Prominent journalists and Middle East experts, including senior officials and lawmakers from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, gathered today at the Paris headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to discuss the search for peace in the troubled region.
In a message to the two-day seminar, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that during his just-concluded week-long tour of the Middle East he had met not only with senior officials but also with victims of the conflict, including Palestinian children mutilated by gunfire and Israel school-friends of teenagers killed by a recent bombing in Tel Aviv. "Their suffering is terrible in itself, but all the worse in that each act of violence sows the seeds of the next, and further erodes each side's belief that peace with the other will ever be possible," he said.
Mr. Annan pointed out, however, that the two parties shared a mutual desire to see an end to the bloodshed. "On both sides there is also a deep yearning to escape from this hell and find the way to a normal and peaceful life," he said.
The Secretary-General sounded a theme he has repeated throughout his trip -- the need for both parties to seize the opportunity for peace by adhering to the ceasefire, implementing the recommendations of an international committee of fact-finding (the "Mitchell committee"), and returning to the negotiating table to settle their differences based on UN resolutions. "The end of the process must be a comprehensive peace settlement, negotiated by the parties on the basis of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, and the principle of land for peace, and the road that leads back to such negotiations has been clearly traced by the Mitchell Committee," he said.
The Secretary-General's message was delivered by Shashi Tharoor, the Interim Head of the UN Department of Public Information, which organized the event.
In his address to participants, UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura joined Mr. Annan's call for peace and noted that education, combined with objective information, constituted a powerful tool to change attitudes.
Ambassador Ibra Deguène, the Chairman of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, said the situation in the field was getting worse and that it was time for the international community to act. He also noted the crucial role of the media in raising awareness in an objective and non-biased way.
Also taking part in the morning's session, which was moderated by Mr. Tharoor, were Loic Hennekinne, Secretary-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of France, Nasser Al-Kidwa, the Permanent Observer of Palestine to the UN, Yuli Tamir, a former Cabinet Minister in Prime Minister Barak's Government (Israel), Ambassador Clovis Maksoud (Lebanon), Director of American University's Centre for the Global South, and Stephen Cohen, President of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development. Two Palestinian journalists who had been scheduled to attend were unable to do so due to travel restrictions imposed by Israel.