On 13 and 14 September 2004, "The Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People" convened the "United Nations International Conference of Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People" at UN Headquarters in New York. A UN press release stated the conference theme as "Ending the occupation -- A key prerequisite for achieving peace in the Middle East". The ostensible objective was "to provide civil society organizations … with an opportunity to discuss the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, coordinate their activities and develop action-oriented proposals in support of the Palestinian people."

Mandated by UN General Assembly Resolutions 58/18 and 58/19 of 3 December 2003, this gathering was the antithesis of civil society, and exploited the NGO concept to promote private extremist anti-Israeli agendas. To their credit, the larger human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Christian Aid, stayed away. However, the NGOs present included Betselem, HaMoked, Ireland/Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Churches for Middle East Peace, Palestine Media Watch, the Council for the Advancement of Arab-British Understanding, and a number of small NGOs and highly politicized 'experts' in international law.

Workshops to propel pro-Palestinian propaganda included "Working with the media", the "ICJ advisory opinion", "Interreligious mobilization", and the "Question of Palestine in the global peace movement". One workshop promoted an 'international protection force' for the Palestinians (one of the PLO's standard political objectives) and to encourage 'volunteers' to become activists on the ground. The workshop's report stressed that the volunteers' "activities be driven by an agenda defined by the Palestinian NGOs."

Another session called for a "sporting, cultural and economic boycott" and action against "the private enterprise involved in the construction of the wall and the occupation."

Only UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's opening remarks condemned terror and called for Palestinian reforms, (while also repeating the standard critique of Israeli policy). But the rest of the conference ignored Palestinian violence, and the "draft plan" was aimed solely against Israel, excusing Palestinians from any responsibility. The extremist political objectives were restated in a 14 September 2004 press release, and participants were encouraged to "initiate divestment and other targeted sanctions" against Israel. This UN meeting of NGOs also set dates for "global mobilization, advocacy and education campaigns to end the Israeli occupation", including 5 June 2005 -- "the anniversary of the 1967 occupation."

Although the only Israelis who participated were from the extremist fringe, the UN's press release claimed that the conference "had brought together all players involved in the search for a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question". In contrast, invitations had been sent to "civil society organizations on the mailing list of the Division for Palestinian Rights."

As is often the case in UN based anti-Israel propaganda, the influence of Pierre Galand's European Coordinating Committee for NGOs on the Question of Palestine (ECCP) was evident. Raymond Deane, the Chairman of the Ireland/Palestine Solidarity Campaign (a subsidiary of the ECCP), pressed the campaign to suspend the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreement between the European Union and Israel. Phyllis Bennis, Galand's American equivalent, (Co-Chair of the "International Coordinating Network for Palestine"), and heavily involved in anti-Israel propaganda, was also a major participant. Reflecting her radical political objectives, Bennis alleged that "Israel had been training United States military and intelligence officials on how to occupy an Arab country."

The academic participants included Dennis Brutus of the University of Pittsburgh, who repeated the false comparison between apartheid in South Africa and the Palestinian situation. He called for a "many-faceted attack on a system that was inhuman, racist and biased, a campaign as effective as the campaign against apartheid." As highlighted in the infamous UN Conference on Racism (Durban, 2001) such efforts to portray Israel as an "apartheid state" are central to the strategy to dismantle Israel.

Other examples of demonization in this conference were provided by journalist Praful Bidwai, who claimed that "Israel had now proven to be a rogue State - a nation living apart from others, a nation "of savage disposition". Israel's very legitimacy was also called into question through debates on the efficacy of a 'one-state solution' and the contribution of a representative from the extreme but miniscule anti-Zionist Neturai Karta group.

Thus, far from advancing peace, the exploitation of NGO frameworks and the concept of "civil society" highlight the negative role played by these organizations and the UN system to increase the hatred that drives terror attacks against Israelis. By sponsoring this forum, which is the opposite of the promotion of peace, the NGO community and the United Nations have further diminished their credibility, and justified their exclusion from political activities in the region.