UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday that any effort to stop growing violence between Islamic and Western societies must include an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Annan spoke after receiving a report from a high-level group of experts on ways to alleviate Muslim-Western clashes and misunderstandings.
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According to the report, the central causes of the rift are not religion or history, but recent political developments, notably the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"We may wish to think of the Arab-Israeli conflict as just one regional conflict amongst many," said Annan, who leaves his post at the end of the year. "It is not. No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield."
Annan said he would work along with his successor, Ban Ki-moon, to help implement the recommendations of the report, which called for renewed efforts toward the goal of establishing "two fully sovereign and independent states coexisting side by side in peace and security."
"As long as the Palestinians live under occupation exposed to daily frustration and humiliation, and as long as Israelis are blown-up in buses and in dance halls, so long will passions everywhere be inflamed," Annan said.
The report, drafted over the past year by a group of 20 prominent men and women, including former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami and South African activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called for an urgent international conference "to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process."
It also called for the development of a report "analyzing the Israeli-Palestinian landscape dispassionately and objectively," and "establishing clearly the conditions that must be met to find a way out of this crisis."
According to the report, "Our emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not meant to imply that it is the overt cause of all tensions between Muslim and Western societies. Other factors also create resentment and mistrust, including the spiraling crisis in Iraq, the continued instability in Afghanistan, issues internal to Muslim societies, as well as terrorist attacks on civilian populations in many countries. Nevertheless, it is our view that the Israeli-Palestinian issue has taken on a symbolic value that colors cross-cultural and political relations among adherents of all three major monotheistic faiths well beyond its limited geographic scope."
It further stated: "The exploitation of religion by ideologues intent on swaying people to their causes has led to the misguided perception that religion itself is a root cause of intercultural conflict. It is therefore essential to dispel misapprehensions and to give an objective and informed appraisal of the role of religion in modern day politics."
"It is imperative to recognize that none of the world religions condones or approves the killing of innocents. All promote the ideals of compassion, justice and respect for the dignity of life. However, in a wide range of recent conflicts in many parts of the world, religion has been exploited to justify intolerance, violence and even the taking of life."
According to the report, "Globalization and the prospect of greater well-being has come at a high price, which includes cultural homogenization, family dislocation, challenges to traditional lifestyles, and environmental degradation," the report said.
"In this context, peoples who feel that they face persistent discrimination, humiliation, or marginalization are reacting by asserting their identity more aggressively." The group making the recommendations was formed in 2005 as part of the UN -backed "Alliance of Civilizations" initiative, under the sponsorship of the prime ministers of Spain, a predominantly Catholic country, and Turkey, which is 99 percent Muslim.