6-7 April 2009 – Istanbul, Turkey
The Second Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations mobilized a wide range of committed partners, including governments, international organizations, media, civil society, youth and religious leaders. From 6-7 April 2009, nearly 2,000 participants – among them several Heads of Government, over 50 ministers, as well as policymakers, foundations, media and grassroots leaders from around the world – convened at the Cirağan Palace Hotel in Istanbul, Turkey, to forge new partnerships, generate ideas aimed at building trust and cooperation among diverse communities and advance the Alliance of Civilizations’ goals. The Forum also served as an opportunity to take stock of initiatives developed by the Alliance, to showcase practical projects in collaboration with civil society and corporate partners and to launch new programs.
The Alliance of Civilizations promotes “a dialogue that delivers”, a dialogue supported and prolonged by concrete action, with an impact on citizens’ lives. It is therefore only natural that the report should start with a review of the practical outcomes of the Forum: progress made in the implementation of existing projects, launching of new programs, conclusion of new partnership agreements, fresh developments in national and regional initiatives designed to achieve the collective goals. The report then focuses on the deliberations of the Group of Friends, which supports the Alliance, looking at the main themes of interest for ministers and heads of international organizations and the way focal points in national administrations and partner institutions organize their work. It further introduces the major innovation of the Istanbul Forum – the Marketplace of Ideas – and presents at some length how the youth have been uniquely involved in that major event.
Against that background of achievements, institutional developments and innovative practices, the report then sheds light on the many lively debates, which took place from dawn to dusk, from exchanges between top political leaders to multifaceted working sessions involving representatives of all stakeholders in the Alliance’s process. It offers a summary of the main points at issue and conclusions as well as a selection of quotes.
Working Session 11. The Cost of Conflict in the Middle East
Partner organization: Strategic Foresight Group
The starting point for this session’s discussion was a study on the cost of conflict in the Middle East undertaken by the India-based Strategic Foresight Group (SFG), with the support of governments and institutions from Turkey, Switzerland, Norway and Qatar. The study was the first-ever effort in 60 years to measure all kinds of costs of conflicts in the region, using 97 parameters. The session was moderated by Sundeep Waslekar, president of SFG.
By pointing to the scale of the costs, including huge losses of opportunities and negative consequences for the whole world, the report was widely recognized as making a compelling case for greater political engagement and sustained efforts to resolve the conflicts by all concerned. The human cost was the most significant and included the loss of dignity imposed on 1.4 million people locked in Gaza. No peace process could be successful if the situation of the victims is not addressed in an equitable way.
Speakers felt that the only option was a two-state solution, combined with an effective freeze on settlements. Amre Moussa, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, felt that pending a freeze on settlement building by Israel and a notification to this effect to the UN Security Council, Arab countries would respond and a new dynamic would unfold.
However, speaking in the absence of Shlomo Ben-Ami, Vice-President of the Toledo International Centre for Peace (who, at the last minute, was unable to attend), an Israeli diplomat stressed that the main obstacle to a solution was not the settlements but the non acceptance of Israel’s right to exist. Jean-Daniel Ruch, Special Envoy to the Middle East for Switzerland, agreed that Israel should be recognized by all. Introducing himself as a representative of a rare country that did not boycott the results of the Palestinian elections, he further understood the fear provoked by Hamas’ stance. This did not, however, take away Israel’s duty to engage in the peace process. The country was also expected to fully cooperate with the Goldstone Commission.
The discussion focused on measures that should be considered if the settlements do not stop and no real engagement on a 2-state solution takes place. The international community would have to send a strong and well-coordinated message, insisted Miguel Angel Moratinos, Spanish Foreign Minister, and Jean Asselborn, Deputy Prime Minister of Luxembourg. Some international assistance may be withdrawn. There was little support for a boycott, considered generally ineffective. There was a need to find new innovative diplomatic incentives.
President Obama had raised high expectations, which should be followed up by persistent and constructive involvement in the region. It was hoped that the international community would now more consistently move together in the same direction. Turkish Minister of State Egmen Bağiş said that his country was implementing a policy of zero conflict with neighbors and promoting it throughout the Middle East. It was engaged in the Syrian-Israeli Peace Process, now damaged by the Gaza crisis. Turkey remained committed to new efforts and wanted to be part of the solution, as a country with credibility in both the West and Islamic countries. Jean Asselborn emphasized that other countries were expected to help – in particular Jordan and Egypt – when it comes to bringing about a transition Palestinian government. Syria had to be part of a solution.
The Alliance of Civilizations, it was found, offered a welcome platform for people to speak and discuss the issue. At the same time, as Jorge Sampaio, High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations clearly emphasized, it was not for the Alliance to find political solutions for conflicts. Its mandate is either to act at the preventive level – to help defuse tensions and prevent them escalating into conflicts – or to act for peace building consolidation in postconflict situations.