Report of the High-level Group
13 November 2006
4.3 Selective accounts of ancient history are used by radical movements to paint an ominous portrait of historically distinct and mutually exclusive faith communities destined for confrontation. Such distorted historical narratives must be countered. More important for the purposes of this report is the fact that this history does not offer explanations for current conflicts or for the rise in hostility between Western and Muslim societies. On the contrary, the roots of these phenomena lie in developments that took place in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, beginning with European imperialism, the resulting emergence of anti-colonial movements, and the legacy of the confrontations between them.
4.4 The partition of Palestine by the United Nations in 1947, envisaging the establishment of two states - Palestine and Israel - with a special status for Jerusalem, led to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, beginning a chain of events that continues to be one of the most tortuous in relations between Western and Muslim societies. Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories and the unresolved status of Jerusalem - a holy city for Muslims and Christians as well as Jews – have persisted with the perceived acquiescence of Western governments and thus are primary causes of resentment and anger in the Muslim world toward Western nations. This occupation has been perceived in the Muslim world as a form of colonialism and has led many to believe, rightly or wrongly, that Israel is in collusion with “the West”. These resentments and perceptions were further exacerbated by Israel’s disproportionate retaliatory actions in Gaza and Lebanon.
5.1 With regard to relations between Muslim and Western societies, we must acknowledge the contemporary realities that shape the views of millions of Muslims: the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the violence in Afghanistan, and the increasingly violent conflict in Iraq.
5.2 We must stress the increasing urgency of the Palestinian issue, which is a major factor in the widening rift between Muslim and Western societies. In this regard, it is our duty to express our collective opinion that without a just, dignified, and democratic solution based on the will of all peoples involved in this conflict, all efforts – including recommendations contained in this report – to bridge this gap and counter the hostilities among societies are likely to meet with only limited success.
5.3 Our emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not meant to imply that it is the overt cause of all tensions between Muslim and Western societies. Other factors also create resentment and mistrust, including the spiraling crisis in Iraq, the continued instability in Afghanistan, issues internal to Muslim societies, as well as terrorist attacks on civilian populations in many countries. Nevertheless, it is our view that the Israeli-Palestinian issue has taken on a symbolic value that colors cross-cultural and political relations among adherents of all three major monotheistic faiths well beyond its limited geographic scope.
5.4 Achieving a just and sustainable solution to this conflict requires courage and a bold vision of the future on the part of Israelis, Palestinians and all countries capable of influencing the situation. We firmly believe that progress on this front rests on the recognition of both the Palestinian and Jewish national aspirations and on the establishment of two fully sovereign and independent states living side by side in peace and security.
5.5 Reaching this objective will require Israel not only to accept but to facilitate the establishment of a viable Palestinian state. The peace accords involving Israel, Egypt and Jordan demonstrate that such constructive steps taken in line with international law are workable. Moreover, the terms of reference agreed to by all parties at the Madrid Conference in 1991, the peace initiative by President Clinton in 2000, and the peace proposal by the Arab League in its meeting in Beirut, Lebanon in 2002, make it clear that the framework for a broad-based accord does exist and the political will can be generated.
5.6 Of primary importance in this regard is the mutual recognition of the competing narratives that emerged following the establishment of the state of Israel. In the eyes of most Jews and Israelis this event was the result of a long-standing aspiration to build a Jewish homeland and was immediately followed by an attack from neighboring Arab countries. For Palestinians and a majority of people in the Muslim world, however, the establishment of Israel was experienced as an act of aggression that led to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians and to the occupation of their lands. It is worth noting that these competing narratives are mirrored in divergent interpretations of recent history: different ways of describing conflicts, occupation, and peace negotiation efforts.
5.7 A White Paper on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The competing narratives of Palestinians and Israelis cannot be fully reconciled, but they must be mutually acknowledged in order to establish the foundations of a durable settlement. To this end, we recommend the development of a White Paper analyzing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict dispassionately and objectively, giving voice to the competing narratives on both sides, reviewing and diagnosing the successes and failures of past peace initiatives, and establishing clearly the conditions that must be met to find a way out of this crisis. Such a document could provide a firm foundation for the work of key decision-makers involved in efforts to resolve this conflict. A level-headed and rational analysis would make it clear to the Palestinian people that the price of decades of occupation, misunderstanding and stigmatization is being fully acknowledged, while at the same time contributing to exorcize the fears of Israelis. This effort would strengthen the hand of those who seek a just solution to this conflict while weakening extremists on all sides, as they would no longer be the champions of a cause they have been able to appropriate because its story had been left untold or deliberately ignored by the community of nations.
5.8 A re-invigorated multilateral peace process. As a further step in a renewed effort to solve the problems that lie at the heart of the Middle East crisis, the High-level Group calls for the resumption of the political process, including the convening, as soon as possible, of an international conference on the Middle East Peace Process, to be attended by all relevant actors, with the aim of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement.
Political Studies and Chair, Moscow State University
The following documents on the Alliance of Civilizations and the work of the High-level Group, including speeches, statements, and background research is available on the Alliance of Civilization website: www.unaoc.org.
1. Statement by the Prime Minister of the Spanish government, H.E. Mr. José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to the United Nations General Assembly proposing an Alliance of Civilizations, September 2004.
2. Paragraph 144 of the UN Summit (14 September 2005) on the Objectives of the Millennium +5, welcoming the Alliance of Civilizations initiative.
3. Concept Paper on the Alliance of Civilizations.
4. Speeches by the Co-sponsors and of the UN Secretary-General at the first meeting of the High-level Group in Palma de Mallorca, Spain.
5. Meetings and hearings of the High-level Group.
6. Paper by H.E. Mr. André Azoulay and H.E. Hubert Védrine on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
7. Conferences and meetings related to the Alliance of Civilizations.
8. List of governments, organizations, and declarations of support for the Alliance of Civilizations.
9. Reference documents, international declarations, and projects related to the Alliance of Civilizations.