Saturday, December 15, 2007

Israel and Spain Derail the Madrid Forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East

An article in Haaretz caught my eye this morning, a report on the collapse of the Forum for a Just Peace, the "anti-Annapolis" conference, that had been scheduled to take place from Dec. 14-18. The article, which you can read here, presented a predictably-biased account of the collapse. Those held responsible for the collapse were the extremist Palestinians and Israelis who did not want to talk with the Zionist left:
In Israeli political terms, representatives of the Zionist center and left faced off against radical leftist activists, who were horrified at the prospect of having to talk to those they view as "representatives of the occupation." Yael Lerer, founder of Andalus Publishing and an activist in the Balad party, who was invited to address the forum, told Haaretz that she views the people from Peace Now and the Labor Party as another arm of the occupation, and therefore unacceptable for dialog.
The operative phrase here is "in Israeli political terms". The problem is that this is a distortion of what happened in Madrid.

The Forum for a Just Peace, from its inception, was to bring together activist groups from Israel, Palestinian, and European civil society. These groups had a common and coherent message, although they differed in other ways. It was decided, wisely, that any individual or group that wanted to participate in the Forum agree to the principles of the Reference Document. Otherwise, it was feared that the Forum would be hijacked by other interests and other players.

Here are excerpts from the reference document of the Forum.

We, the networks, organisations, research and academic centres, movements and social actors, have decided to call for a FORUM FOR A JUST PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST. Doing so, we positively respond to the initiative of the Madrid Social Forum and other social networks, organisations and actors in Spain, the Middle East and Europe. Peace can only be achieved with an organised civil society and on the basis of the international law, the respect of human rights and the full sovereignty of the peoples. With this Reference document, we call for a genuine mobilisation of the society in favour of Peace....

The basic requirements for justice are only possible with an end to the Israeli occupation and colonization of the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem; the recognition and facilitation of the rights of Palestinian refugees, including their right to return to their lands (in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III)); and end to the system of racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel. This way, security will be ensured for all people living in the region.

Since the beginning of the second Intifada, the situation of the Palestinian people has continued to worsen, culminating mid of last year into a severe humanitarian crisis. In parallel, the plundering of its natural resources, the closing of its territories and the repeated destruction of its civil infrastructures continue. In 2006 the Palestinian people suffered from the effects of an economic blockade and financial boycott of the donors to the Palestinian Authority as well as the Israeli embargo on their taxes.

The massive Israeli attacks which destroyed Lebanon and the Gaza strip, intentionally violating the international and humanitarian law as well as the Geneva Convention, Hezbollah’s resistance against Israel in the summer 2006, and the inability of the international community to put an end to these crimes motivated the Spanish and the European civil society to double their efforts for peace, as illustrated by the demonstrations organised in several Spanish cities, most particularly in Madrid.....

At the institutional level, it has also been deemed necessary to re-launch the Peace Process in the Middle East on several occasions, notably:

• The resolution adopted by the Deputies Congress which states that the European Union should endorse a Peace Conference for the Middle-East;

• The joint declaration by the parliamentary Intergroup for Palestine and the Solidarity network against the occupation of Palestine, the 26th of April 2007.

Giving voice to the movements and different social actors, in short, to the civil society, which has fought for years to give dialogue a chance in the region, is a duty of all those organisations and citizens who believe another world is possible and are working towards it. Such dialogue must be solidly based on:

a) Mutual acceptance of international law;

b) Mutual agreement on the equality of all humans, regardless of religious, ethnic or other identity, and therefore to the equal entitlement of all human rights;

c) Mutual commitment to ending oppression (colonial and racist policies and their products).

Note that there is no call for the end of the State of Israel, or for a One State solution in the above or in the entire framework document. But it is clearly not a framework that the Zionist left and center could live with, as it proposes an alternative to Oslo/Annapolis.

A coalition of centrist and Zionist left peace groups in Israel including Peace Now, published the following reaction to the reference document on October 29th.

We welcome any and all intervention and initiatives with the goal of advancing dialogue, the relief of suffering and the recognition of self determination which can bring about the end to the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

In order to encourage the peace supporters in the civil societies of all peoples and communities in the region we should strive towards acceptance and implementation of initiatives already tabled such as the Saudi Proposal (the Arab League initiative), the Geneva Accords, The Ayalon Nusseibeh initiative and The Taba principals.

Any initiative that disregards or opposes these former agreements or initiatives might reinforce those factions that oppose peace, thus perpetuate the suffering of the peoples of the region, mainly the suffering of the Palestinians.

Out of the support of the principal of self determination, we support the principal of a two state solution and the right of return of Palestinians according to agreed upon decisions

Based on the regional and international experience we oppose the one state solution which will negate the right of self determination of both peoples. We call upon the committee to embrace these principals in order to expand the influence of the civil society in the Middle East.

A massive and urgent economic assistance to the Palestinian peoples and to the PA leaded by president Mahmoud Abbas is needed.

The well being of Palestinian peoples is a must, creating a reality which wills booster dialogue, cooperation and reconciliation among the parties.

It is urgent to assist and encourage civil society organization from Palestine Israel Spain and Europe, for the implementation of projects in the field of, economy, media, education, culture, environment, human rights, medicine, science, for the creation of a wild public opinion support for peace .

We believe that political courage, generosity, humility and forgiveness are needed to achieve the goal of a just and lasting peace in the region.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that while there are points of agreement between the two documents, the Israeli Zionist peace groups would not sign on to the framework document. It made no sense for the Annapolis crowd to be invited to Madrid, when the Madrid crowd was not invited to Annapolis. The point was not to initiate a dialogue between left and center. The point of the Forum was to continue an activist agenda of those who were opposed to Annapolis, who wanted to offer an alternative to Annapolis.


So what happened? I don't have the full details, but it seems that Israelis groups, such as the Peres Peace Center exerted pressure/convinced the Spanish Foreign Ministry hosts to allow groups in that did not sign on to the Reference Document. Or to put it bluntly, they attempted to crash the party. When this happened, Palestinians and Israelis pulled out.

Here is Michael Warschawski's, Alternative Information Center (AIC) statement (I can't block indent it, so I have italicized it):

Why I Will Not Participate in the Madrid Social Forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East

I have no problem in taking part in a conference where Zionist spokespersons are invited too, for debates are part and parcel of a healthy political arena. As well, I have no problem being invited to official public meetings, initiated by government agencies, including Israeli ones. I need, however, to know exactly what kind of gathering I am supposed to participate.

By its own definition, the Madrid Social Forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East belongs to the family of "social forums," as defined in the Porto Allegre Charter, i.e. a forum of grassroots and popular organizations, without any involvement of State's agencies, political parties (or armed-organizations). The Alternative Information Center (AIC), together with PNGO (Palestinian NGOs coordination), Ittijah, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and the Israeli Women Coalition for a Just Peace were much involved in the International Committee that was established in order to assist the local committee in shaping the forum and fixing the list of the invited organizations. Whoever has been involved in Middle East progressive politics is aware that the list is a major political issue: most Arab organizations, including Palestinian ones, do not participate in political gatherings with Israeli organizations that don't support Palestinian rights, as defined by the United Nations and international law, including, obviously, the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees. This excludes most of the Israeli Zionist organizations.

In order to avoid any misunderstanding, the Madrid organizing committee and the international committee issued, at an early stage, a Declaration of Principles that defined the political framework of the Madrid Social Forum. On the basis of that Declaration of Principles, the Israeli delegation was designed and the speakers for the various plenaries were selected. In a nutshell, Madrid is the first big international Anti-Annapolis conference, and this is why it is so important.

The composition of the delegations, however, especially the Israeli one, didn't satisfy the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs… or the Peres Peace Center. Obviously, the Spanish government has the right to sympathize more with Zionist organizations, and it can organize its own conference. Nevertheless, it cannot interfere in the Social Forum. Two months ago, I wrote on the AIC website:

The involvement of a government ministry in a social forum is, in and of itself, a serious violation of the Porto Alegre charter, which established the absolute independence of the social forums from the government. Yet the problem is not only statutory but absolutely political: what are bodies that openly support neoliberalism and the war doing with a conference that is entirely in opposition to neoliberalism and the war??!!! This is not the first time that this quasi-governmental entity attempts to sneak into a conference of non-governmental organizations, and we have reviewed other attempts in the past […]. However, this time the matter is more serious, as a majority of the participants perceive the forum in Madrid as being anti-Annapolis, and it is unacceptable that blatant supporters of Annapolis will be present to seek converts for their plan of war, a plan being created right before our eyes (" Anti-Annapolis in Madrid ," 29 November 2007).

In an unacceptable procedure, the Spanish Foreign Ministry established a parallel Israeli delegation, bigger than the official one, aimed to change the agenda of the Madrid Social Forum from an Anti-Annapolis conference to an "all inclusive" gathering, discussing the pro and against of the war plans shaped in Annapolis by George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert. The procedure is unacceptable, the content is outrageous.

As a result, the Palestinian delegation decided, at the last moment, to boycott the Forum, as did participants from other parts of the Arab world. One can object that the protest should have done in Madrid itself, at the site of the Forum, including boycotting it. This was, however, the decision of PNGO, and, while driving to the airport on my way to Madrid, I got the information and took the decision to return to Jerusalem, in solidarity with the Palestinian civil society organizations.

One should not underestimate what is at stake. It is not a matter of this or that person or organization being present at the Madrid Social Forum; it is not even the question of the heavy involvement of the Spanish government in a Social Forum. It is the question of War and Peace in the Middle East, what George W. Bush calls World War III, the core political issue of the moment!

In Annapolis, the United States and their allies have finalized the plans of the next war, not hesitating even to speak about nuclear strikes. It is a war against Iran, against Lebanon and Hezbollah, against Hamas and the Palestinian people, part of the global war planned by the neoconservatives of Washington and Tel Aviv.

The world today is divided between the supporters of such a war and those who oppose it: the line that divides them should be hermetic, because it is the line separating freedom from oppression, peaceful coexistence from aggression, life from death.

Some of the newly-invited Israeli organizations to Madrid are, to say the least, not fully opposed to the war plans of their government or their US godfather. To mention only two: Shimon Peres (founder of the Peres Peace Center) is calling for a preemptive war against Iran after having supported the last aggression against Lebanon; Peace Now supported the war in Lebanon in summer 2006—that is, until it became a military fiasco. It is a matter of private ethics: I do not want, today, to be in the same forum with such people. The blood of the martyrs of Tyre and Bint Jbail is not dry yet, and the noises of the next war, a war that they will undoubtedly support, are already in our ears.

Post Scriptum: We must emphasize how unacceptable the role played by some of our Israeli colleagues has been in this. They have crossed the lines, back and forth, between the civil society organizations and the Spanish Foreign Ministry, creating the whole mess and provoking the decision of the Palestinian organizations to boycott the Forum. I have no problem in taking part in a conference where Zionist spokespersons are invited too, for debates are part and parcel of a healthy political arena. As well, I have no problem being invited to official public meetings, initiated by government agencies, including Israeli ones. I need, however, to know exactly what kind of gathering I am supposed to participate.

I don't agree with everything that Warschawski says above, but I agree with most of it. It is clear that the conference was hijacked. I am not sure how the Spanish ministry got involved, or how the organizers were able to pulled in the wrong direction. Frankly, the organizing committee bears responsibility. If you go establishment, then what do you expect? If the Forum took money from the European Union, then they should have known that they would lose control. How was Miguel Moratinos, Spanish Foreign Minister, involved? I would appreciate further comments from activists involved.

Still, shame on Peace Now for crashing the party -- if indeed they did. If they continue to force themselves on the other crowd, I will begin to take back the nice things I said about them in my previous post.

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