- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 14, 2002

ISTANBUL An ambitious meeting on the shores of the Bosphorus between ministers from 70 countries representing Europe and the Islamic world jointly rejected the concept of a "clash of civilizations" but stumbled when it came to the clash between Israel and the Palestinians.
Gathered at the invitation of Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem at a spectacular former Ottoman palace where Europe meets Asia, representatives from nations in the European Union and Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) worked to dispel notions of a world eternally divided between Muslims and the Christian West.
European Union international policy chief Javier Solana told the gathering that a "dialogue between civilizations was of utmost importance," and he called on political actors "to bring people closer to each other."
Mr. Solana used the opportunity of meetings with Arab ministers to float a new European proposal for a solution to the Middle East conflict that would call for the establishment of a Palestinian state and its immediate recognition by Israel and the United Nations. He said Europe was prepared to take a leading role in finding a solution to the crisis and bringing an end to the Israeli-Palestinian violence.
In contrast to a gradual approach taken by the United States leading with a joint cease-fire, Mr. Solana said the stalled Mideast peace process could only reach a successful conclusion after an independent Palestinian state is established. He said it was unfortunate that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who is vice president of the OIC, could not participate in the forum because Israel has confined him to the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Despite Mr. Solana's comments, European participants were resisting calls from Arab ministers to include language referring to the Palestinians and denouncing the "state-sponsored terrorism" of Israel in the final diplomatic communique from the forum. The Turkish hosts also resisted motions to include any overt language about the Palestinian struggle.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said, "We must live with the suffering of Palestinian civilians every day."
The overwhelming response to the two-day forum which included more than 40 foreign ministers highlighted the post-September 11 desire among statesmen for a better understanding of issues dividing the two civilizations. Turkish officials view the conference as a way to showcase their country as a model of secular democracy for the Islamic world and a bridge between the East and the West.
"The tragedy of September 11, besides the deep sorrow that it generated, has shown how vulnerable the basic understanding among different cultures and civilizations is, and how easy it is for deep-rooted prejudices to surface," Mr. Cem said in opening the session Tuesday.
Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique said future relations should emphasize the common history of Christian and Muslim civilizations. "Europe would not be Europe without the contribution of Muslim culture over the centuries," he said.

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