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Source: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
13 March 2002

Towards the resumption of dialogue in the Middle East

13-03-2002 - - Mr Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO, today had successive meetings on matters related to the Middle East situation.

First he met the President of the Arab Group at UNESCO, who was accompanied by Ambassador Ahmad Abdelrazek, Permanent Observer of the Palestinian Authority to UNESCO, and Mrs Saïda Charaseddine representing ALECSO. They expressed their indignation at the recent Israeli military actions which had destroyed schools and killed many children. They handed to the Director-General a letter from the Palestinian Minister of Education urging UNESCO to do all it can to protect the lives and educational rights of Palestinian children and youth.

Mr Matsuura subsequently met Rabbi Michael Melchior, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Israel on the occasion of his official visit to France. During the conversation, the Deputy Minister agreed that it is absolutely necessary to escape from the “madness” of the present situation. He emphasised the pivotal role of civil society in the search for creative solutions and innovative approaches to facilitate improved dialogue between different identities, cultures and religions. He invited UNESCO to promote partnerships to this end.

In both meetings, the Director-General fully aligned himself with Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking at the Security Council earlier this week, in calling for an immediate cessation of all acts of violence and the resumption of negotiations on a political settlement. Mr Matsuura expressed his utmost concern about “the intolerable escalation of violence, vengeance and suffering”. Nevertheless, he believed that, “even at this moment of deepening crisis in the relations between Israelis and Palestinians, there are some hopeful signs at the regional and global levels”. He referred to “two especially promising developments of recent days”, namely, the adoption by the Security Council of Resolution 1397 affirming a vision of a region where two states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side within secure and recognized borders, and the significant initiative launched by Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.

With all of his visitors, Mr Matsuura stressed the importance of education for building a durable peace, restoring security and laying the foundations of better mutual understanding.

Mr Matsuura stated that: “ Our hopes for peace and the chances for reconciliation between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples are imperilled each time a child is prevented from going to school. In order to make a better future possible, we must heal the wounds in the minds of young people. This process must not be delayed. As a first and essential step towards peace, it is imperative that all children on both sides can return to school in safety.”

The Director-General also emphasized the vital role of culture in the reconciliation process. “Israelis and Palestinians must learn how to live together with mutual respect. I am convinced that dialogue between different cultures and religions is the currency of peace everywhere, but most especially in the Middle East today. We must address urgently the cultural dimension of international security - intercultural dialogue can serve as an engine of peace and reconciliation. UNESCO is ready to lend its assistance to all initiatives that would liberate people from the distorting prism of prejudices and stereotypes.”

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