Special Report
Horizon 2012 – Sailing in the same boat towards a Nuclear-Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East , Mar 26, 2011
Members of the 2012 Horizon Conference for a Nuclear-free Weapon Zone in the Middle East gather in front of Peace Boat during the ship`s visit to Kusadasi, Turkey.
Today there are more than 22,000 nuclear weapons in the world. As Peace Boat sailed through the Mediterranean Sea during the 72nd Global Voyage, a highly motivated group of international peace activists, nuclear experts and a representative from the United Nations came together to take a practical step towards the establishment of a Nuclear-Weapon Free Zone in the Middle East. Between the ports of Pireaus, Greece and Port Said, Egypt, Peace Boat organized a creative and comprehensive program of Multi-Track Diplomacy for civil society from the Middle East and internationally, aiming to facilitate dialogue, build confidence, and raise public awareness by preparing civil society organizations to improve the chances of success of the proposed United Nations 2012 Middle East Conference on the establishment of a Middle East Nuclear-Weapons Free Zone.

Peace Boat staff members organized a special dinner and lecture time for the Hibakusha, survivors of the atomic bombs from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to meet with the members of the HORIZON 2012 Conference for a Nuclear-weapon free zone in the Middle East.
The resolution to convene an international conference in 2012 on the establishment of a Nuclear-Weapons Free Zone in the Middle East is one the most encouraging outcomes of the 2010 Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference, particularly given that the issue of nuclear proliferation in the region is inextricably linked to the threat of violent conflict on a regional and global scale and the failure to achieve a comprehensive peace in the region.

However, given the special circumstances of the region and the substantial obstacles to convening such a conference – at this point Israel has already declared that it does not intend to participate and the Iranian nuclear dossier remains a burning issue – there is a real need to build confidence and understanding within the region of the value of such a conference, and the concrete possibilities and benefits offered by a future Middle East Nuclear-Weapons Free Zone.

Peace Boat is working to foster an internationally-supported multi-track diplomatic process that focuses in particular on influential groups within Middle East civil society such as doctors, lawyers, academics, parliamentarians, journalists, teachers and youth that will have a positive impact on creating the conditions of public support for the Conference that would encourage positive participation from the region?fs political leaders.

Ms Heidi Ghoneim, a political consultant and member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs gives a lecture to the participants onboard about the importance of the revolution in Egypt.
Onboard Peace Boat, a group of activists from Greece, Israel, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, India, Japan, the US and Switzerland sailed through the northeastern Mediterranean, a region with recent heightened political tension. While some members from the Middle East were impressed by the political "spring" in their countries, others were still skeptical and concerned, and spoke of the difficulties in their daily peace work. The political tension between some Arab countries and Israel were exemplified in new visa restrictions for Israelis and Palestinians, who both had to disembark the Peace Boat in Turkey, as they could not continue the trip to Port Said in Egypt, where there the revolution continues to take place in Cairo.

The main focus of the discussions was the general interest in the 2012 conference on a "zone free of weapons of mass destruction". In the conference meetings, members pondered how NGOs could potentially contribute successfully to the proposed international conference, including how to encourage respective government bodies to take action. Although the conference hopefully will indeed take place in 2012, political leaders have not begun preparing adequately for the meeting.

Ms Heidi Ghoneim from the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, Dr Randy Rydell, Senior Political Affairs Officer for the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs , and Mr Fadi Abi Allam, founding member and president of the Permanent Peace Movement (PPM), an NGO headquartered in Beirut, speak about issues related to regional security and the threat of nuclear weapons.
Peace Boat aims to use the strategy meetings onboard to establish and maintain a space for civil society dialogue and confidence building between members of Middle East civil society, as well as to increase peacebuilding capacity in the region while building grassroots support for the creation of a Middle East Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone and the achievement of Nuclear Weapons Convention. Participating members provided analysis on contentious issues, expressed support to the official negotiation process and made recommendations to policy-makers, based on the interactions between global experts and local civil society groups. As a common goal, all members hope to increase the likelihood of a successful outcome to the 2012 Middle East Conference through disseminating information and raising public awareness on the value of such a process.

To continue this process, the members of the conference suggested to use as its base the calls of Peace Boat to the Middle East region to form the focal points of a two-year long civil society confidence building and multi-track diplomacy program. The ship offers a unique and stimulating environment "beyond borders" and is thus the ideal venue to bring together parties in the Middle East, where the lack of neutrality in venues and the challenge of travel and visas act as additional obstacles to cooperation and dialogue.

During Peace Boat's visit to Port Said, Kawasaki Akira spoke to Egyptian officials about the importance of hearing the testimonies of the Hibakusha and encouraged the governments to take action with civil society members to create a nuclear free zone in the Middle East.
Utilizing the presence of the ship in the region, Peace Boat proposes to convene onboard and in ports a series of civil society meetings/workshops/dialogues, each with participants from a particular field. The intention is to include activists, doctors, lawyers, academics, journalists, teachers and youth from a broad range of countries of the region within the process, as well as world experts and key figures in the debate. Participants will be sourced through international, regional and national groups, and will be chosen for their potential to influence community thinking and action, as well as their capacity to have an impact on national and regional policy-makers. Each meeting onboard and in port will be the culmination of a period of preparation utilizing internet-based tools, and the series of meetings will build on each other, with participants encouraged to continue dialogue and expand their network and previous participants invited back to later dialogues as facilitators.

The process will continue to be supported and informed by Peace Boat's Global Voyages for a Nuclear-Free World project, in which Hibakusha sail with the ship to give their testimonies to groups throughout the world and lobby on nuclear abolition and peace issues. The Hibakusha – drawn from many countries, not only Japan – take part in the meetings onboard and thus contribute a moral and humanitarian impetus to the process.