Fmr. World Leaders to Visit in Support of Mideast Peace

A delegation of former global leaders is to arrive in Israel and the West Bank Monday to garner public support for peace between Israel and its neighbors.

The delegation is part of an organization known as the Elders, founded in 2007 by former South African president Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg in honor of his 89th birthday. The purpose of the organization is to utilize the experience of prominent world leaders to support peace-making efforts and dealing with humanitarian problems and human suffering in crisis regions.

Due to security concerns, the group had to cancel its visit to the Gaza Strip. The organization said the visit to Gaza was an important priority for them to highlight the situation in the Strip and to call for an end to the Israeli blockade.

The delegation will be led by Fernando Cardoso, former president of Brazil, and will include former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; the South African Bishop Desmond Tutu; former prime minister of Norway Gro Brundtland; former president of Ireland and United Nations high commissioner for human rights Mary Robinson; and former Indian parliamentarian and activist for grassroots women's entrepreneurship, Ela Bhatt.

They will be accompanied by prominent businessmen Richard Branson and Jeff Skoll, who helped found the organization and supports its work.

The delegation will meet with President Shimon Peres and with senior leaders of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, including PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

The group said their purpose was to encourage the parties to move ahead toward peace and reconciliation, and that they did not intend to fulfill any diplomatic function. They noted that they were aware of the people's disappointment in the region from the failure to achieve peace, although the Israelis and the Palestinians both support a two-state solution.

Because they believe there can be no peace without popular support, they will focus during their visit on meetings with young people, business people and independent experts. They said they would listen to the concerns of people on both sides hurt by the conflict.