Q&A - Saleem H Ali
Associate professor of environmental studies
University of Vermont
There is talk of creating a “peace park” in the Golan Heights to end the territorial dispute between Israel and Syria. Monocle talks to the author of Peace Parks, Conservation and Conflict Resolution.
How would a peace park work?
The idea is to declare the area as a nature reserve. This could offer a win-win exit strategy for both sides to the conflict. For Syria it would be an opportunity to get peace without relinquishing their claim on the Golan and for Israel, they could show a willingness to cooperate and improve relations with Arab countries beyond Egypt and Jordan.
How much could this help build peace throughout the region?
The potential problem with the approach is that if taken in isolation from the Palestinian conflict, it could lead to a “cold peace” such as what has happened between Egypt and Israel. It must be linked eventually to the larger resolution of the Palestinian conflict.
Why is the idea gaining momentum now?
The timing is right because the US has decided to re-engage with Syria. We have a US ambassador returning to Damascus after a five-year gap and the Obama administration’s deputy envoy to the region, Fred Hof, had himself suggested a peace park as a possible solution to the conflict.
Has this kind of peace-building worked elsewhere?
It worked to resolve the territorial conflicts between Ecuador and Peru; it was used in the Balkans between Macedonia and Albania over conflicts related to Lake Ohrid. And there is a trans-boundary park between Jordan and Israel at the confluence of the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers – this is where the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel was signed.