Does Israel have a peace partner after all?
The big news from Sunday's visit to Ramallah by Geneva Initiative supporters may be that there is still a peace camp in both the Palestinian territories and Israel.
RAMALLAH - It may be that the big news from Sunday's visit to Ramallah of the Geneva Initiative supporters is that somewhere, out there in the Palestinian territories and in Israel, there is still a peace camp that appeared to have entirely disappeared. In other words, to use the slogan of the Geneva Initiative, "there is a partner."
More than 200 people, Israelis and Palestinians, crowded the conference room of the Muqata yesterday to hear their host, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and have lunch.
It is hard to imagine Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inviting to his office or home dozens of senior Palestinian figures belonging to various groups, some of them former members of the security forces who had participated in the fighting against Israel. However, a little before noon, dozens of Israeli supporters of the Geneva Initiative arrived at the Muqata. Some of them are or were Knesset MKs, from Labor, Meretz, Kadima and even Likud. Others are former IDF officers, some of whom had participated in the siege against Yasser Arafat at the same site. They were joined by members of well-known leftists groups such as the Bereaved Families Forum, the Peres Peace Center and Peace Now.
They were joined by dozens of senior figures in Fatah and the PLO. Nearly all the members of the Fatah Central Committee and members of the PLO Executive Committee, along with the Palestinian members of the Geneva Initiative, headed by Yasser Abed Rabbo, also attended.
Abbas took the floor and had very positive things to say, and perhaps the biggest mistake of the Palestinian organizers is that they did not allow television cameras on site. Apparently the Palestinians too have domestic political considerations.
Abbas, who appeared on occasion to present a log of his meetings with senior Israeli and U.S. figures, focused on the issues that Israel and the PA had agreed on in the past, during the negotiations between himself and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The Palestinian leader described how agreement was reached on security arrangements - about the deployment of a third force, most likely from NATO, led by the U.S., after an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.
Abbas said that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan's King Abdullah II welcomed these understandings, which came under the heading of the "Jones Agreement."
On the issue of borders, Abbas said the two sides had minimal differences remaining, after Olmert asked that 6.5 percent of the West Bank remain under Israel's control and Abbas offered 1.9 percent. Another issue was the quality of the land that the Palestinians would receive in exchange.
"We felt that if we would resolve the issue of borders," Abbas said, "it will be possible to also resolve all the others [refugees, Jerusalem]."
Abbas said that contrary to the predominant narrative in Israel in recent months, namely that the Palestinian leader had avoided responding to Olmert's offer, it was the former prime minister's aides who explained that they could not continue the negotiations while Operation Cast Lead was taking place in the Gaza Strip and Olmert was under investigation in a series of fraud cases.
The first to speak on behalf of the Israelis was Amram Mitzna, who did not appear to heed the advice of Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman and did not try to woo the Israeli center in his speech. He stressed that the Israeli visitors to the Muqata, like most Israelis, understand that in any future peace agreement Israel will be divided and an independent Palestinian state will be established.
He praised Abbas for his willingness to hold a dialogue with Israelis. "I know that there is a partner for bringing the history of bloodshed to an end," Mitzna said.
Abbas said that he has eight grandchildren, and four of them traveled abroad to participate in a camp that promotes Israeli-Palestinian peace. "I would want them to participate in camps in Haifa and Jericho too. We have changed the culture of terrorism and violence to a culture of peace and stability," he said. "Abba Eban said in the past that the Palestinians had not missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. We do not want to miss another opportunity. Help us in that."
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