Culture and media can play a crucial role in promoting understanding between Israelis and Palestinians, the top United Nations communications official said today, as he welcomed scholars, activists, journalists, writers, theatre producers and musicians to an international media seminar on Middle East peace.
“While a virtual stalemate prevails on the diplomatic front, there is a small but vibrant people-to-people movement taking place between Israelis and Palestinians,” said Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.
He told participants at the opening of the two-day meeting in Budapest, Hungary, organized by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI), that one of the main forces of this movement is cooperation on the ground in art and culture.
“Writers, musicians and filmmakers are crafting a new narrative that reflects the shared experiences and common destiny of peoples on both sides. There is enormous potential for culture and media to further contribute to building peace on the ground through inter-personal contacts,” said Mr. Akasaka.
The annual seminar, established by the General Assembly in 1991, is designed to look at the role of the media in advancing the peace process – one which is currently at a standstill. Israeli-Palestinian talks have been stalled since late September following Israel’s refusal to extend a 10-month freeze on settlement activity in the occupied Palestinian territory.
“You gather at a pivotal time in the peace process,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a message delivered to the meeting by Mr. Akasaka.
“The continuing impasse in peace negotiations is a matter of concern,” he said, adding that historic changes in the region only emphasize the urgency for action.
Stressing the vital role played by the media and civil society in raising awareness and promoting understanding between the two parties, Mr. Ban said he was greatly encouraged that participants have come together to explore and deepen new avenues of dialogue and outreach.
Yesterday Mr. Ban was in Washington where he participated in a meeting of the diplomatic Quartet – comprising UN, European Union, Russia and the United States – which discussed the urgent need to bring the parties back to the negotiating table.
“I believe the Quartet and the international community, together with the parties, need to make all efforts to find a way forward to re-start negotiations to finally bring an end to the occupation and an end to the conflict, and lead to the establishment of two States, an independent Palestine and a secure Israel,” the Secretary-General told reporters in New York today.