Cologne Mayor's Conference - Context and Background
City-to-city cooperation played a crucial role in integrating Europe and building trust between people after World War II. Contacts on the local level often preceded official diplomatic relations and helped to put them on a new ground. City-to-city cooperation could also help to overcome prejudices and barriers between people in the Middle East and gradually replace them by a network of co-operation and mutual trust.
Already now, several Israeli and Palestinian municipalities co-operate in joint projects. They build bridges of mutual understanding in a region which seems to be predominated by conflicts and sometimes even open wars rather than communication and co-operation: Young people meet in exchange programs; mayors, councillors and citizens interchange and seek joint answers for the solution of local and regional challenges and tasks, thus making practical contributions to improving the living conditions of their citizens. They foster trust in a context in which distrust is the rule. They fill with life what political peace initiatives have so far failed to achieve. And they prepare the mental, social and cultural ground so that the Israeli and Palestinian people may hopefully soon live side by side as good neighbours, in two independent states and within safe and open borders.
These cities are themselves incorporated in a worldwide network of partnerships. Many European cities, for example, co-operate with cities in Israel and Palestine and the neighbouring countries. Many are linked to each other on a bi-, tri- or even multilateral basis, be it sister city partnerships, projects or networks such as the Municipal Alliance for Peace in the Middle East (MAP) which has been created by the Association of Palestinian Local Authorities (APLA) and the Union of Local Authorities in Israel (ULAI) in order to facilitate city-to-city cooperation projects contributing to peace, the Standing Committee for the Euro Mediterranean Partnership of Local and Regional Authorities for Peace in the Middle East (COPPEM) or the Network of European Local Authorities for Peace in the Middle East (COEPPO). These networks are also attached to the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the voice of local governments before the United Nations and the international community.
All these examples show: Although the municipal level is in many ways affected by national and international politics, cities can act on their own. They have their own means to resolve conflicts. Sometimes they may even overcome barriers which national and international politics are unable to unlock. These examples also show that a peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the transformation of the area from a region of conflict into a region of cross border co-operation are realistic scenarios.
A lot more, however, could be done. The practical examples, ideas and initiatives presented and discussed at the forum shall therefore stimulate leaders of European local governments to connect themselves with local governments in Palestine and Israel, e.g. by establishing bilateral relations (which may slowly develop into a triangle) or joining the MAP-initiative. In this way, MAP shall become an even broader network and world wide umbrella of local governments to support joint APLA and ULAI-initiatives and contribute to concrete cross-border co-operation projects and peace in the Middle East.