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UN Middle East media seminar opens in Moscow

UN Middle East media seminar opens in Moscow with call for Israeli-Palestinian talks

An international media seminar on peace in the Middle East, mandated by the United Nations General Assembly, opened in Moscow today with Secretary-General Kofi Annan stressing the vital need for Israelis and Palestinians to deal with each other face to face so as to achieve lasting peace and security for both.

“You gather at a time when potentially transformative decisions are being contemplated that could affect the lives of Palestinians and Israelis, and the prospects for peace, for many years to come,” Mr. Annan said in a message delivered by Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Shashi Tharoor.

While any Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank is to be welcomed, there is no substitute for a durable, negotiated solution and no other way to resolve final status issues than through face to face talks, he told the assembled journalists from both Israel and Arab countries as well as elsewhere.

“I am pleased that (Israeli) Prime Minister (Ehud) Olmert has said he would exhaust every possibility to promote peace with the Palestinians,” Mr. Annan said. “On the Palestinian side, President (Mahmoud) Abbas is a partner whose commitment to a peacefully negotiated two-State solution is unquestioned.”

He added that regarding the new Hamas-dominated Palestinian Authority Government, the Middle East Road Map peace plan sponsors – the Quartet comprising the UN, European Union, Russia and the United States – have made clear what is expected.

Ever since Hamas’ election victory in January, the Quartet has called on it to recognize Israel, commit to non-violence and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, as requited by the Road Map plan predicated on negotiated accords culminating in two States – Israel and Palestine – living side by side in peace and security.

“I hope that the well-known desire of the Palestinian people for a negotiated, two-State solution will emerge strengthened from the internal Palestinian discussion and debate now underway, and that their desire will be reflected in the positions taken by the Government,” Mr. Annan.

The two-day seminar is the 14th time the annual event has been held, and it is being organized this year by the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) in cooperation with the Russian Foreign Ministry.

The UN goal was not only to sensitize people about the question of Palestine but also to provide impetus and support for a dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis, to help them sustain their hopes and visions for a peaceful future and perhaps even contribute to the realization of those hopes, Mr. Tharoor said.

Ultimately, as war began in the minds of men, it was in the minds of men that peace must be constructed, he added.

The Chairman of the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of Palestinian People, Paul Badji, said the meeting was another example of UN efforts to achieve a peaceful solution to the conflict. The lack of awareness, distorted information and lack of comprehension of the situation of the Palestinian people exacerbated their predicament, he added.

Unfair and inaccurate media coverage of the issue should be closely monitored and, whenever possible, corrected, he said.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Alvaro de Soto said in the keynote address that he actually saw a couple of positive elements on which it might be possible to build. The first was Israeli and Palestinian public opinion, with nearly all surveys showing that the two publics still supported a negotiated two-State solution.

The second was the expressed desire of Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas to engage in dialogue with a partner willing and able to deliver. It was the job of the international community not just to show the parties where their performance fell short, but also to help them, Mr. de Soto added.

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