Tel Aviv - June 2007 - Delegates from Europe and the United States attending a ‘Middle East Peace Initiative’ conference were today given briefings from a variety of experts who had all played significant public roles in key events in the history of the region.
A professor of Political Sociology at Tel Aviv University, Yoram Peri, explained that there were three circles of a multi-faceted complexity facing the government and people of Israel. The inner circle being Israel- Palestine, the next one Israel's relations with the surrounding Arab states and finally the wider context, formerly of the Cold War but now replaced by the growth of religious fanaticism and its impact on international relations.
He went on to explain the bitter disappointment of many Israelis who had hoped that the withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza would lead to peace but had instead found that they were still attacked and without an effective partner for negotiation. In such circumstances many have decided to focus on security, leaving peace for a more opportune moment sometime in the future. However he was of the opinion that the focus should move to circle two and in particular to negotiations with Syria.
The same topic was aired by Dr Alon Liel who, as former Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, had been personally involved in behind the scenes talks with Syria in 2004, the details of which had eventually hit the newspaper headlines in Israel earlier this year. He urged the Israeli government and the United States to move towards direct talks right away and not lose one moment in doing so. He asked the American Middle East Peace Initiative delegates to lobby their government on their return.
However, General Yitzhak Segev, a former Israeli military governor of Sinai and Gaza, warned that solutions from outside the region often do not fit the Middle East.
A former government adviser on relations with the Palestinian Authority, Eli Avidar, spoke of the willingness of Israel to make concessions for peace as realised through his direct experience of negotiation with Arab nations. He concluded by saying that he remained hopeful that the situation could be resolved.
A spokesman from a radio station called Kol Israel,.Yoni Ben Menachem, suggested that it was an historic moment for all moderate people in the Middle East and a time to wake up and strengthen the influence of President Mahmoud Abbas, whom he described as the only moderate voice left amongst the Palestinians.
Over lunch, former Minister of Defence Amir Peretz, expressed his appreciation for the work of NGO’s who were able to help dismantle the walls that governments erect.
The afternoon session explored the methodology of non-violence. Former US Congressman Walter Fauntroy, who had been a close associate of Dr Doctor Martin Luther King in the days that changed black-white relations in the US, spoke passionately of the need for general welfare as a basis for peace. “We must love our neighbour in self defence. All of us have a moral centre and direct action can raise a public consciousness which moves from gross injustice towards treating all people as our brothers and sisters.”
A Rabbi called Bar Dea spoke of his determination to meet with Imams in Cairo and to gather a group of Rabbis to offer support to Prime Minister Rabin in a crucial window for peace just days before his assassination.
The session’s final speaker, Raed Moalem, outlined a practical project for peace by highlighting the work of one Father Elias Chacour and the school he has founded which is educating leaders for the future from Muslim, Christian and Druze backgrounds with peace studies as an integral part of the curriculum.