(photo credit: AP)
The Madrid + 15 Peace Conference concluded Friday with a decision to put the peace train back on track during the first half of 2007.
The conference, organized by private foundations, brought together diplomats, academics and politicians from Europe, the United States, Russia and Middle Eastern countries. It was called to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the landmark 1991 Madrid peace conference that brought Israelis and Arabs to the negotiating table for the first time.
Spanish President Felipe Gonzalez, speaking at the closing session, attributed the failure of the Oslo Accords to the fact that the negotiations had moved from the private into the public domain before the agreements had become permanent.
He compared the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference to the present one, saying that in 1991, the language had been "tougher than the present language, the distance between the parties was greater and the hope for achieving a true and lasting peace was less." This time, he said, the language had been more direct and rational.
Gonzalez referred to the 2002 Arab League Initiative as "amazing," saying he could not believe that the international community had not recognized it as an irreversible step. He asked that the US play a part in the peace process without "too much involvement." "The Arab-Israeli issue may or may not be the epicenter of the problem," said Gonzalez, "but if it is not solved we cannot advance to the other issues." Gonzalez quoted [former executive chairman of UNMOVIC] Hans Blix as saying that "traditional methods are useless against the new international terrorism and arms proliferation." "The use of force," said Gonzalez, produces more international terrorism, both present and potential.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, who attended only part of the conference, said that "the moment of action has come." "It is imperative to continue with a step-by-step approach. [UN Representative] Terje Roed-Larsen has said that the totality is 'too big,' so let us take the Israeli-Palestinian issue first," Solana continued.
Outlining the formula for a successful peace process, Solana, who defined himself as "a friend of Israel and of the Palestinians," said that the process would need to be "comprehensive," and include "outside monitoring." Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos called upon the international community to "intervene but not impose," adding that "It is not enough to concentrate on the Palestinian situation while the issues with Syria and Lebanon remain blocked." Moratinos also called for the Arab world to be included in the Quartet, and for unconditional agreements to be reached.
After the conference, Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi told The Jerusalem Post that she was pleased and hopeful with the outcome of the conference.
"I think this is very significant. It is not just symbolic. There is commonality and an agreement on issues. But this is something that must be taken up and run with immediately," she said.
AP contributed to this report.