Multilateral Talks on Environment Report Some Progress in Tokyo

Progress was reported by participants to the Middle East multilateral talks on the environment, which completed another round in Tokyo this week, despite efforts by the Palestinian delegation to politicize the proceedings.

The parties agreed to establish a new group of experts to devise a comprehensive regional strategy for environmental action that would operate in a peaceful Middle East.

While optimistic, the head of the Israeli delegation, Yisrael Peleg, dispelled the notion that there could be any “breakthroughs” in the multilateral talks because they are designed to make incremental progress.

“First we define a common agenda,” he said. “Second, we try to find common solutions, and eventually we (begin) to implement those solutions.

“At this point,” he continued, “I think we are on the verge of moving from common definitions into projects.”

The talks, which were attended by representatives of 40 nations, are one of five multilateral working groups that supplement the bilateral peace negotiations in Washington.

According to reports by Israel’s Environment Ministry, the Palestinian delegation injected politics into the Tokyo meetings by raising the issue of deportations and curfews in the administered territories.

The delegation also requested the creation of a national Palestinian agency for the environment.

Peleg urged the parties not to depart from the environmental agenda.

“This is not the business of the multilateral talks,” said Peleg, who is the director general of the Environment Ministry. “I will not be sidetracked into responding to the politics of blame.

“This doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to say about these criticisms,” he continued, “but we want to go further in identifying our cooperative projects” in the areas of water pollution, environmental education, desert control and other topics.

The Palestinians were also urged by the Japanese facilitators to focus on projects that could attain immediate results and to stay faithful to the spirit of the working groups rather than veer off the track.

Peleg reported to the conference about Israeli efforts to teach environmental awareness, including the designation in Israel of the year of the environment, slated to begin in August.

He also welcomed a Jordanian endorsement of the Israeli proposal to name 1994 the year of the environment in the Middle East and praised the Jordanians for pushing the importance of environmental education.

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