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- Ministry of Foreign Affairs unwilling to evaluate

- I do not see the great will on the part of the authorities to evaluate the peace processes Norway is involved in, says peace researcher Hilde Henriksen Waage. She thinks the reaction to Norway is far more hateful in Sri Lanka than even in the Middle East.


It does not surprise Hilde Henriksen Waage that there is no public evaluation of Norway's role in the peace process in Sri Lanka, which Ny Tid wrote about last week. According to the peace researcher, not everyone likes it equally that a critical spotlight is placed on what Jan Egeland has previously referred to as "Norway's number one export article".

- There is not always an equally open mind in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) to support an overall evaluation of Norway's involvement in a peace process, says Henriksen Waage, 1st amanuensis in history at the University of Oslo and senior researcher at the Department of Peace Research (PRIO).

She herself is the only one in Norway to carry out such an evaluation: Twice, in 2000 and 2004, she has presented reports on Norway's role in the Middle East peace process.

- How were the reactions?

- In the first report, “Norwegians? Who needs Norwegians? ”, I considered the Norwegian role before the secret negotiations began through the so-called back channel in January 1993. I thought it was important to put the Norwegian efforts into a larger historical context. However, the findings I made created huge discussions, Henriksen Waage answers.

Among those who responded most strongly were then Foreign Minister Thorbjørn Jagland and peace mediator Terje Rød Larsen. They did not like that Henriksen Waage had found that Yassir Arafat himself had wanted Norway as a peace broker because the Palestinians needed an Israel friend in a world where there were not many Israel friends left.

- It was also not well received that I proved that it was Thorvald Stoltenberg, and not Rød Larsen or Mona Juul, who had first made plans for a Norwegian negotiation channel as early as 1989, says Henriksen Waage.

- The reception of your second report, "Peacekeeping Is a Risky Business" in 2004, did not get any milder?

- No, there were violent reactions to it, with debate programs on TV and radio, and articles and editorials in a pile of newspapers, the peace researcher recalls.

This time her focus was on what a small country like Norway can accomplish in what she calls an "asymmetric" conflict, where one party is strong and the other weak.

- The answer I found was that a small country can not accomplish more than what the strong party agrees to. That is, the entire peace process took place on the premises of Israel – the strong party. Norway consequently had the choice between accepting this or going home. The only thing Norway had room for maneuver was to put pressure on Yassir Arafat and the PLO, which they also did. If not, Rød Larsen and Johan Jørgen Holst would not have managed to reach a peace agreement, says Henriksen Waage.

- Again, Rød Larsen was one of those who reacted?

- Yes, he and Mona Juul went hard on me and accused me of not having source evidence. My report was actually full of citations. But just for the time from January to September 1993, while the secret negotiations were taking place, none of the classified documents were to be found in the Foreign Ministry's archives, Henriksen Waage explains.

Neither the Ministry of Foreign Affairs nor the peace researcher – who was cleared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – found any written documentation that could shed light on these particular months. However, Henriksen Waage found references to such documents in other actors in the peace process.

- Both Rød Larsen and Juul were also asked by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to comment on the script of my report before it was published. But there was never a single objection from them. They took it all out in the media.

- Why was there so much noise around the report?

- I was very unprepared for the violent reactions. But in Norway, Norway's role in the Middle East is seen as a sacred cow. In a leader in VG, for example, I was called an icon-breaker, Henriksen Waage recalls.

- Why do you think that no evaluation of Norway's role in Sri Lanka has been carried out?

- There are different views within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some want evaluations to learn from the past. But it is extremely difficult to get a debate and an analysis of Norway's role in peace processes. One should not touch Norway's export article number one.

- Do you feel "leprous" with the Norwegian authorities because of your reports?

- I have since written many articles based on the analyzes in my reports to international publications. The reaction from professionals has been that my articles have been exceptionally nuanced. It has been strange; I have gone from getting the whole bank to shameful. Without wanting to mention names, it is clear that there are forces in Norway that can control their enthusiasm for my analyzes, says Henriksen Waage, who says that it was her initiative – and not the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – that led to her evaluation of Norway's role in the Middle East process.

- The lack of evaluations of peace processes is perhaps related to the fact that researchers are afraid?

- It is clear that it can be problematic for researchers to face such conflicts. The researchers are dependent on collaborating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which funds much of this research. I probably think I would have broken my neck if I had been a young researcher without a safety net when I published my reports. But even though I was established, I must admit that it was a great personal burden with the fierce criticism, says Henriksen Waage.

One of the essential answers she thinks evaluations should bring up is whether Norway's role actually contributes to creating peace.

- To get an answer to this, one must be aware of Norway's limitations as a small country. It is not Norway's fault that there was no peace in the Middle East, the Norwegians did the best they could. But one must not pretend that Norway can play a bigger role than we really can. We can not force anyone to peace. On the other hand, we can help to get the parties to talk to each other – if they want to. And then the parties must first have decided to stop killing each other. The problem is that one does not quite know what the Norwegian role is. It is raised in the media and Norway is seen as a world champion in peace.

- When the peace process in Sri Lanka is criticized, do the authorities often point out that Norway is only facilitators and not peace mediators?

- The question is what it means to be a facilitator; what do you really facilitate? Almost all conflicts are asymmetric, and in such conflicts it means that one facilitates the strongest party. In the Middle East, moreover, Norway was not just a facilitator. The Norwegians were also active mediators by submitting proposals and pressuring the parties.

- Does this mean that Norway can hide behind the argument of being a facilitator, for example in the Sri Lanka process?

- You do not know until you have evaluated Norway's role in Sri Lanka. But it is easy to hide behind the argument that both parties want it this way and that way.

- Was Norway's role in the peace process in the Middle East met with the same strong reactions as what we see against Norway in Sri Lanka?

- No, there were not as hateful reactions in the Middle East, based on what I see through the media in Sri Lanka. The right wing in Israeli politics and the radicals on the Palestinian side were critical of Norway. But in general, the protests against Norway in the Middle East can not be compared to what is happening in Sri Lanka, says Henriksen Waage, who has the following concluding comment on the question of whether she feels that there is a recognition in the political environment in Norway that Norway failed in Middle East.

- The impression is that you do not want to focus on the fact that there was no peace. It is pretended that there is still a peace process in the Middle East, says peace researcher Hilde Henriksen Waage.

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