interactions have shed light on recent developments and possible paths for a better future.” Reflecting upon the proceedings at the Forum, H. H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Foreign Minister, said: “The quest for peace in the region remains elusive – be it in Palestine, in Syria, or in other parts of the Middle East. But that should not discourage us. Current events in the region show once again that senior decision-makers from around the world need a space to engage in frank and unscripted exchange of ideas. Personal relationships and in-depth understanding of regional developments are essential. We are glad to have created this space, and we look forward to next year’s Sir Bani Yas Forum.” WAM/MN