Press Release
Department of Public Information · News Coverage Service · New York


17 June 2004

International media seminar reviews proposals for progress

in efforts towards middle east peace

Day-Long Discussion Highlights Different Approaches

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

BEIJING, 16 June -- Concrete action on the situation in the Middle East was urged here today by participants at the two-day International Media Seminar on peace in the region, organized by the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) -- the twelfth of its kind since 1991, in response to General Assembly resolution 58/57.

While everything was said to be “on the table” -- Security Council resolutions, the Road Map, the Geneva Initiative -- what was said by many speakers to be needed now was “action on the ground”.

“Let’s do it in the Middle East; let’s do it, and let’s do it now”, became the theme during a wide-ranging debate on the conflict. 

In two meetings today to consider civil society as a partner in promoting Middle East peace, a group of panellists from the media, civil society and both the governmental and non-governmental sectors, sought to define the role of civil society in bridging the divide between the peoples of the Middle East and influencing official response.  There was no lack of ideas, as speakers engaged in passionate debate about the viability of a two-State solution, the ramifications of the Israeli separation wall, the future of the Road Map, and the significance of the Gaza withdrawal plan. 

The panellists and participants, including some from Israeli and Palestinian societies, shared their recipes for reversing the deteriorating situation, politically and on the ground.  Those included calls to better define the end game of the Road Map by including, in the context of the creation of a PalestinianState, the phrase “pre-1967 borders”.  The significance of the Gaza withdrawal was seen as both a positive step and a “devastatingly destructive” one.  The suggestion was also made that the time had come to put an end to the occupation, and not to merely arrange it. 

Acknowledging the contribution of civil society in that troubled region, one speaker stressed that, until the leaders of both sides returned to the negotiating table and signed an agreement acceptable to both, civil society “must not loosen its grip even for a moment”.  Another suggested that the political movements had failed, and that civil society was the only hope, without which militarism would prevail.  The latter option had been tried and had failed.  People on both sides of the conflict wanted a normal life, and that did not include being occupied by another country or army, or being afraid to send one’s children on a bus.

Another participant, however, brought to light an underlying concern about her own Israeli society.  She said that as long as an ill child was crying there was hope, but once that child became motionless and expressionless, all was lost.  Israeli society was not entirely indifferent now, but very few would show up for the same causes today that drew hundreds and thousands to their feet yesterday.  When terror explosions shook, Israelis looked for relatives and friends among the victims.  If they did not find them, then after half a day the event seemed to have been forgotten.  Creating a vibrant protest and achieving real influence out of the ashes of that indifference would be a long journey.

In addition to the morning and afternoon panel sessions, there was a luncheon address by New York Times correspondent Thomas L. Friedman, which prompted discussion largely about the situation in Iraq.

Morning Session

Introducing the morning session of Panel I -- Civil Society as a Partner in Promoting Peace in the Middle East -- Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor said that, through initiatives such as the Geneva Accords, Israeli and Palestinian civil society leaders had challenged the political establishment and the general public in both societies.  Those had also stimulated debate on the thorny issues to be tackled, including those that had been considered by official channels to be so contentious and complicated as to warrant postponement until the final status negotiations.  In other words, those initiatives had shown not only the entrance to the tunnel that led to peace, but also the light at the end of that tunnel.

Speakers in the morning session of the first panel were:  Yasser Abed Rabbo, former Minister of Information and Culture, Palestinian National Authority; Urs Ziswiler, Senior Diplomatic Adviser to the Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of Switzerland; Terry Greenblatt, Global Fund for Women; Nasser Al-Kidwa, Permanent Observer of Palestine to the United Nations, New York; Thomas L. Friedman, Foreign Affairs columnist, New York Times; and Ezzedine Choukri-Fisher, senior adviser to the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. 

Leading off the discussion, Mr. RABBO said today was a critical moment in the life of the Middle East crisis.  The conditions in the region were desperate to the extent that all those who spoke about Israeli Prime Minister Sharon’s initiative added to their support some scepticism and so many conditions.  They said that, along with the withdrawal from Gaza, there should be a freeze of settlement activity in the West Bank, a cessation of the building of the separation wall, and an end to all forms of violence.  They also called for international guarantees and an international presence to supervise and monitor the completion of the Gaza withdrawal.  They also insisted that withdrawal should be a first step in implementing the Road Map, and not an alternative to it.

He said that people had doubts whether that “Gaza step” was one which would lead to ending occupation or was a step intended by the Israeli Government to solidify its control over the West Bank and to prevent conclusion of the occupation and the establishment of a viable PalestinianState along the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital.  That was the question of the day.  When Mr. Bush had said he wanted to see implementation of his vision for the establishment of a PalestinianState by the end of 2005, and when Mr. Sharon said he would complete the Gaza withdrawal by the end of that same year, that had been no coincidence. 

There was a united position and a united intention to say that Gaza would be the PalestinianState, including not more than 40 to 50 per cent of the West Bank, he said.   The other parts would either be gradually annexed by Israel, thereby preventing the Palestinian people from establishing their independent State.  When some international forces said they could not oppose withdrawal from any part of the occupied Territories, they added that the withdrawal should be guaranteed, as the first step in a process.  But, so far, there had been no such guarantees.  The Road Map was gradually “withering away” rather than being imposed as the beginning and the only acceptable plan to be implemented by all parties concerned. 

In order to guarantee that the “Gaza step” was not the only one and not the end game, the international community should intervene to give more serious guarantees, through the Quartet.  It should also supervise and monitor the withdrawal, as well as the implementation of the Road Map, and not only adopt very partial and marginal steps for the so-called future State of Gaza alone.  The international community should also give more support to civil society efforts because, through such support, the people and nations of the region would be assured that there was a serious impetus under way, leading to the establishment of an independent PalestinianState. 

Mr. ZISWILER of the Foreign Affairs Department of Switzerland said his country had been, from the beginning, a main sponsor and supporter of the Geneva Initiative, as part of its peace promotion efforts and support of civil society worldwide.  It had been accused, however, through some public opinion, of interference in the internal affairs in the Middle East for that support.  The Geneva Initiative was an important undertaking, which his country would continue to support.  A growing number of Israelis wanted fundamental change, and a recent rally there had been a renaissance of the peace movement in Israel. 

He said his country’s long-held policy in the Middle East had consisted of a sustainable resolution, achieved solely through negotiations based on international law, especially respect for international humanitarian law, in particular the Geneva Conventions of which Switzerland was the depositaryState.  A sustainable and genuine peace could be achieved only through a deal, which did not mean the defeat of the other side.  His continued support for the Geneva Initiative was fully in line with his country’s position, whose consistent view was that the solution must be based on the principle of land for peace, the two-State solution as spelled out in relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions, previous agreements and satisfactory agreement on the final status. 

The Road Map was the only agreed framework, leading to the resumption of a meaningful political dialogue and final status negotiations, he said.  The Geneva Initiative was not in competition with the Road Map, but was complementary to it.  That civil society endeavour had been inspired by the desire to contribute to overcoming the current deadlock.  That was aimed at presenting the “two publics with a taboo-breaking proposal, spelling out what peace would look like”, he said.   That was a tangible vision based on mutual respect and the desire for a peaceful coexistence.  Switzerland had supported the initiative in the role of facilitator.  As for its impact thus far, he referred to a recent statement by Mr. Sharon in which he said that if Israel did nothing, “we would have Geneva”. 

Ms. GREENBLATT from Israel, of the Global Fund for Women, explained that her Government had not allowed a Palestinian woman to attend the seminar as a panellist.  As a long time peace activist, she believed the most important contribution was to “speak her truth”.  In a conflict, however, there was no one truth; the Middle East conflict’s ultimate resolution was embedded in the ability to envision and create a common truth, which was as nuanced and complex, as deep and profound, as the conflict itself.  She said she sought a truth that encompassed and legitimized both the Israeli and Palestinian narratives, even when those contradicted each other.  Thousands of Israeli and Palestinian women could be in the streets tomorrow raising “a thunderous racket of resistance” to drown out the bulldozers erecting a wall between their peoples.  But they did not do their politics only in the streets.  They advocated in local town meetings in almost every European capital, before the United Nations Security Council, and on Capitol Hill. 

She said she was convinced that Israeli and Palestinian women had an incredible contribution to make and a part to play.  Not only should they be part of all peace planning and peacekeeping initiatives, but also they should be allowed to come to the table with a crucial part of the solution.  Her job had been relentlessly demanding, frightening and pain-filled, and had put her family’s future as Israeli Jews at risk.  But, a process had been developed that involved a socio-political fluency and kept dialogue moving forward.  The two sides should learn to shift positions and move towards each other, “without tearing our roots out”. The women were willing to sit on the same side of the negotiating table, with the intention of not getting up until, in respect and reciprocity, “we get up together, begin our new history, and fulfil our joint destiny”.  Those sat at the table, not as conquerors, but as two sides in recognition that failure to succeed in power sharing would never result in crafting an enduring peace agreement and a post-conflict operational model. 

The women had known physical and existential fear and had fiercely refused to be driven by it, she said.  Israeli women had also had the opportunity to learn that the fears of their Palestinian counterparts ran as deeply and as genuinely as their own; all of them felt hated and subjected to random acts of violence.  Women were not peripheral to conflict.  Along with their children, they were the largest population group affected by wars waged for peace.  “We die the most along with our children; we are the major of the refugees and the displaced people”, and as such, women most certainly had an investment in issues of war and peace.

Palestine’s Permanent Observer to the United Nations, Mr. AL-KIDWA, said he was completely convinced that peace was possible on the basis of the two-State solution.  The road was largely known, as were the end result and the parameters of the solution, as drawn by the Geneva Initiative, among others.  The question then was why that had not been achieved.  The reason lay in the fact that the mainstream of the Israeli political institutions still had not accepted the two-State solution based on pre-1967 borders, or to a reasonable solution to the Palestinian refugee problem.  For them the 1967 borders as a basis for talks were still not acceptable.  Nor was a real PalestinianState, rather than an “enveloped entity” acceptable. 

He said that there had been some positive flirting with the ideas, now and then but unfortunately, those had not been institutionalized.  As such, the two-State solution alone, without the decision phrase “based on pre-1967 borders”, in itself could not solve the problem and could not reflect real agreement among the parties.  That was the main deficiency of the Road Map; that was the missing phrase, and the real reason for the failure, in addition to the further deterioration on the ground.  A cover had been provided through a series of false theoretical concepts, invested in by the Israeli “right” and supported fully by the current United States administration, which was aimed at the deconstruction of the Middle East peace process. 

An example of those false, theoretical concepts was the suggestion that the conflict was about terrorism, instead of about foreign occupation, he said.  Other false pretexts were that international humanitarian law did not count and that any solution to the conflict must begin with the provision of security, instead of security measures flowing from the context of the political process.  Another false theory was that there was no Palestinian partner for peace.  All of that had resulted in the deconstruction of the peace process.  Without reversing those false claims, progress would be very difficult, if not impossible. 

He said that, unfortunately, Mr. Sharon’s plan had already had a dramatic negative impact, aimed at another punishing the Palestinian people and preventing real peace.  Some said it could represent an opportunity.  He recalled a recent column of Thomas Friedman’s in which the journalist had given the Israeli Government some advice --that the withdrawal must be complete and should be modelled after the Lebanon experience.  Meanwhile, the plan remained dangerously partial because it had not dealt with the situation in the West Bank.  The Quartet had also said that the withdrawal should be part of the Road Map, but the question was how.

Mr. FRIEDMAN of The New York Times said that Oslo had been the ticket.  There was ample blame on both sides, as the Oslo process had unravelled.  In its wake, he had felt like someone who was building a 5,000-piece puzzle -- there had been only a few more pieces to go and someone had come along and kicked over the table, poured coffee on the pieces, while the dog had eaten the rest.  All that remained was to put the puzzle back together again.  War after peace was the worst thing in the world because it shattered the very essential ingredient necessary that was the necessary foundation of any peace, and that was trust. 

He said that the Palestinians and Israelis had reminded him of a couple with a stormy courtship that finally decided to get married and one spouse cheated on the other.  That relationship was never quite right because trust had been shattered.  In terms of what to do with respect to the Middle East conflict, he had advocated that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO, take over the responsibility for security.  Others had suggested that Jordan and Egypt do so.  No one had seemed particularly interested in those suggestions.  Now, there was a new phase of unilateralism, absent the trust.  If Gaza was the first solution to building some kind of process, if the Sharon policy was Gaza for the West Bank and the Bush administration was implicitly supporting that, then that would be a disaster and Gaza would become a platform for the sixth Israeli-Arab war.

The job of diplomacy now, he said, was to take that unilateral environment and turn it into Gaza for a peace process.  Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza should be encouraged, and then the Palestinians and Israelis could work to make Gaza a minimodel for what the Palestinians could and would build if given their own space and authority and if Gaza was used to rebuild the trust.  Peace came when people did the right thing for the wrong reasons. 

Offering the perspective of the United Nations, Mr. CHOUKRI-FISHER said that one major challenge was to consider how to link civil society initiatives to political and diplomatic work.  Usually, those initiatives enlarged the political arena in which diplomats operated.  The Geneva Initiative, for example, had created a wider margin and allowed diplomats in the Quartet to be more ambitious in their work.  Also, civil society cooperation could solidify achievements, in terms of making peace a more solid option.  Of course, that could also do the opposite.  One question was whether it was possible for civil society organizations to do a more focused operation, which plugged in the diplomatic work directly. 

He said that the United Nations position on that Gaza plan was that it had started as a unilateral initiative, but was turning into a cooperative process.  As in the withdrawal from South Lebanon, that had started as a unilateral initiative, but under Security Council supervision and the cooperation of neighbouring governments and other regional players, that withdrawal had been successful.  The Gaza withdrawal was not in the Road Map, but that development could be built upon in a positive way.  The withdrawal plan was partial, but it could be a success and make the Road Map “implementable”, as long as sight was not lost of the bigger picture, namely settlement activities, construction of the wall, and implementation of the Road Map, and only if their was cooperation from both the Israelis and Palestinians on their obligations. 

Failure on the Gaza withdrawal, he added, would also mean failure of the other processes being attempted.  So, if civil society on both sides could take that Gaza withdrawal and turn it into a model of cooperation, and not bickering, then whatever investment was made in that regard would pay back on other issues related to the wider process, he said. 

Highlights of Morning Discussion

In the open discussion that followed, speakers debated the Gaza withdrawal plan, touching on the broader aspects of the situation.  Some, including
Mr. Al-Kidwa, held the view that the Gaza plan should be firmly rejected, and many important groups, including the movement of non-aligned countries (NAM), had done precisely that.  On the other hand, if the withdrawal was done in the right way and under United Nations supervision and, more importantly, as part of the Road Map -- and that was a big “if” -- then that might turn out to be something positive. 

Mr. Ziswiler added that the Gaza withdrawal should be a first step, and not a last one.  For its part, the Geneva Initiative had been a message, and a kind of offer, to governments.

During the exchange with non-panellists in the morning discussion, one participant asserted that the Gaza plan was being used as a tactical way to stall other potential gains.  Mr. Sharon only wanted to establish a much smaller version of Palestine, if and when there was total peace.  In addition, the Gaza option might create complacency on the part of citizens who needed to be mobilized. 

Stressing that good intentions could not replace the real difficult facts on the ground, Mr. Rabbo expressed the hope that the Gaza withdrawal would become a model for the West Bank.  He had introduced the Geneva Initiative, not as a utopia, but as a serious, practical, concrete model for a final status solution.  He, meanwhile, warned against pinning all hopes and dreams on Gaza, which was only 360 square kilometres and the most populated place on earth, with some quarter of a million inhabitants, and without any resources.  Moreover, the population was composed of 60 per cent or more refugees, who considered their problem to be unresolved.  With all those complications, he said “no more” to further partial or interim solutions. 

He added that he could not oppose withdrawal from even one inch of land, but that must be a step towards resolving the conflict and not further complicating it.  Turning to the building of the separation wall, he said that today Mr. Sharon had taken a decision to continue building the wall in the heart of the West Bank.  The eastern part of the wall was a “death sentence” to the idea of building a viable PalestinianState. 

Another speaker said he did not even know whether the two-State solution was still viable, given the reality of the wall.  After spending much time in the region, he had not seen where there was room for the PalestinianState to exist.  So, while a two-State solution might be preferable, he wondered whether that was still viable. 

Mr. Tharoor, responding to a question about the words used to describe the separation wall, recalled that that very topic of words had been one of the panel discussions in Seville last year.  The United Nations had been careful not to let its use of words obscure the possibility of dialogue.  In some places, the wall is a wall, in others, it was a barrier, and in still others, it was under construction.  A word should not stand in the way of making a very clear policy statement about what was going on and the United Nations’ problem with that.  Much more progress could be made in advancing a cause if the people attempting to be reached were not alienated by a choice of vocabulary.

Asked by another participant how the United Nations was implementing its own duty to protect the civilian population in the Territories and in Israel, Mr. Tharoor said it was not his understanding that protection of the civilian population was, in fact, a United Nations mandate.  The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA) was doing much to educate the people in the Territories, provide health and medical relief, and even food aid.  But, protection was the job of the occupying Power under the Geneva Conventions, and the United Nations was not the occupying Power; the Government of Israel was. 

Replying to a series of questions, Mr. Friedman said he had not come to debate the legitimacy of the Jewish people to have a State in the Middle East.  He took that as a given and would not debate that.  He admired the initiators of the Geneva Accords because they had taken the world as it was and applied their imagination and energy to see how the situation could be settled. 

Luncheon Address by Thomas L. Friedman

Mr. Friedman said it was not possible to be an American today writing about foreign policy without starting with a list of questions about what was going to happen in Iraq.  Before the start of that war, which he hoped would result in a decent, progressive Iraq, he felt that that country had been a “black box”.  Upon opening it, there would be an envelope inside that had been sealed shut by the Iraqi Government.  It would say, “congratulations, you’ve just unleashed the power of the Arab Germany, a country of enormous natural resources, great human talent, but with an evil dictator”.  Or, that would say, “congratulations, you’ve just won the Arab Yugoslavia, congenitally divided, which could only be held together by a Tito-like iron fist.  You’ve just removed that and you are the new iron fist”. 

He said that his second big preoccupying question was related to the first:  was Iraq the way it was because of Saddam or was Saddam the way he was because of Iraq -- a fractious country, which could only be ruled by a Saddam-like general?

After three trips to Iraq since August, he said that on the positive side there was a lot more of an Iraq than he had feared; much more of an Iraqi identity.  He had feared he would find “a Lebanon on steroids”, but instead he had found a lot more of a coherent society.  On the downside, Iraq had been devastated by 30 years of Saddam’s rule and 10 years of sanctions.  Iraqi society was traumatized and broken, and he had been shocked at the level of poverty.  Not only was Iraq more devastated than he had thought, but the looting that took place in the aftermath of Saddam's downfall had compounded that. 

To answer those fundamental questions required something that had not been provided in the last year, namely a reasonably secure environment, he said.  Only then could people have the kind of “horizontal dialogue” that Iraqis had not been allowed to have for 35 years.  Now, tragically, sovereignty was about to turn over to the Iraqis and to a United Nations-appointed government, without fully knowing the answer to that question.  Now, only the Iraqis could answer that question in the sense that only they could provide the security needed to finish the war.  The big question going forward was whether the new Iraqi government would have enough internal coherence and strength to finish the war and answer those questions. 

He said that another big question was what was happening in Saudi Arabia.  It was pretty clear that the Saudi Government did not have a good handle on that.  There was a mass exodus of foreigners, and both British and American nationals had been asked to leave, but exactly how deep the Al-Qaida phenomenon ran inside that country, and how much the Government and security service had been affected, would be a very important question in the coming year.

Another issue shaping international relations in the coming year concerned events in China, which had become an enormously important engine for growth, he said.  Taiwan was another huge issue that bore watching in the next year.  He introduced the title of his next book, for which he was taking a sabbatical from his work at The New York Times -- The World is Flat.  The world had not only gotten smaller, it had gotten tiny, he said.  

Afternoon Session

Panellists in the afternoon session, which continued with the theme of the first panel, namely, Civil Society as a Partner in Promoting Peace in the Middle East, were:  Ahmad Tibi, Knesset Member, Hadash-Ta ‘al Party, Israel; Tami Molad-Hayo, Representative, The People’s Voice; Pierre Galand, Senator, Belgian Parliament and Chairman, European Coordinating Committee; Shaul Arieli, Adviser to the Labour Party, Knesset Member, Ophir Pines-Paz, and former military commander of the Gaza Strip; and Chen Weixong, Senior Counsellor in the Department of International Organizations and Conferences of China. 

Picking up on the morning’s discussion about the Gaza plan, Mr. TIBI said that Mr. Sharon’s proposal was simply a rearrangement of the occupation.  It seemed that Mr. Sharon was getting out from within Gaza, surrounding it from the outside.  The jailer was there; there was no airport, no harbour, and the international points on the border were under Israeli control, according to that plan. 

He said his own hand would never support the continuation of the building of the wall or the Gaza plan as it now stood, when it came before the Knesset.  Evacuation was positive, but the overall proposal was a very dangerous prospect. 

TAMI MOLAD-HAYO said she was an Israeli and an Israeli patriot.  For someone who loved her country, the only way to help it was to have a PalestinianState living side-by-side with Israel.  The People’s Voice differed from the other initiatives in one important way, namely that instead of talking about the here and now, it was talking about the future.  The problem was not the way to peace, but defining what peace was -- whether a two-State or one-State solution.  The utopian dream to have one world, where everyone was equal and had equal rights and an equal say.  But, that was not achievable, nor was that a real dream for the Middle East or Israel. 

She said that the only hope was for the Jews worldwide to have a homeland was a two-State solution.  A map was only useful once the parties knew where they wanted to wind up. That had been the problem until now.  What had been needed was a joint decision to determine the target.  The politics of the Middle East was mainly the politics of blame.  Changing those politics would not come from the politicians, but from civil society.  As a young State, however, Israel did not really have a civil society.  A lot more work was needed within both the Israeli and Palestinian societies before those could truly work together on joint initiatives. 

PIERRE GALAND, Senator, Belgian Parliament, agreed that it was absolutely urgent to work together to find a solution to the Middle East problem, which was about human beings.  In terms of the media, each new actuality reported by it tended to forget what preceded it.  He had also raised the question about what exactly was meant by the term “civil society”, and he closed by emphasizing that everyone had a duty as human beings to solve the Middle East problem.

SHAUL ARIELI, Adviser to the Labour Party, Knesset Member, heralded the Geneva Initiative as a critical civil society movement.  Public opinion was an effective tool to change government policy, but that was only possible in democratic States where the political leadership was in tune with public discourse.  In Israel, public debate had been able to convince all political candidates in the 1999 elections to declare a withdrawal of Israeli Defence Forces from Lebanon.  And, two years ago, public discourse had demanded and been able to convince Prime Minister Sharon that a security fence must be erected, owing to the terrible security situation.  And, despite his own party’s opposition, the security fence was built.

He said that convincing the Israeli public was not easy, especially in light of the terror attacks of recent years.  Most of the Israeli public was filled with dread by the peace forces of the Palestinians who had promised to put an end to the conflict by peaceful means, but when they did not receive what they had wanted, they returned to means of terror and threatened the Jewish State of Israel. 

If the goal was to change a disappointed public’s consciousness, that was an impossible goal to achieve through media gimmicks constantly refuting the harshness of daily reality.  The Israeli public was indeed prepared for a more mature approach and was ready for compromise.  There were two options -- either to end the conflict via the creation of a two-State solution, or continue the bloodshed by fanatics on both sides.  Israelis had sought to integrate their Palestinian partners in the Geneva Initiative, but, again and again, that had been denied.  That initiative presented an alternative, and it had achieved some influence.  Even Mr. Sharon had said that it had mobilized him after a period of stagnancy.  Until the leaders of both sides returned to the negotiating table and signed an agreement acceptable to both, civil society “must not loosen its grip even for a moment”. 

CHEN WEIXONG circulated a complete text of his remarks.  Among its main points, he said that the work of non-governmental organization and civil society was no longer taboo, here in China or elsewhere.  Today’s topic was of utmost importance.  Civil society and the non-governmental organizations could play an important role by facilitating critical decisions by governments, despite the fact that civil society was not participating in the final decision-making on policies.  At the same time, civil society groups were not mere onlookers on the streets; they had a vast and rich expertise in manpower, energy and, above all, in constructing practical initiatives.  So, if governments around the world were truly of the people, by the people and for the people, then it was their obligation to listen attentively to the voices of the grass roots. 

He said the most recent example had been the Geneva Initiative, which had succeeded in mobilizing international support and assistance.  The Middle East struggle had been long and tedious, and now there were more than four million refugees and 60 per cent of Palestinians were living below the poverty line.  That was the crucial point to be solved.  It was the duty and responsibility of the media to present the pictures faithfully and truly, in order to generate international support.  Civil society should also promote tolerance and reconciliation among the parties, especially among the younger generations.  As had been said earlier today, to use violence to stop violence was wrong and served no one.  There was a saying in his region, which he repeated now:  it was not possible to choose one’s neighbours, but it was possible to make friends with them.

Highlights of Afternoon Discussion

One speaker cautioned against deluding oneself into thinking that civil society was inherently good or on the side of the angels.  To imply that would be to radically misread the nature of civil society.  It was wrong to imply, for example, that Amnesty International was part of civil society but that the National Rifle Association was not.  It was true that civil society and the non-governmental sector was playing a new role in decision-making, but to leap from there to the notion that civil society was virtuous seemed to fly in the face of reality. 

Ms. Molad-Hayo suggested that political movements had failed and now both sides lived in fear.  Something had to be done.  The people on both sides of the conflict just wanted to have a normal life, which did not include being occupied by another country or army.  Nor did that include being afraid to send one’s children on a bus or to have to watch them burying their friends.  Civil society was the only hope, without which militarism would prevail.  The latter option had already been tried and had failed.

Mr. Choukri-Fisher, senior advisor to United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and a panellist from the morning’s discussion, said he had been working with the Quartet and wished to clarify some points made casually today about the Road Map.  That had not started as a United States’ draft, but as a European draft, followed by the United Nations Secretary-General, then the United States.  Then, the four sat together and worked on the draft for a few months.  That was not only a map of roads, as had been suggested earlier, but it had included a destination, which had boundaries but was open to “plugging in” many things.  So it was not a rigid end, but one that the parties had to translate into detailed agreement. 

He said it had not been by chance that the Road Map had not been implemented.  The reasons were to be found on both sides.  And, until a decision was taken on both sides to implement it, a political decision had to be taken, in the absence of which everyone had to ask themselves what should be done.  The Quartet was saying “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”.

Another speaker, while insisting that civil society’s role was important in the conflict, said the reality was that one civil society was bleeding and tired, and trying to survive daily from one checkpoint to the next, without one day of normal life.  Those people were trying to get to work, if there was work, or to school, if there was school.  Thus, not much could be expected from Palestinian civil society. 

The other civil society on the other side of the issue was in serious condition, now apathetic and indifferent.  As long as an ill child was crying, there was hope, but when that child became motionless and expressionless all was lost.  Israeli society was not entirely indifferent, but only few would show up for the same causes today that drew hundreds and thousands yesterday to their feet.  Most Israelis had become indifferent, even to their own lives.  When terror explosions shook, Israelis just looked for relatives or friends, and if they did not know any of the victims, then after half a day, the event was forgotten.  It should be realized that, from that indifference, creating a vibrant protest and achieving real influence was a very long journey.

Adding a few points to the morning and afternoon discussions, Mr. AL-KIDWA said that the wall constituted a central threat to the achievement of the two-State solution.  If that did not stop and if that was not torn down, that would effectively make the two-State solution impossible and take the parties to a different level of confrontation. 

On another point, he said that, in theory and in practice, the United Nations had a responsibility when it came to providing civilians in armed conflict with protection, and that included under situations of foreign occupation.  It was true that the occupying Power shouldered the main responsibility in that regard, but in the case of failure, that was the responsibility of the international community, through the United Nations and its Security Council, to remedy the situation.  In practice, when it came to the situation in the occupied Territories, the Security Council had adopted several resolutions calling for the protection of the civilian population in the Territories, of which the most important had been Resolution 681.  It had been a failure of the international community not to take further appropriate steps in that regard. 

Addressing his next comments to Mr. Choukri-Fisher, he said that the Road Map was not American in the chronology of events, but in political reality, it was an American plan, which had been kept in President Bush’s pocket until he and Mr. Sharon deemed it in their interests to release it.  In terms of whether the Road Map had a destination, it had an “illusion of a destination” and, in that context, was much better than the Oslo process.  Although it was better, however, the Road Map was still not clear.  For it to speak of a two-State solution without spelling out the words “based on pre-1967 borders”, that was not a specific destination but only an allusion to one. 

While he said he did not deny that both sides had “messed up” in fulfilling their obligations, the issue was one of a political decision on both sides.  For its part, the Palestinian side had “completely and fully accepted” the Road Map.  The Israeli side had not.  The mainstream Israeli side did not “swallow” the idea of a two-State solution based on pre-1967 borders.  The United Nations had to make that point clear; it had to go beyond the politics of the day into some principles and international law and give the parties the real answers, and not just the comfortable ones.

Another speaker agreed that the wall was “bad news”, but according to international law, everyone had a right to build a wall on their territory, whether that was politically wise or not.  The problem with the Israeli wall was that it was not fully on Israeli ground.  The good news was that even the Berlin wall, which no one thought would ever come down, had one day been destroyed.  

Another speaker suggested that if the Israeli wall was in the green line, the Palestinians would probably not have a problem with that.  But, the wall was dividing villages and farms and towns, and changing the reality there.  That, along with the pace of the construction, was the problem for the Palestinians. 

On another point, he said that what distinguished the crisis between the Palestinians and the Israelis from other crises was that it was the only confrontation or war between societies, and not between two regimes or armies.  That made finding a solution more complicated.  Civil society, for its part, was “privatizing the peace process”, but those must unite on both sides to serve one goal. 

Mr. Arieli explained that he had used the term “fence” and not wall because 97 per cent of it was fence and not wall.  Israel needed a fence in any scenario -- whether of crisis or peace, or because of terrorism.  The problem was not the fence, but the delineation of the fence.  Israel’s unilateral step in building the fence had meant that Mr. Sharon had wanted to manage the conflict, and not to solve it.  But he must manage it in a way that could return the parties to the negotiating table.  The building of the barrier, however, had resulted in the opposite.  Israel had tried to put a security barrier around the Israelis without damaging the livelihood of the Palestinians. 

Mr. Tibi stressed that the two-State solution was almost consensual.  But in terms of the facts on the ground, when watching the incremental settlement activity or the way the wall was being built, it was very difficult to call the wall a fence.  That had made it almost impossible to create a two-State solution.  All efforts should be focused on putting an end to the occupation, and not merely rearranging it. 

Mr. Chen said that if anyone tried to find a place in the world where people were suffering from both traditional and non-traditional security threats, the Middle East was that place.  Everything was on the table -- Security Council resolutions, the Road Map, the Geneva Initiative -- what was needed now was concrete action on the ground.  “Let’s do it in the Middle East; let’s do it, and let’s do it now”, he urged.

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For information media - not an official record