Informal talks try to breach Mideast ‘wall’

SEVILLE – The Castle of Alcazar, the former minaret – now the bell tower – of Giralda, and the Golden Tower on the banks of the Guadalquivir are the most representative monuments of Seville. All three were built by Arab architects during the heyday of the caliphate of Al Andalus in what is now Andalusia. The most picturesque neighborhood in the city is the Juderia, the Jewish quarter. And the most imposing building is the Catholic cathedral where Christopher Columbus is said to be buried, one of the three largest Christian basilicas in the world, along with St Peter’s in Rome and St Paul’s in London. Last week, this unique crossroads of the three great Mediterranean civilizations hosted an international meeting of politicians, intellectuals and journalists to discuss the Palestinian question. The high-level meeting was organized by the United Nations’ Department of Public Information in cooperation with the government of Andalusia, under President Manuel Chaves Gonzalez. Two Palestinian Authority ministers attended, as did some of the best-known Israeli politicians (from the Labor party, as the Sharon government refused to participate) and intellectuals. The news of deadly attacks on the Israeli army in Gaza intensified the sense of being on the verge of a dramatic escalation of violence. Yet there were a few rays of hope in the gloomy scene. Discussion focused on the recent Geneva initiative. Dozens of Palestinians and Israelis, prominent politicians and intellectuals, came up with a plan for definitively resolving the Palestinian question by specific measures on all the disputed issues – an initiative which UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed in his message to the summit. The second piece of news from Seville was that the idea of sending an international peacekeeping force to the Middle East is gaining ground. Miguel Angel Moratinos, former European Union Special Representative for the Middle East Peace Process, recommended that the international community, without the USA if need be, could send observers (perhaps on the occasion of the next elections in Palestine) so as to prevent the worst from happening and try to internationalize the problem. The Spanish diplomat said, «Israel cannot dictate policy to the European Union,» and that the latter should consider imposing sanctions if there are no steps toward compliance with the road map for peace in the region. On the sidelines of the meeting, Kathimerini talked to two of the most important guests, Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha’ath and the former speaker of the Israeli Parliament, Avraham Burg. The views of the two men converge impressively on most issues. The only thing is that it is much easier to agree in Seville and Geneva than it is in Jerusalem and Ramallah.