They issued a framework for their effort, prepared over the past year, that singled out the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a primary source of the deepening split.
“No other conflict carries such a powerful symbolic and emotional charge among people far removed from the battlefield,” Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, said at a news conference. “As long as the Palestinians live under occupation, exposed to daily frustration and humiliation, and as long as Israelis are blown up in buses and in dance halls, so long will passions everywhere be inflamed.”
The report was drafted by 20 scholars and other leaders, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Mohammad Khatami, the former Iranian president, and others from many nations. It calls for collective action on issues of education, youth and immigration.
Members of the panel and Mr. Annan emphasized their view that the causes of tensions are primarily political, not religious.
The secretary general will appoint a representative to oversee the follow-up of the recommendations, which, Mr. Annan warned, will have little impact if Muslims in violent places — whether Iraqis, Afghans, Chechens or Palestinians — continue to perceive their situation merely as a case of being made victims by non-Muslims.
“If these conflicts or difficult situations can be resolved, it will have a positive impact on the work we are doing here,” Mr. Annan said.
The host of the event, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, emphasized the symbolic importance of holding it in Istanbul, which bridges East and West and is the leading city in a predominantly Muslim country taking steps to join the European Union.
Joining the European Union, he said, would “prove that the polarization between cultures is actually artificial and contrived.”
The Alliance of Civilizations Initiative was the idea of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero of Spain, who suggested it six months after terrorist bombings in Madrid killed 191 people in 2004.
“We’re going to immobilize extremists, prevent their actions,” Mr. Zapatero said here. “Nobody should doubt our victory.”
Mr. Annan said in a written statement: “The problem is not the Koran or the Torah or the Bible. Indeed, I have often said that the problem is never the faith, it is the faithful and how they behave toward each other.”