Club of Madrid members demand a new approach for solving the conflict in Gaza/Israel

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Friday, 16 January, 2009

Twenty-one former Heads of State and Government – all Club of Madrid Members – signed a declaration directed at Middle East leaders to demand an end to the war in Gaza and a profound change in the approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The declaration was published as an op-ed, signed by Club of Madrid President Ricardo Lagos and Vice President Mary Robinson, in the leading Spanish newspaper El País.


The Israeli invasion of Gaza and the fierce fighting in the Strip, following rocket and missile strikes between Hamas and Israel, do little or no good for peace in the Middle East. International condemnation of what amounts to a new Israeli-Palestinian war, and calls for a renewed cease-fire, have been as swift and fierce as the incursion and battle itself. Yet, unless and until leaders in the region, backed by leaders around the world, decide that enough is enough, peace has no chance.

We spoke out before the land assault (President Ricardo Lagos, Dec. 31), but given the escalation we are compelled to write again. This time with stronger language for the warring sides. As former Presidents and Prime Ministers and Club of Madrid members, in response to what is happening in Gaza, we say “Enough!” We urge leaders in the Middle East and beyond to say Enough! to war and suffering and Enough! to avoidance of taking the risk of peace. Urgent international calls for an immediate cease fire and diplomatic efforts to produce one are needed but will not suffice in response to the aggression, war and killing of innocent civilians in the name of security or self determination. This violence, as in the past, is borne of and will breed only further bloodshed. It is another chapter –perhaps destined to become one of the worst – in this long saga.

Hundreds killed. Thousands wounded. UN buildings and schools knowingly bombed. Refugees with no refuge. Use of human shields. Profound insecurity. These are the early casualties, but they are mounting and on both sides are greater among civilians than among combatants. Hamas rockets are less deadly than Israeli missiles – but claim 5 times as many civilians as soldiers. Israel targets only enemy combatants but collateral damage includes UN workers and 200 Palestinian children; and through “friendly fire” the IDF has killed as many of its own soldiers as has Hamas. Meanwhile, leaders in the region are heinously urging their youth to commit mass suicide bombings in response. The insane cycle must be stopped. Now. Before history repeats itself with a protracted occupation, more suicidal terrorism and unsavory political consequences. The cycle can only end when leaders are willing to “take the risk of peace.”

We call on individual leaders with a stake in the crisis to cease and desist and to ask their neighbours to do the same. Do leaders in the Middle East want to be remembered for the casualties or for leadership that puts an end to them? We ask them: why not tell your cabinet colleagues and circle of top advisors that you plan to lead on a way out of the death and destruction? For the sake of your own people, don’t wait for others.

We all know the history of the suffering and the continuing need for security. We know the battles, the borders, and the barriers. We also know roughly what the final peace settlement will look like, and some of us have been involved in efforts to forge that long-elusive agreement: land for peace, a two-state solution, security guarantees for Israel, a sharing of the Holy City and an accord on the right to return for Palestinian refugees. But, it must also be signed, supported and implemented by leaders that declare and share a commitment to build and live in a world that is safe for difference. This means a world not only where Israelis and Palestinians can live on opposite sides of a militarised border free from missile and rocket attacks. Not only where peace comes because the alternative is worse. But also where religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity is celebrated rather than targeted. Where not only arms are laid down, but where manifestoes, statements, attitudes and teachings that question or negate a state’s – or even a people’s – right to exist are also put to rest. Where peace comes because enemies, despite differences, agreed to work together to seek a shared understanding of what peace would include and chart a process toward that goal.

As former Heads of State and Government, we know it will not be easy. We know that leaders play to their people’s fears because that is what is politically expedient. But through our experience and our recent work on leadership for building shared societies, we also know that leaders can lead people to overcome those fears – which are based on difference – by learning to get along, respecting one another and celebrating our diversity, rather than defining each other by negative reference. This is the only option. There is no Plan B.

In a new year when change is needed and expected in several arenas, think of what could happen if Middle Eastern leaders, individually or collectively, did the unexpected and said, “Enough!” and then began to sit down to work genuinely on a shared understanding of the process towards peace in the Middle East. Please say: “Enough! - It begins in Gaza and it begins now.” The world will be with you.

Club of Madrid Members supporting the Declaration:

Lagos, Ricardo – Former President of Chile and President of the Club of Madrid

Robinson, Mary - Former President of Ireland and Vice President of the Club of Madrid

Alfonsín, Raúl - Former President of Argentina

Bondevik, Kjell Magne - Former Prime Minister of Norway

Chissano, Joaquim Alberto - Former President of Mozambique

Finnbogadóttir, Vigdís - Former President of Iceland

Gaviria, César - Former President of Colombia

Hurtado, Osvaldo - Former President of Ecuador

Jospin, Lionel - Former Prime Minister of France

Kok, Wim - Former Prime Minister of the Netherlands

Kucan, Milan - Former President of Slovenia

Kumaratunga, Chandrika B. - Former President of Sri Lanka

Lagumdzija, Zlatko - Former Prime Minister of Bosnia & Herzegovina

Lee, Hong Koo - Former Prime Minister of Korea

Pastrana, Andrés - Former President of Colombia

Patterson, Percival - Former Prime Minister of Jamaica

Quiroga, Jorge - Former President of Bolivia

Rasmussen, Poul Nyrup - Former Prime Minister of Denmark

Shipley, Jennifer Mary - Former Prime Minister of New Zealand

Soares, Mario - Former President of Portugal

Uteem, Cassam - Former President of the Republic of Mauritius

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