By its own definition, the Madrid Social Forum for a Just Peace in the Middle East belongs to the family of “social forums,” as defined in the Porto Allegre Charter, i.e. a forum of grassroots and popular organizations, without any involvement of State’s agencies, political parties (or armed-organizations). The Alternative Information Center (AIC), together with PNGO (Palestinian NGOs coordination), Ittijah, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) and the Israeli Women Coalition for a Just Peace were much involved in the International Committee that was established in order to assist the local committee in shaping the forum and fixing the list of the invited organizations. Whoever has been involved in Middle East progressive politics is aware that the list is a major political issue: most Arab organizations, including Palestinian ones, do not participate in political gatherings with Israeli organizations that don’t support Palestinian rights, as defined by the United Nations and international law, including, obviously, the Right of Return of the Palestinian refugees. This excludes most of the Israeli Zionist organizations.
In order to avoid any misunderstanding, the Madrid organizing committee and the international committee issued, at an early stage, a Declaration of Principles that defined the political framework of the Madrid Social Forum. On the basis of that Declaration of Principles, the Israeli delegation was designed and the speakers for the various plenaries were selected. In a nutshell, Madrid is the first big international Anti-Annapolis conference, and this is why it is so important.
The composition of the delegations, however, especially the Israeli one, didn’t satisfy the Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs… or the Peres Peace Center. Obviously, the Spanish government has the right to sympathize more with Zionist organizations, and it can organize its own conference. Nevertheless, it cannot interfere in the Social Forum. Two months ago, I wrote on the AIC website:
The involvement of a government ministry in a social forum is, in and of itself, a serious violation of the Porto Alegre charter, which established the absolute independence of the social forums from the government. Yet the problem is not only statutory but absolutely political: what are bodies that openly support neoliberalism and the war doing with a conference that is entirely in opposition to neoliberalism and the war??!!! This is not the first time that this quasi-governmental entity attempts to sneak into a conference of non-governmental organizations, and we have reviewed other attempts in the past […]. However, this time the matter is more serious, as a majority of the participants perceive the forum in Madrid as being anti-Annapolis, and it is unacceptable that blatant supporters of Annapolis will be present to seek converts for their plan of war, a plan being created right before our eyes (“Anti-Annapolis in Madrid,” 29 November 2007).
In an unacceptable procedure, the Spanish Foreign Ministry established a parallel Israeli delegation, bigger than the official one, aimed to change the agenda of the Madrid Social Forum from an Anti-Annapolis conference to an “all inclusive” gathering, discussing the pro and against of the war plans shaped in Annapolis by George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert. The procedure is unacceptable, the content is outrageous.
As a result, the Palestinian delegation decided, at the last moment, to boycott the Forum, as did participants from other parts of the Arab world. One can object that the protest should have done in Madrid itself, at the site of the Forum, including boycotting it. This was, however, the decision of PNGO, and, while driving to the airport on my way to Madrid, I got the information and took the decision to return to Jerusalem, in solidarity with the Palestinian civil society organizations.
One should not underestimate what is at stake. It is not a matter of this or that person or organization being present at the Madrid Social Forum; it is not even the question of the heavy involvement of the Spanish government in a Social Forum. It is the question of War and Peace in the Middle East, what George W. Bush calls World War III, the core political issue of the moment!
In Annapolis, the United States and their allies have finalized the plans of the next war, not hesitating even to speak about nuclear strikes. It is a war against Iran, against Lebanon and Hezbollah, against Hamas and the Palestinian people, part of the global war planned by the neoconservatives of Washington and Tel Aviv.
The world today is divided between the supporters of such a war and those who oppose it: the line that divides them should be hermetic, because it is the line separating freedom from oppression, peaceful coexistence from aggression, life from death.
Some of the newly-invited Israeli organizations to Madrid are, to say the least, not fully opposed to the war plans of their government or their US godfather. To mention only two: Shimon Peres (founder of the Peres Peace Center) is calling for a preemptive war against Iran after having supported the last aggression against Lebanon; Peace Now supported the war in Lebanon in summer 2006—that is, until it became a military fiasco. It is a matter of private ethics: I do not want, today, to be in the same forum with such people. The blood of the martyrs of Tyre and Bint Jbail is not dry yet, and the noises of the next war, a war that they will undoubtedly support, are already in our ears.
Post Scriptum: We must emphasize how unacceptable the role played by some of our Israeli colleagues has been in this. They have crossed the lines, back and forth, between the civil society organizations and the Spanish Foreign Ministry, creating the whole mess and provoking the decision of the Palestinian organizations to boycott the Forum.