Winds of Change, Post Arafat - Newsletter
Brenda Katten's Newsletter
Recently I had the privilege of being Israel's only official representative at The International Conference for Women Defending Peace. Held in Geneva, under the personal initiative of Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Egypt's President, whose International Peace Movement brought together some 500 women from all over the world including many from Arab countries. Whilst not under the official umbrella of the UN, nevertheless the Conference opened with a message of support from the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, had the participation of both former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Having participated in five United Nations' Conferences at the UN in New York and having led the WIZO delegation to the "so called" UN Conference against Racism - this conference proved to be considerably different to the others. It was the first time that the Palestinian issue did not dominate the proceedings and neither did the emanating Plan of Action refer specifically to the Palestinians. It was also the first time that I, representing Israel, received warm applause for my contribution to the deliberations. Many delegates approached me expressing interest in what Israel and WIZO were doing to promote bridge building between our ethnic and religious groups and the important work carried out by us to prepare women for leadership positions.
Back in Israel, the winds of change are being felt in the diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel. Phone calls between the President of Egypt and our Prime Minister are becoming more frequent and certainly warmer. Egypt has released Azzam Azzam, an Israeli Druze accused of spying for Israel. The two countries have signed an agreement for establishing industrial zones in Egypt. The Egyptian charge d'affaires - interviewed on TV - stated that once the peace process was back on track, there would be a dramatic improvement in diplomatic relations between Israel and the Arab States.
Israel has agreed to the expansion of Egyptian forces in Sinai to block the smuggling of arms to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip after next year's planned disengagement. Israel's Foreign Ministry reported a "new atmosphere" after recent talks in Jerusalem between PM Sharon, Foreign Minister Shalom, Egypt's Foreign Minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit and intelligence chief General Suleiman.
Concurrently the UN is endeavoring to remove itself from the brink of irrelevancy. Kofi Annan (his own image somewhat tarnished with the "oil for food" scandal) appointed a panel whose findings were made public in December. Surprisingly its proposals are cause for hope. At last it has defined terrorism as "an action that is intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or noncombatants when the purpose of such act, by its nature or context, is to intimidate a population or to compel a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act" - it goes on to say "there is nothing in the fact of occupation that justifies the targeting and killing of civilians".
WINDS OF CHANGE? - WE CAN BUT HOPE SO!