A delegation of former statesmen and international dignitaries representing The Elders NGO arrived on Monday for a three-day visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah.
The delegation, led by former Brazilian president Fernando Henrique Cardoso, includes former US president Jimmy Carter, former Irish president Mary Robinson, Bishop Desmond Tutu, Indian human rights activist Ela Bhatt and former Norwegian prime minister Gro Brundtland. Joining them are businessmen/philanthropists Richard Branson and Jeff Skoll.
The members of The Elders, brought together by former South African president Nelson Mandela, who "offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity."
Nelson Mandela announced the formation of the NGO in July 2007 on his 89th birthday, at a ceremony in Johannesburg. Since then The Elders has focused on several conflict and crisis areas. These include Burma, Cyprus, the Middle East, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
This is the first Elders' group visit to the region, although a number of them have visited Israel previously.
According to a press release issued in advance of their visit, "While The Elders are very supportive of current efforts to reopen peace negotiations they will not be involved in those talks in any way - nor do they seek to be. Rather, the objective of their visit is to meet a wide cross-section of Israeli and Palestinian societies including grassroots organizations, young people, members of civil society, independent experts, business leaders and others. They want to offer their support to those who are working hard for peaceful coexistence while also listening to the concerns and aspirations of a broad range of individuals on both sides."
Their itinerary starts on Tuesday with a visit to the International Cultural Center for Youth in the capital's German Colony neighborhood for a dialogue with young Israelis and continues with a tour of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. Later in the day they will meet members of the diplomatic community and Israeli business leaders.
On Wednesday, the Elders will meet President Shimon Peres before going to Ramallah to meet Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayad. Near Ramallah, the group will visit the Kalandiya refugee camp, conduct a dialogue with young Palestinians and meet a group of Palestinian opinion leaders. In the evening they will attend an iftar ceremony (breaking the day's Ramadan fast) with prominent members of the Palestinian community.
Two of The Elders, Tutu and Robinson, were among the 16 people who recently received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, honoring civilian service, from US President Barak Obama.