Madrid hosts peace conference

Talks aimed at restarting the peace process take place without senior figures.

    Moussa, left, and Ferrero-Waldner backed calls for another conference including major players [AFP]

    The opening session was attended by the foreign ministers from Denmark, Norway and Sweden and an array of former political leaders, experts and academics from the UN, the US, Russia and the Middle East.

    Heavy hitters

    Alan Fisher, Al Jazeera's correspondent at the conference, said: "There are none of the big heavy hitters that were here 15 years ago, people who could push through reforms like George Bush senior."

    "The peace process should not be considered secondary to the fight against terrorism. It must come first"


    Amr Moussa, secretary-general
    of the Arab League

    Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, said as the meeting started: "I invite the participants of this meeting to urge for an urgent international conference for a peace settlement, this time with the United Nations.

    "The peace process should not be considered secondary to the fight against terrorism. It must come first."
      
    He added that the parties involved should not be "afraid of peace", while urging Israel to "work to be a full member of the Middle East society of nations".

    Quartet's role

    Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external relations commissioner, backed the calls for a new conference and appealed for the Quartet, comprising the United Nations, United States, the European Union and Russia, to be relaunched.

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    "A revigorated Quartet has to play a key role," she said, urging the pursuit of "consensus and [economic] development, not by violence".
      
    She added the EU was ready to play a key role to help develop "a  comprehensive regional solution" but added that the ongoing violence between the rival Fatah and Hamas factions would hamper outside efforts.

    Some people have criticised the 1991 conference as achieving little although it preceeded the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords which led to the Palestinian Authority being established.

    Two-state solution

    The Israeli and Palestinian delegates warned, however, that the two-state solution was at risk of slipping away.

    Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, said: "The two state solution is still on the table, but the peacemakers need to be advised that this is not for too long and time is running out."

    Hanan Ashrawi, the Palestinian representative who like Ben-Ami was a negotiator at the 1991 conference, agreed.

    "The time has come for bold, rapid and decisive steps because ... the two state solution is disappearing," she said.

    After the opening session the delegates held closed-door meetings on bilateral issues such as Israel's relations with the Palestinians, Lebanon and Syria.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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