Join Date: Aug 2004
Local Time: 04:18 AM
New UN Initiative Aims To Resolve Conflicts Between West, Muslim World
World Leaders Release Plan for Resolving East-West Rift
By SEBNEM ARSU
New York Times, Nov 14, 2006
ISTANBUL, Nov. 13 — Leaders from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds on Monday announced a United Nations initiative to resolve the conflict between the West and the Muslim world. They issued a framework for their effort, prepared over the past year, that singled out the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a primary source of the deepening split.
“No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield,” Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, said at a news conference. “As long as the Palestinians live under occupation, exposed to daily frustration and humiliation, and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses and in dance halls, so long will passions everywhere be inflamed.”
The report was drafted by 20 scholars and other leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Mohammad Khatami, the former Iranian president, and others from many nations. It calls for collective action on issues of education, youth and immigration.
Members of the panel and Mr. Annan emphasized their view that the causes of tensions are primarily political, not religious. The secretary general will appoint a representative to oversee the follow-up of the recommendations, which, Mr. Annan warned, will have little impact if Muslims in violent places—whether Iraqis, Afghans, Chechens or Palestinians—continue to perceive their situation merely as a case of being made victims by non-Muslims.
The host of the event, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, emphasized the symbolic importance of holding it in Istanbul, which bridges East and West and is the leading city in a predominantly Muslim country taking steps to join the European Union. Joining the European Union, he said, would “prove that the polarization between cultures is actually artificial and contrived.”
The Alliance of Civilizations Initiative was the idea of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain, who suggested it six months after terrorist bombings in Madrid killed 191 people in 2004.
Relevant to this, the Times
also just ran a few articles on the impact of the US midterm elections on the Israel-Palestine situation:
In New Middle East, Tests For An Old Friendship
For Evangelicals, Supporting Israel Is ‘God’s Foreign Policy’
In theory, the two countries share a vision for a modern Middle East in which a thriving Israel would be accepted by its neighbors. But the Israelis balk at President Bush’s embrace of regional change through promotion of Arab democracy. They view his effort as naïve and counterproductive, because it brings Islamists and Iranian clients to power. Although Israel was grateful to see Saddam Hussein overthrown, officials here have long focused on what they consider a much bigger concern: preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. They say the American policies that have empowered Iranian-backed militias in Iraq have been counterproductive to Israel’s interests.
All these strains were heightened by the war against Hezbollah, set off by the capture of two Israeli soldiers, and the global criticism of Israeli tactics in Lebanon...As the Lebanon war showed, Mr. Bush has been reluctant to impose the kinds of restraints on Israel that his father employed, to press talks with the Palestinians in the style of Bill Clinton or even to push Israel to ease up on Palestinian travel.
“We saw the conflict this summer as much more than just a border war between Israel and Hezbollah,” said R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs. “It was clear from the very beginning of this conflict that Iran was behind Hezbollah, providing the financing and the long-range rockets that held the Israelis hostage.”
The Israelis say Washington was disappointed in their performance against Hezbollah. They are right: inside the White House, said one senior official there, who agreed to speak about internal deliberations on condition of anonymity, “Bush and Cheney believed that this would be another Six-Day War, or on the outside, two weeks.”
Senior Israeli officials know that Mr. Bush has a lot on his plate: a nuclear North Korea, a Democratic Congress, a weak approval rating and the bleeding of American power in Iraq. To win sanctions against Iran, he needs the support of Europe, Russia and China, all very critical of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. To enforce sanctions, particularly those blocking shipments of nuclear- or missile-related technology, he would need the cooperation of Iran’s Arab neighbors.
Mr. Alpher, the former Israeli negotiator, is concerned that if Mr. Bush ultimately negotiates with Iran, “we need to ensure that the United States doesn’t sell us down the river.” It is fine for Israel to say that Iran is the world’s problem, he said. “But if the world solves it diplomatically, will it be at our expense?”
The world looks different to nearly all Israelis across the political spectrum than it does to people in most other countries. “Unlike Bush, an Israeli leader looks at Iran through the prism of the Holocaust and his responsibility to the ongoing existence of the Jewish people,” Mr. Alpher said. “It may sound pompous, but at the end of the day it matters, and so we may be willing to do the strangest things.”
Gadi Baltiansky, a former Israeli diplomat in Washington and director of the Geneva Initiative, which promotes Israeli-Palestinian peace, argues that, given the stakes, Israel also pays a price for American policy, which can go against Israeli interests. “The dilemma is that even this president, a true friend of Israel, after 9/11 divided the world into good guys and bad guys, and we’re one of the good guys, so fine,” he said. “Syria is a bad guy. But what serves Israel’s interests? Talking to them may be bad for the U.S., but not necessarily bad for us. But whether it’s Hamas participating in elections or Syria, it’s hard for us to say no to the United States.”
Mr. Arens, the former defense minister, said of the Europeans: “They don’t like us—what can we do? What else is new? We would like to be liked by everyone, of course, but it’s the relationship with the United States that really matters.”
(Part 2 of the above--interesting but much more point-specific, so I'll skip quoting from it here)
Educator Seen As Favorite To Succeed Palestinian Premier
Palestinian negotiators said Monday that they were penciling in the names to lead a new government. They met over the weekend and again on Monday in their effort to unite the divided factions and restart the badly needed flow of foreign aid.
Officials for both Hamas and Fatah say privately that there is general agreement on a replacement for Prime Minister Ismail Haniya of Hamas: Mohammad Shbair, 60, who was president of the Islamic University in Gaza City for 12 years before his retirement last year.
The names, if tentative, appeared to be a sign of progress in talks to form a national unity government of professionals and technocrats. But leaders of Hamas, the militant group that would cede direct control of the government, and its rival Fatah, cautioned Monday that some of the toughest issues remain unresolved and that much work remained before a final deal. The talks have dragged on since the summer.
Mr. Haniya has said that he believes that it will be two or three weeks before a final deal is reached. But the names being put forward have leaked out, and in a possible sign of Palestinians’ desire to press their case with the outside world, all three candidates for top jobs have studied in the United States. Mr. Shbair, who earned a doctorate in microbiology from West Virginia University, is not a member of Hamas, though the university he led has close ties with the group. For foreign minister, negotiators have mentioned Ziad Abu Amr, 56, a professor and independent lawmaker who was backed by Hamas in the parliamentary elections in January, though he has opposed suicide bombings and supports concessions with Israel. He holds a doctorate in political science from Georgetown University. For finance minister, negotiators have mentioned Salam Fayyad, 54, an economist who had served from 2002 to 2006 as the finance minister for the Palestinian Authority. He earned a doctorate in economics from the University of Texas.
Specifically, the question is whether the Palestinians will meet three conditions set by Israel and foreign donors for a resumption of funds: that the new government recognize Israel’s right to exist, that it renounce violence and that it accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements that imply a two-state solution...the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, who met with President Bush on Monday, told a Palestinian newspaper, Al Quds, that he could negotiate with Hamas if it did accept the three conditions, specified by the so-called quartet guiding the stalled peace efforts—the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.
“If Hamas accepts the quartet conditions, I will sit down with them,” Mr. Olmert was quoted as saying.
In other news, the situation in Lebanon is becoming increasingly tense as 6 Hezbollah ministers resigned over the weekend after talks about increasing Hezbollah's authority in government failed--putting further progress on both the UN tribunal to investigate Syria's role in Rafik Hariri's assassination, and continued implementation of Resolution 1701 which ended last summer's war, in jeopardy. (Hezbollah is seeking cabinet seats, as well as veto power over all parliamentary decisions. Some lower-level Hezbollah officials have been dropping hints of a possible coup d'etat if their conditions are not met.) Meanwhile, the US vetoed a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza in the wake of the deaths of 18 Palestinian civilians at Beit Hanoun, in response to which the Arab League has announced that they will no longer copperate with the international economic blockade of the Palestinian Authority.
It's not all bad news...but it does further reinforce the necessity of the US getting firmly back behind the stalled peace process, which is doubtless a major aim of the new UN initiative.