Israel Conference on Peace: From Hope to Same Old Politics

The second annual conference, organized by Haaretz, heard radically different views on how peace can be achieved.

President Rivlin speaking at the annual Israel Conference for Peace, organized by Haaretz.
Tomer Appelbaum

“The slogan ‘two states for two people’ is totally detached from reality,” Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said on Thursday in an address to the second annual Israel Conference for Peace in Tel Aviv.

Also participating in the conference, which was organized by Haaretz, were President Reuven Rivlin, Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair, Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin and several Knesset members including Amir Peretz (Zionist Union,) Ayman Odeh (United Arab List) and Shas MK Yakov Margi.

“No one here talks of two states any more,” Levin added. “We already know that our neighbor is Jordan.”

Levin, who was heckled throughout his speech, went on to describe the occupation as a myth. “A nation can’t be an occupier on its own land,” he said. “The Land of Israel is the land of the people of Israel.”

Rivlin told the conference that the building of trust between Jews and Arabs and left- and right-wing Jews was the key to peace.

“In the heat of the stormy political debate (even if it is sometimes imaginary) between right and left, it seems that the two sides have neglected a simple truth that should be at the basis of every discussion,” Rivlin said. “The left in the name of the “separation” paradigm, and the right in the name of the Greater Land of Israel, and they are going nowhere.

“The essential key to any future agreement is the basis of trust between the sides in the present, now. This understanding must be the starting point, both in Tel Aviv and in Samaria.”

Rivlin added that both right-wing and left-wing governments have ignored “the urgent need to build relationships between Jews and Arabs in the State of Israel and beyond it... On the right and on the left, we are behaving like we’re paralyzed. We are avoiding asking, what can we do now to live together? We aren’t doomed to live together — our future is to live together.”  

In discussion with Haaretz’s Ari Shavit, Tony Blair said the standard of living had to rise at the same time as hopes for peace. Blair said this was seen in Northern Ireland that things change when people’s lives changed for the better. He also said that new approaches had to be tried. “You’re not going to get peace the old way,” he said, adding that Palestinian unity had to be achieved to attain peace. In answer to the question of whether negotiations with Hamas should take place, Blair said it was “worth trying.”

MK Amir Peretz criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his recent statement that Israel would live by the sword eternally. Such a statement is “cowardly and defeatist,” Peretz said. “Netanyahu’s eternity is already here,” he added. “Israel’s citizens are compelled to eat swords in the streets, on buses and in the malls.

Peretz shared with the audience ther details of a peace plan that he recently unveiled. “Those who say were are naive and disconnected from reality are the one creating nightmares and a grim reality,” he said. “Time is not working in Israel’s favor.”

Joint Arab List chairman MK Ayman Odeh asked what the difference was between the Zionist left and the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu “which says that as many Arabs as possible must be gotten rid of, even Arabs who are citizens of the state.” Odeh said that anyone who did not see Arabs as an integral part of the state would never reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. “The peace process must go together with Jewish-Arab cooperation within the State of Israel. We are 20 percent of the population. We can’t succeed alone, but without true democracy, social justice and true peace cannot be attained.”

Shas MK Yakov Margi said: “we are a controlling nation and must be generous, brave and honest. The people want an agreement and process.” He then turned to Odeh and told him: “We cannot do without you, but you must also be brave. Let’s not miss another chance.” He said that Israel has failed to “open its heart, mind and pockets” towards its Arab citizens.

“Palestinians are here, because they were here in the past — side by side with us, and they aren’t going anywhere,” Rivlin said. “Separation won’t make Palestinians disappear, just like Israel won’t transform them into lovers of Zion.”

With regard to the future, Rivlin said: “What is our positive legacy to future generations? I regret to say that apparently we will not bequeath them peace. But we can bequeath them a breakthrough, even local, even preliminary. Even if not on the level of ending the conflict, then at least by building trust between the two sides.”