Peace in Palestine Conference Proclaims New Initiative for Global "South"

By Gee, John | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May/June 2005 | Go to article overview

Peace in Palestine Conference Proclaims New Initiative for Global "South"


Gee, John, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


"A global movement akin to the global campaign against apartheid in South Africa which led to the freeing of Nelson Mandela from incarceration and, eventually, to the crumbling of that racist system." That was the hope expressed for the Palestinians by Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi in his opening address to the Global Civil Society International Conference on Peace in Palestine. The conference was held in Putrajaya, Malaysia's administrative capital, from March 28 to 30.

Some 400 civil society activists from 34 countries took part in the gathering, which was organized by Peace Malaysia, a coalition of 1,100 non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Many of the NGOs have ties to the ruling alliance in Malaysia, and the conference received strong support from the Malaysian government. When the initiative was first announced, the youth wing of PAS, the opposition Islamist party, was a participant in organizing it. In the end, however, PAS withdrew over the issue of the participation of five Israelis in the conference, arguing that their admission to Malaysia could imply recognition of Israel. Although Malaysia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, the five were invited to take part and admitted on the basis of their support for the realization of the national rights of the Palestinian people. Defending his government's policy, Malaysian Defense Minister Syed Hamid Albar told reporters:

"We must look at people as people. We must distinguish between the Israeli government and Israelis who are for achieving peace and supporting the Palestinian cause. I think we should treat the whole issue like this...we need people to speak for you [i.e. the Palestinians] on your behalf not only outside Israel but also within Israel."

The Israeli participants included Adi Dagan from Machsomwatch, a group that monitors the treatment of Palestinians at military checkpoints, Gershon Baskin of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, and Adam Keller, spokesman of Gush Shalom (Peace Bloc). Among the Palestinian speakers were Diana Buttu, Jad Ishaq, Ramzy Baroud and Dr. Azzam Tamimi, who called the Palestine question "the mother of all issues." Other speakers included Alison Weir, Thomas Michel of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, Washington, and Phyllis Bennis, who contrasted the rhetoric of the Bush administration and its supporters about the new democratic wave in the Middle East with the reality of two occupations that discredit its proclaimed stand on change in the region: Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

At the conclusion of the conference, chairperson Dr. Chandra Muzaffar; Mukhriz Mahathir, group coordinator of Peace Malaysia (and youngest son of former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad); and Dr. R.S. McCoy, chief rapporteur, presented a statement summarizing ideas on how people and NGOs could contribute toward a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The Putrajaya Action Plan emphasizes the building of a network of Palestine support groups and the launching of coordinated solidarity activities in the global South-Asia, Africa and Latin America. It proposes the establishment of an International Center on Palestine for Civil Society in the South (ICPCSS), to be located in Malaysia. The ICPCSS would be governed by a board composed of members drawn from civil society groups in the South.

Besides disseminating information on Palestine and on the requirements for a just peace within the South, the ICPCSS would aim to "initiate lecture tours of the United States by Palestinian support group activists from the South who will tell the other side of the story to the American people." It would also "Persuade Arab, Muslim and South-based groups to engage and interact with grassroots community organizations in the U.S." These points reflected the conference participants' belief that most Americans would respond positively and want a change in their country's policy toward the Palestine conflict if only they knew the truth about it. …

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