Kofi Annan: As long as Palestinians are occupied, passions will be inflamed

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Globalisation will not bring peace or prosperity unless we all share fairly in its benefits. To regain legitimacy, the global economy must be guided by an ethical framework that addresses the gross inequalities in our world, and meets the basic needs and aspirations of people everywhere.

Nor can our global institutions play their essential role in building consensus and bridging divides unless they are reformed to reflect the realities of today rather than 60 years ago. We are seeing new powers emerging eager to share global responsibilities. Respecting diversity on the world stage means giving them the opportunity to play their role.

Rather than be alarmed, we should welcome this return to multipolarity. It will require reconciling a more diverse set of interests and values but it promises a much stronger foundation to address shared threats and challenges. All of these are important steps which will help improve relations between countries. But they will have limited impact if the current climate of fear and suspicion continues to be re-fuelled by political events, especially those in which Muslim peoples... are seen as victims of military action by non-Muslim powers.

We may wish to think of the Arab-Israeli conflict as just one regional conflict amongst many. It is not. As I know from my time at the United Nations, no other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield. As long as the Palestinians live under occupation, exposed to daily frustration and humiliation, passions will be everywhere inflamed.

It may seem unfair that progress in improving relations between fellow citizens should be held hostage to a solution of one of humanity's most intractable political problems. And certainly the lack of such a solution must not be used as an excuse for neglecting other issues. But in the end the linkage cannot be wished away.

We need urgently to work on both fronts at once – seeking both to improve social and cultural understanding between peoples and, at the same time, to resolve political conflicts, in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Taken from the BP Lecture 'Bridging the World's Divides', given by the former UN Secretary-General at the British Museum on Monday; www.kofiannanfoundation.org

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