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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Palestinian-Israeli Team Urges Renewed Push for Peace
Arab American Media SyndicateApril 16, 2005
By Ray Hanania
Advocates of a two-state solution and an end to the Palestine-Israel conflict need to recognize the benefits from Israel's evacuation from Gaza and must work to strengthen the government of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
That was among the many messages offered in Chicago Friday at a meeting hosted by Yalla Salam! (Palestinians for Peace Now) and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Peace) and featuring two speakers, Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator, and Rafi Dajani, executive director of the American Task Force on Palestine.
They also argued strongly that Palestinians and Jews in the United States must work together to strengthen the moderate voices.
One of the most important points made by Levy and Dajani is that the recent decision by Israel's rightwing-led government to withdraw from Gaza and dismantle settlements creates a precedent that will enhance future peace initiatives.
"The Gaza Plan is like a half empty or half full glass of water, depending on how you look at it," Levy explained to more than 45 people who attended the event at the al-Basha Restaurant in the Chicago suburb of Palos Heights. Attendees included community leaders, activists, representatives of several organizations and Arab writers and journalists.
"It is unprecedented and is the first time that Israel will abandon settlements in the occupied territories."
Levy said that although the government of Ariel Sharon is also countering the evacuation by increasing the number of Israeli settlers by even more in the East Jerusalem area, he said the move will strengthen the peace process because when withdrawals are proposed for the West Bank settlements, the resistance of hardliners will be weakened because it was Sharon who set the first precedent.
"We have to try and create a discourse that says after Gaza, we will end the conflict," Levy said.
Levy advocated strongly for the Geneva Accords (Geneva Initiative) arguing that it doesn't represent a final peace plan but only a clearly defined vision.
He also argued that the Taba negotiations that followed the collapse of the talks between former Prime Minister Ehud Barak and the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat at Camp David showed that the plan submitted by Barak was in fact not the "best and most generous offer" that it was later claimed to be.
"We found the outer limits of what Israelis could agree to and what the Palestinians could agree too. And we put the lie to the notion that the two sides can't come together," Levy insisted.
He said Israelis found it too easy to mobilize the Israeli public against the Palestinians and blame them for the failure of the peace process.
Levy, who conceded interim peace plans have shown they cannot work, said the Israeli peace camp has been weakened by the collapse of the peace process and also the past four years of the Intifada.
"In the end, it serves Israel's interests to negotiate a peace with the Palestinians," he said.
Dajani, who has been touring the United States with Levy as the guests of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, said the ATFP does not claim to be the voice representing all of the Palestinians in America, their work is more focused on implementing a new strategy of improved communications, messaging and contacts that can change how American politicians and the media view the conflict.
"You don't work against the system. You work from within the system," Dajani said, offering several examples of how doing so has influenced some members of congress like the archconservative U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde from suburban Chicago.
Dajani argued that the past efforts have failed, that conflict and violence does not work and he said Palestinians must give this new approach a chance.
"We have achieved nothing (over the past half century) in terms of achieving a Palestinian state. We must give this new approach a chance," Dajani said.
He said in meetings with members of Congress, often viewed as an unwavering bastion of pro-Israel supporters, they have argued that "they never hear from Palestinian constituents." He said that the absence of accurate information results in a bias against Palestinians not only in congress and the political system, but also in the American media.
"There is no Arab army coming to liberate Palestine. We are not going to defeat the Israelis and drive them out. And the Israelis are not going to bomb the Palestinians into submission. They haven't done it in 50 years," Dajani said.
"The only solution out there ? and there is no other solution out there ? is the two state solution" based more or less around the pre-1967 borders. "We are not against Israel. We are against the occupation."
Dajani also noted that significant changes are taking place among the Palestinian Diaspora that are detrimental to their future. He said that in addressing the future, Palestinians must consider the actual impact that is being felt on the ground.
He cited the Shatila Refugee camp that he recently visited in Lebanon where once there was a street of businesses owned by Palestinians.
"Today, Palestinians have been replaced in their own camps. Palestinians who once ran the businesses have been replaced by Syrians who manage and own the shops. They can't even earn their own livings in that destitution," Dajani said.
Dajani asked the audience, "If Abu Mazen (President Abbas) fails, then who is left? We need to strengthen the moderate voices among Palestinians and not become so desperate where the image f dying and going to Heaven is better than living."
Levy also argued that what Palestinians see outside of Israel is often different than what they see in Israel. He said that Sharon is not one individual who can do what he wants, but has come under great pressure to act properly. He also cited the example of Natan Sharansky, who has been accused by Arabs and Palestinians of anti-Arab racism, who he said is not considered a significant player in Israel but has only been shored up by President Bush. "He appears more influential outside of Israel than he is in Israel," Levy said.
Levy concluded by arguing that despite the strong turn to the right after the failure of the Camp David peace process, the Israeli public can and is willing to support a just solution because it is in their interests to do so.
"If the Gaza withdrawal plan is in fact an entrenchment of the occupation in the West Bank, as some argue, then we are all in trouble. The Israeli public can see that ? the path of least resistance may be through the Israeli public ? we failed as an Israeli peace camp and we are now paying a terrible price," Levy said.
Attendees praised the event saying it provided a badly needed debate within the community that is often missed "The question and answer session that followed was very important because it engaged a much needed dialogue between the advocates of two-states and the community," said Saffiya Shillo an organizer with Yalla Salam!.
"The questions asked and frustrations expressed proved the one major card not played in the Palestinian American community--an active grassroots effort with a strong base focused strategically on voicing those frustrations in the proper way, to the proper audience."
Ray Hanania is an award winning nationally syndicated columnist and author based in Chicago. The former national president of the Palestinian American Congress, Hanania is an organizer with Yalla Salam!