What would we say if the Arabs were to ignore an Israeli peace initiative for more than eight years? What would we write if, during all this time, the Palestinian leadership were not to have even one discussion about our initiative? How many Israelis, including learned members of the academic world, know what is written in the first pan-Arabic and pan-Islamic document that proposes recognizing Israel and exchanging hostile relations for normalization?
Prof. Yoram Meital, the head of the Chaim Herzog Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who this week opened a comprehensive conference at the university on the initiative and its political and environmental implications, said that this was the only international conference that Israeli academia had held so far about the Arab peace plan.
For the first time, representatives from the West Bank, Egypt, and Jordan sat at a round table along with their Israeli colleagues and spoke about the nature of the peace initiative. It was obvious that the guests from Bethlehem University, from the Egyptian media and the University of Amman had come to Be'er Sheva to try and figure out why the Jews, who are considered clever people, (no one bothered to deny this ) are missing a rare opportunity to put an end to their exhausting conflict and at the same time to annoy Hezbollah and isolate Iran.
The Madrid Coalition for promoting the Arab plan recently held a meeting in Antalya (before the flotilla incident ) which included representatives from Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan. Prof. Elie Podeh of Hebrew University in Jerusalem was there together with MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima ).
Podeh said Sheetrit, who has supported the initiative almost from day one, has not been able to convince his colleagues in the party to adopt it as the basis for negotiations with our neighbors. Cabinet Minister Avishay Braverman (Labor ) last week called on the his faction in the Knesset to demand of the prime minister that Israel be prepared to begin direct negotiations with the Arabs on the basis of the initiative.
Journalist Samir Ratas, a Palestinian who now lives in Egypt, brought a message to Israel at the conference: "The peace initiative is not an Arab plot to destroy Israel nor is it an ambush. Many years ago, the Arabs recognized your existence." Ratas departed with two questions in mind: "How many more years will we have to wait until you understand that this initiative is a strategic choice?" And "How many years do you think that it will wait for you?"
The item that was quarantined
The item was broadcast once only. That was on Sunday, May 30, at one in the afternoon, a few hours before the raid on the Turkish ship "Mavi Marmara." The news broadcast on Israel Radio's Reshet Bet stated that a number of hospitals reported they had been instructed not to give any information to the media in the event that wounded were brought to them after the flotilla was blocked from entering Israel's territorial waters. It is not clear why the news item was not mentioned in subsequent broadcasts nor why it did not appear in any other media.
It is clear that among those who were involved in planning the campaign, there were people who were not surprised by the welcome the Israeli soldiers received on board the vessel. For the Turkel committee's information.
Gossip about Taglit
Last week I took a night train from Ben-Gurion International Airport and I unintentionally became party to a secret about the Taglit-Birthright Israel campaign, that large project that brings tens of thousands of Jewish students from across the globe to Israel. A group of men and women soldiers who had just bade farewell to the students from the Diaspora were discussing excitedly (and at the top of their voices ) how they had spent the last few days in their company.
One of them spoke about a weird Jewish girl who wakes up in the morning and takes an energy pill and later goes to sleep with another pill, this one against depression. Another spoke of a student who one happy night managed to down a dozen bottles of beer.
A cheerful girl soldier reported that she had managed to knock the hell out of an American student who said that if an Israeli soldier had been killed on the Turkish ship, "this would have helped Israel's PR."
Her colleague added another bit of information about a student "whose mother isn't Jewish at all and whose father is also not really attached to Judaism and who said he had come here just for the trip."
On the other hand, another student had said that she had already decided (after 10 days in Israel ) that she would immigrate here. The soldiers all agreed that the meeting with the young Americans had been interesting.
It is obvious that this is not a representative sample of the profile of the 230,000 youngsters from 52 countries (the project was the initiative of Yossi Beilin ) that Taglit-Birthright Israel has brought here over the years.
Thousands of them now live in Israel. The project's Internet site states that Taglit-Birthright Israel sets up the infrastructure for ambassadors for Israel in the world; that it brings tens of thousands of Jewish students who are cut off from Judaism and Israel for a first educational tour of the land, strengthens their Jewish identity and sends young blood to the Jewish communities in the Diaspora.
Birthright Israel has increased the number of students who come here by 2,000 percent in a short period.
A research team from Brandeis University in Massachusetts found that 64 percent of the graduates of the program feel very attached to their Judaism in the wake of the tour (as compared with 38 percent who felt that way before the tour ) and 55 percent feel very attached to Israel in the wake of the visit (as compared with 22 percent who felt that way before they came ). It would be interesting to examine the extent of their connection with Israel and Judaism in another 10 years.