1 November 2003

It's three hundred thousand dollars wasted on three days -- a hundred thousand dollars per day.

The junket goes on at U.N. expense, regardless of tragic realities on the ground. Under a conveniently general topic, the same clique -- with appropriate additions or subtractions -- meet every year in prized locations with the right climate in the most pleasant season -- ostensibly to discuss the Israeli Palestinian question. Whether it is Paris in the spring, Copenhagen in the summer, or Seville in autumn, the formula stays the same. A kick off by Shashi Tharoor reading a special message by the Secretary General -- a carefully worded admonition for both sides to reach a solution. (At times a similar kind of statement would have been issued at Headquarters on a related event). A number of speakers address an audience of grateful repeat guests, most of whom have little impact on anyone anywhere. For three days, with airplane tickets and accommodations fully covered, they exchange views already taken for granted on issues already discussed, with no real regard of what is actually going on. Three years ago, with the cities around Ramallah and Bethlehem raging, the meeting was held in Paris. That required a pre-seminar visit by a main beneficiary, a certain Salim Fahmawi who seems to be Shashi Tharoor's main focal point on Arab- related matters. Both share memories of fruitful experiences in Saddam Hussein's Baghdad. The purpose of travel at the time was to ensure that the French capital had conference facilities appropriate for such a distinguished gathering. Last year it was Copenhagen in summer. At the time, the whole U.N. system was mobilized to help the distraught residents of the Jenin camp and an investigation team headed by the ever available Ahtisaari was about to look into the tragedy. Yet those assembled in Copenhagen -- most of whom could have met in Ramallah, Nicosia or Cairo -- continued their self-contained deliberation. This October, the city of choice was none other than Seville, the blossoming regional capital of Andalucia, Spain. It was a futile exercise in political irrelevance -- again at U.N. expense.

At the same time, the U.N. Under Secretary General for Political Affairs was briefing the Security Council on a tragic, almost hopeless situation -- civilian Palestinians displaced, civilian Israelis killed with no political solution in sight. The General Assembly was being called to a meeting on the Israeli built wall which was adding to the desperate tension. European and Arab Foreign Ministers were exploring some ways out of everyday tragedies. Yet the shameless exploitation of the Palestinian misery went on unhindered. The road circus remained on the road while at least Tharoor had the sense to return to New York after reading a "message" by the Secretary General; he had a correspondent's dinner to catch. To his credit, the Palestinian U.N. Representative remained at Headquarters to mobilize an overwhelming vote in the General Assembly. No single newspaper in the Middle East reported the gathering in Seville; even the U.N. website did not give details, except to refer to the opening statement.

It is distressing that the worthy rightful cause of the Palestinian people continues to be exploited by those claiming to promote it. It is scandalous that the U.N. should continue to subsidize such irrelevant ventures for a nowhere man making all those nowhere plans for nobody.