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 UNIFEM Initiative for Middle East Peace
 UNIFEM, International
 September 20, 2006

A delegation of top Israeli, Palestinian and international women leaders arrive at the United Nations on September 20th to meet with President of the Republic of Finland Tarja Halonen, at a time when Finland holds the Presidency of the European Union, in an effort to marshal high-level political pressure to restart negotiations in the region.

Joining the President of Finland will be President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, Africa's first elected woman head of state, who traveled to the occupied Palestinian territory in 2001 to hear the stories of women living in conflict as part of the Independent Experts' Assessment on the impact of war on women, commissioned by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

It is hoped that together these leaders, representing both the North and the South, can begin to focus international attention on the need to resolve the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict so as to prevent broader conflict in the region. Taking advantage of the opening of the 61st Session of the UN General Assembly, they are also meeting with Mr. Amr Moussa, who heads the League of Arab States, and with critical foreign ministers, as well as with high-level UN officials.

The International Women's Commission for a Just and Sustainable Israeli-Palestinian Peace (IWC) convened in 2005 by Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Director of UNIFEM, at the urging of Israeli and Palestinian women leaders, was established to ensure the meaningful participation of women in mainstream peace negotiations.

IWC maintains that implementing UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which mandates women's involvement in conflict resolution, is critical to restarting negotiations and improving their outcomes. The IWC charter stresses the goal of bringing an end to Israeli occupation through immediate final status negotiations, leading to a viable sovereign Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel. Since its inception, IWC has succeeded in joining women living in different realities and experiences to speak out on the most difficult political issues in one voice.

Leading the delegation to New York are Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, Member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, and Dr. Naomi Chazan, former Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and professor of political science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The IWC has agreed to the following principles, which will be presented to the heads of state in New York:

- Civilian lives, especially those of women and children, must not be used as bargaining chips in efforts to resolve the escalating conflict in the region.

- Negotiations and mutual agreements are the only legitimate means to bring about a just and sustainable solution. Unilateral measures will undermine a two-state solution and never bring lasting peace.

- The Arab League Initiative of 2002 provides an appropriate framework for the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and for comprehensive peace in the region. This initiative could lead to the realization of ''a new Middle East'' that the people in the region desire, rather than one that would be externally imposed.

- The escalating crisis demands an international conference be held immediately to launch permanent status negotiations based on relevant UN resolutions and international law and to decide mechanisms for implementation.

- In the interim, the international community must insist on a complete cessation of hostilities and protection of people in both Lebanon and the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), according to international law. This should be followed by the promotion of good will measures such as: exchange of prisoners; free movement of people and goods and the cessation of the construction of the separation wall in oPt to pave the way to permanent settlement negotiations.

This article was posted by the Association for Women in Development (AWID), on Sept. 20, 2006.