"Virtual" Mideast peace conference on Facebook

Palestine and Israel flags, facebook logo
CBS/AP
CBS/AP

After three years of deadlock in the Middle East peace process, young activists are hoping that a "virtual" peace could lead to the real thing. Thousands of Israeli and Arab youth from across the region are holding an online peace conference on Monday and Tuesday - on Facebook. The conference is hosted by the Yala Young Leaders, a group that seeks to promote dialogue among Israelis, Palestinians and Americans.

"We live in a new age where you can speak freely, come together, and bring peace and hope," said Israeli President Shimon Peres in a recorded video message to the conference.

American participants include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, actress Sharon Stone and NBA commissioner David Stern.

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"I am delighted to send greetings to all of you who have gathered in this virtual space to help shape the future of the Middle East," said Clinton, who appeared on a video screen in a virtual park. "You come to the table with the hope that you can look past your differences and lay the foundation for peace...Yours voices will continue to be invaluable in the process."

In a written message to the conference, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said, "Watching the force of reason, dignity, and courage takes us through leaps of hope into a brighter future."

The peace conference is based on the Facebook revolutions of the "Arab Spring" which began a year ago in Egypt. But a report by Tel Aviv University took a more sober approach, saying the Arab Spring has brought an increase in anti-Semitism.

"They used Jews and Israel as propaganda, as a tool to incite the masses in their countries," said researcher Yael Gilad.

Despite a perception in the West that the Arab Spring is a move toward democracy, Israeli officials said the report shows that the New Middle East is not much different than the old one.