‘The Middle East at Historical Crossroads’

The Vienna Symposium entitled ‘The Middle East at Historical Crossroads’ took place at the Vienna premises of transform! europe, only days after the UN resolution of 23 December 2016* was passed which condemned the continuation of Israel’s settlement activities. With this symposium, we kicked off a new series of projects for 2017. They will be centred around viable left global strategies, and we consider the peace process in the war-torn Middle East a crucial part thereof.

The Vienna Symposium (14-16 January) had a clear focus on the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and was designed to follow a double aim: On the one hand, to provide a neutral and appreciative space for dialogue and exchange between both sides and on the other hand, to create a channel of communication with European comrades and friends who will work together on a multilevel scale to establish how to contribute effectively to speeding up the peace process.

To achieve our goal, we organized the symposium around several sessions and two open debates. We invited roughly 30 participants, including representatives of civil society organizations, artists, political party representatives, academics, Knesset MPs and friends from the Palestinian Authority to discuss openly along the proposed lines.

‘Art without Borders’ and the current state of affairs

The hosting space featured works of Palestinian and Israeli artists in the framework of a common exhibition curated by Shirley Meshulam with the name ‘Art without Borders’. To speak with the words of the curator, the works “relate to the universal or the local political reality” of the region and the exhibition created an environment that reminded us of the topic’s urgent nature and the responsibility all of us are carrying.

The opening session – which was also open to the public – included valuable inputs on the current political situation both in Europe and the Middle East, therefore setting the discussion in the present. Gabi Zimmer, Chair of the Group of the GUE/NGL in the European Parliament, gave an overview of the dangers that the current European state of affairs withhold, while Israeli and Palestinian comrades informed us about the current rise of nationalism in Israel and the continuation of the settlement policy.

The Two-State solution as the only way to peace

The majority of the participants saw the Two-State solution as the only way to peace, since equality between Israeli and Palestinian citizens in the State of Israel seems to be unattainable. There were proposals to find ways to enhance political participation of Palestinians in Israeli democracy and creating dialogue spaces that would encourage interaction with society and efforts to find a solution. Also, proposals for political interventions were made to assure the State of Israel respects the resolutions of international organisations.

The symposium ended with a lecture by Gregor Gysi, President of the European Left Party and a press conference of the latter together with the political director of transform! europe, Walter Baier.

New hopes and new plans

The overall resonance of the conference left us with hope and new plans for further steps. The whole process was documented and commented with interviews by one of the hosted artists, Alona Harpaz. The documentary will be finished soon and we are already planning simultaneous screenings in Vienna, Berlin, and various cities of Israel and Palestine. The exhibition ‘Art without Borders’ will travel to similar institutions around Europe and we strive to organise further versions of the Vienna Symposium within the current year.

*UN resolution of 23 December 2016