by Paul Balles
On September 6, 2009, the Washington Post carried an article by Past President Jimmy Carter on “The Elders’ view of the Middle East.”
Carter said very little about who “the Elders” are except to mention those who accompanied him on a month earlier trip to Israel and occupied Palestine.
He referred to “a group of ‘Elders’, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former Presidents Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil and Mary Robinson of Ireland, former Prime Minister Gro Brundtland of Norway and women’s activist Ela Bhatt of India.”
On January 9, 2010, Nicholas Kristof briefly referred to Jimmy Carter and the Elders in a New York Times article on “Religion and Women.”
Kristof referred to Carter as “a member of The Elders, a small council of retired leaders brought together by Nelson Mandela.”
In a total distortion of the Elders’ purpose, Kristof added, “The Elders are focusing on the role of religion in oppressing women…”
The Elders, given short shrift by the Western media, “are an independent group of eminent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.”
The group includes Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Brundtland, Fernando H Cardoso, Jimmy Carter, Graça Machel, Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu. Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela (who founded the group) are honorary members.
The Elders, made their second collective visit to the Middle East from 15-22 October 2010. Mary Robinson led the Elders’ delegation….The aim of their visit was “to encourage peace efforts, with an emphasis on the need to reach ‘a just and secure peace for all’ based on international law.”
They issued a report that sets out the Elders’ conclusions from the trip, which they hope will be a helpful contribution to peace efforts. It deserves much more attention than it has received.
A summary of its conclusions:
– Peace cannot be achieved without an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land (They add: Settlement activities are contrary to international law).
– The window for a two-state solution is closing rapidly because of changing facts on the ground driven by settlement activity, evictions and deportations.
– An agreement on Jerusalem is central to any solution. The threats to the Arab identity of East Jerusalem are an obstacle to peace.
– In the event a negotiated settlement is not possible, alternative strategies to end the occupation and achieve Palestinian statehood are being explored.
– Israel is increasingly isolated and the population is cynical about prospects for peace.
– Challenges to Israel’s right to exist in peace must not be tolerated.
– Popular disillusionment across the Arab world is creating a volatile environment.
– Arab countries should do more to support the Palestinians.
– Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is essential.
– Human rights violations committed by the authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza must end.
– Women should play a far greater role in peace negotiations.
– Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel perceive a genuine threat to their basic rights.
– The Gaza blockade is illegal and inhumane and must be lifted altogether.
– Marginalising the Hamas leadership from the current peace process is counter-productive.
– Violence against non-combatants, by Palestinians or Israelis, is an unacceptable violation of international law.
– A greater sense of urgency is needed to achieve a just and secure peace for all.
The Elders’ report could hardly be fairer to both Israel and the Palestinians. It’s time for the Western media to be as fair.
The full report is available online: http://www.theelders.org/docs/middle-east/The_Elders_Middle_East_Trip_Report-October-2010.pdf
Paul J. Balles is a retired American university professor and freelance writer who has lived in the Middle East for many years. He’s a weekly Op-Ed columnist for the Gulf Daily News. Dr. Balles is also Editorial Consultant for Red House Marketing and a regular contributor to Bahrain This Month.