Elders urge 'energetic' peace push
Damascus – The Elders group of retired world figures called on Tuesday for a "more energetic" drive for Middle East peace, warning that the major powers appeared to be more interested in conflict management than resolution.
In a statement issued in Damascus after talks in Gaza and Egypt, as well as in Syria, the four-strong delegation also called for urgent action to reconcile the feuding Palestinian factions and end the international boycott of the Islamist Hamas movement.
"A far greater sense of urgency is needed. People are tired after almost two decades of talks," said the delegation's leader, former Irish president Mary Robinson.
"They are asking themselves whether the United States and the Quartet are more interested in managing the conflict than resolving it," she said, referring to the European Union, Russia and the UN, which, with the US, make up the four sponsors of the peace process.
"As Elders, we believe the two-state solution has the potential to deliver peace but a more energetic and comprehensive approach is needed."
Former US president Jimmy Carter warned there was widespread pessimism in the Arab world about the prospects for renewed peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which have run into the ground over Israel's refusal to renew restrictions on Jewish settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.
"Expectations across the region for the current talks between Israel and the Palestinians are very low," Carter said.
"One of the foundations of hope is to see things getting better, but things are not improving. How can you expect people without hope to believe in a better future?"
Serious human rights violations
Carter was not with the delegation when it visited Hamas-ruled Gaza on Saturday but he hit out at continuing Israeli restrictions on the impoverished territory.
"The blockade is one of the most serious human rights violations on Earth and it must be lifted fully," said the former US president, who did take part in the delegation's talks with exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in Damascus on Tuesday.
Former Algerian foreign minister Lakhdar Brahimi said it was vital that the peace process involve Hamas, which remains blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by both the EU and the US.
"The international community's boycott of Hamas is counterproductive. Hamas represents an important Palestinian constituency, whether you agree with them or not," Brahimi said.
The Elders bemoaned the fact that a new round of reconciliation talks between Hamas and the Fatah faction of Western-backed Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, which had been due to be held in Damascus this Wednesday, has been postponed in a row over the venue.
"The Elders are concerned that Fatah and Hamas are arguing about minor issues and the location of talks rather than major issues that need to be resolved," their statement said.
Brahimi warned: "Peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel won't go anywhere until Hamas and Fatah work out their differences."
After talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday, the Elders also called for renewed talks between Syria and Israel but said they needed to be substantive.
"The Elders believe Syria-Israel peace negotiations should recommence as soon as possible. At same time, it is important that talks start when both sides are ready. To start and fail repeatedly is not helpful to any process," they said.