UN-backed civil society forum urges action on Middle East peace
Sounding a strong collective call to action, a broad cross-section of civil society gathered in Pretoria for a United Nations-backed Public Forum in Support of Israeli-Palestinian Peace stressed the urgent need to press for the immediate resumption of the political dialogue between the two sides, and for renewed efforts to keep talks focused on ending the occupation and alleviating the suffering of the Palestinian people.
The day-long Forum, convened by the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, featured academics, activists, writers, former-government negotiators and civil society experts on the situation in the Middle East.
Opening the Forum, which was held at the University of Pretoria, Committee Chairman Paul Badji said that a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be impossible without informing and mobilizing public opinion, and civil society organizations, including the media, were at the forefront of that effort.
Their non-violent actions, bringing together Palestinian, Israeli and international activists, “is the best example of fighting for peace by peaceful means,” he said, urging civil society actors to intensify efforts, in their respective fields, to alleviate hardships of Palestinians, mobilize national and global public opinion and engage their respective national decision-makers to support efforts aimed at a peaceful solution of the conflict.
The Forum followed the UN African Meeting on the Question of Palestine, which had devoted a large portion of its work to finding new and creative ways to mobilize civil society – in Africa and beyond – to generate greater awareness of the Palestinian struggle.
That meeting “wholeheartedly welcomed” the increased international efforts to achieve a viable peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, seeing in those efforts the world community’s renewed determination to bring a close to the decades-old conflict.
Participants were encouraged by recent positive political developments on the ground, chiefly the formation of the new Palestinian National Unity Government, the regular meetings that had begun to take place between President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the revival of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and the League of Arab States’ decision to establish working groups tasked with engaging international partners in that regard and efforts by the diplomatic Quartet to broaden the scope of its work by engaging regional actors.
At the same time, the participants, who included UN and other diplomats, world renowned experts on the situation in the Middle East, parliamentarians and members of the academic community and civil society, expressed “great concern” at the deepening economic and humanitarian crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Those hardships, in their view, were a direct consequence of the continuing occupation, further compounded by the withholding of direct donor assistance to the Palestinian Authority.