A major meeting of non-governmental organizations and activists fell into disarray when the Palestinian delegation announced its withdrawal just days before the event.
“The Palestinian civil society delegation to the forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East, planned for 14-16 December in Madrid, has decided not to participate in the forum due to serious last-minute violations,” a December 13 statement issued by the Palestinian NGO network (PNGO) read.
According to the statement, an Israeli establishment delegation was imposed on the forum under pressure from the Spanish government bypassing the forum’s international organizing committee.
An Israeli civil society delegation, led by the Alternative Information Center (AIC), also withdrew, as did delegations from the occupied Golan Heights, Lebanon and the Basque region.
In a 14 December follow up statement, the Palestinian civil society groups elaborated that “an Israeli establishment delegation, larger than the original delegation led by AIC” had been “undemocratically invited by Spanish officials against the will of the overwhelming majority of the forum’s main organizing body.” This expanded Israeli delegation included “Israeli organizations and municipal officials who are on record opposing the application of justice, international law and universal rights to reach a sustainable and genuine peace in the Middle East.” The expanded Israeli delegation included mayors, military officers and at least one official of the Jewish Agency, the state-backed Zionist organization that helps enforce Israel’s racist “Law of Return” that allows only Jews to immigrate to Israel and gain citizenship.
Sessions were also added to the schedule at the last moment including members of the Geneva Initiative and Peace Voice, organizations that explicitly reject the rights of Palestinian refugees to return home as enshrined in international law.
“In short,” the PNGO statement concluded, “a different agenda has been imposed on the Forum, shifting its character from a serious, even noble, civil society effort to envision and advocate an alternative path to peace, based on justice, human rights and international law, to yet another ‘peace’ show, in a long series of similar shows, advocating an essentially unjust ‘peace.’”
In a letter to the Spanish organizers, provided to the Electronic Intifada, Omar Barghouti wrote that “What saddens and angers me the most is that a great, visionary forum was undemocratically, but successfully, overtaken by those who have always rejected its progressive agenda.” Barghouti, a founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and a member of the withdrawn Palestinian delegation added, “It is ironic that a European government, ostensibly upholding democratic principles, would impose its will, in such a brute manner, on a civil society initiative of this richness and vision, shattering its crucial independence — the main source of its credibility.”
The AIC’s Michael Warschawski explained in a separate statement posted on his organization’s website that the AIC delegation — made up of Israelis who endorsed the forum’s statement of principles — withdrew “in solidarity with the Palestinian civil society organizations.” Warschawski strongly criticized the Spanish Foreign Ministry for establishing “a parallel Israeli delegation” affiliated with organizations that support Bush Administration policies in the region including war against Iran.
Over a thousand people had been expected at the Forum for a Just Peace. Conceived as an outgrowth of the Madrid Social Forum, dozens of Spanish parties, unions, student organizations and other associations had agreed to its statement of principles which affirms that “the basic requirements for justice are only possible with an end to the Israeli occupation and colonization of the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem; the recognition and facilitation of the rights of Palestinian refugees, including their right to return to their lands (in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194; and end to the system of racial discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.”
Reaction from the Spanish organizers has been confused. A statement that appeared on the forum website on 13 December was subsequently removed after the 14 December PNGO statement charged that it “entirely and intentionally misrepresented the facts and the factors that motivated the now growing boycott of the forum.”