Emory Report
July 23, 2007
Volume 59, Number 35

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July 23, 2007
Carter Center promotes dialogue, education on Palestinian issues

by Deborah Hakes

Dialogue that engages all stakeholders in the Israeli and Palestinian peace process is critical to resolve the current crisis, according to three Middle East experts who convened at The Carter Center on July 13. The panel also addressed risks of the “West Bank first” policy, which is being promoted by the United States and a few European governments to address the Gaza takeover by Hamas in June.

Panelists included Daniel Levy, former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and leader of the Geneva Peace Initiative; Mustapha Barghouthi, former minister of information in the Palestinian National Unity Government; and William Sieghart, founder and chairman of Forward Thinking, an independent UK charity addressing the growing social isolation of Muslim communities in Britain and promoting a more inclusive peace process in the Middle East.

“It’s very easy to demonize people that you never meet,” said Sieghart. “The central problem in this conflict at heart is the vast core of the policy of Israel, the top four or five hundred people who run the country, have never met anyone from Hamas, and none of the Hamas leadership has ever met any Israeli except as their jailer in prison. That is no basis for human dialogue … It’s perfectly plausible for you to engage with people without endorsement of their tactics and their atrocities and bring them to the table.”

Barghouthi expressed that the “West Bank first” policy, which aims to bolster President Mahmoud Abbas’ emergency assembled government and further isolate Hamas, undermines the goal of Palestinian democracy and unity as prerequisites for peace.

“What do you mean by democracy?” Barghouthi asked, referring to U.S. policy. “One of the biggest achievements by the Palestinians under occupation is to build a democratic system. It’s not a fantastic democratic system but it’s the best democratic system in the Arab world. What is happening now is nothing but slaughtering democracy.”

Levy argued that the policy could lead to even greater extremism and is not in Israel’s interest. “The more you create this humiliation and anger, especially in today’s destabilized Middle East, and if we push back as we are currently doing against Hamas, you’re likely to create the kind of space in which Al Qaeda look-alikes are going to take root,” he said.

The event was part of The Carter Center’s ongoing efforts to draw attention to critical issues of democratic development and to identify opportunities to promote peace and justice in the Palestinian territories.
The Carter Center also will issue periodic public reports on a series of critical issues in the conflict, to be available on the Center’s Web site. The discussion is available for viewing at www.cartercenter.org.

The Carter Center has worked for more than 10 years to promote democratic institutions and elections in the occupied Palestinian territories.

“Our efforts have been focused on a main goal to build what we hope are the precursors of strong democratic institutions in a future Palestinian state, and see that as being a critical element to ultimately building sustainable peace in the region,” said David Carroll, director of the Center’s Democracy Program.