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In pursuit of peace: The Elders’ visit to Israel and Palestine

Jimmy Carter and Gro Harlem Brundtland spent three days discussing the post-war political landscape with a host of experts, politicians and NGOs.

A section of the separation barrier that cuts through East Jerusalem, where the Elders were based during their visit to Israel and Palestine.

The barrier disconnects more than a quarter of the 300,200 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem from the rest of the city. These residents suffer from a severe lack of basic services and infrastructure.

Day one: Katleen Maes (speaking, centre), head of the Gaza Sub-Office of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, was one of five locally based experts briefing President Carter and Prime Minister Brundtland on the situation in Gaza. The Elders heard how not a single house had been rebuilt since the last conflict.

The same day, the Elders received a separate briefing on Gaza from the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) Commissioner General, Pierre Krähenbühl.

Palestinian Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Abu Amr (second from left), welcomes Jimmy Carter and Gro Harlem Brundtland to his office.

The discussion focused on ways to achieve reconciliation between the two principal Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, including confidence-building measures, and the possible role that The Elders could play in encouraging national unity.

The Elders travelled south and visited Israeli kibbutz Nir Am in Sha’ar HaNegev, on the border with Gaza.

Ofer Liberman (left), a resident of the kibbutz, met the Elders and took them on a tour of his community, which was founded in 1943, before the creation of Israel. Up until the past few years, the kibbutz residents and their Palestinian neighbours had good relations with one another.

The Elders heard from the residents of kibbutz Nir Am about the anxieties they and their children had experienced during and after the three recent Gaza wars, when their community was hit by a number of missiles. They were passionate about their longing for peace and wanted a change of Israeli policy towards Gaza that would prevent a recurrence of conflict.

As one of them said of the Palestinians nearby, “If people have nothing to live for, they will find something to die for.”

Day two: Two former Israeli ambassadors and two senior academics explained their support for the two-state solution, international recognition of Palestine and a UN Security Council Resolution to fix a firm date for ending Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. On the left: Professor Galia Golan and Ambassador Alon Liel. And on the right: Professor Dan Jacobson and Ambassador Ilan Baruch.

That day the Elders also met Hilik Bar, Secretary-General of the Israeli Labor Party, and head of the Knesset all-party group in favour of a two-state solution.

American Consulate General to Jerusalem Michael Ratney gave the Elders a frank assessment of the difficulties facing President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian reconciliation.

Earlier that day, the Elders also met US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who travelled to meet them in Jerusalem and spoke about US policy in the region.

Day three: The Carter Center in Ramallah hosted a discussion with senior figures from Palestinian civil society.

Here, Shahwan Jabarin (far right), Director of the Palestinian human rights organisation Al-Haq, expresses his deep concern about potential radicalisation of the people in Gaza if the blockade continues. Left of him are Nathan Stock of The Carter Center, and Khalil Shaheen and Dr Mahdi Abdel Hadi, representing leading Palestinian think tanks.

President Carter welcomes Dr Mustafa Barghouti, leader of The Palestinian Initiative (Al-Mubadara) – the latest political party to join the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) – who stressed that Palestinian unity “is a matter of survival.”

The Elders met seven senior members of the PLO, from Fatah and other political parties, for a roundtable discussion that focused largely on Palestinian reconciliation and broader political representation.

Gro Harlem Brundtland and Jimmy Carter were graciously received by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at Palestine’s administrative headquarters in Ramallah.

They had an hour-long meeting with the President, in which he expressed his readiness to move to new elections, and to convene the ‘Interim Leadership Framework’, which will include representatives from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as the PLO.

The Elders’ trip finished with an evening press conference in East Jerusalem.

Jimmy Carter said that visit had strengthened their determination to work for peace, adding “the situation in Gaza is intolerable.” While Gro Harlem Brundtland restated The Elders’ commitment “to deliver real peace and security to all people in the region.”

Read the press release

At the end of their visit, The Elders still felt that the best guarantee of Israel’s future security and acceptance by its neighbours is the two-state solution and an end to the occupation and settlement expansion. Writing in an opinion piece, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Jimmy Carter argued that Europe has a greater role to play in resolving the conflict.

Above: Kalandia checkpoint with Ramallah in background.

Gro Harlem Brundtland and Jimmy Carter visited Israel and Palestine from 30 April to 2 May 2015, the fourth Elders' trip to the region.

The goal of the visit was to highlight the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and support the two-state solution.

What the two Elders saw and heard from both Palestinians and Israelis made them even more committed to finding a long-lasting solution for peace.

View the blog from the visit.

Photos: Muath Khatib | The Elders

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