By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
At the end of an all-day symposium in Jerusalem today under the cumbersome title, “Changing in Israeli Public Opinion on Critical Regional Issues on the Diplomatic Agenda,” panelists were asked to identify a single piece of advice they’d give to the next Prime Minister of Israel (who almost certainly will be Binyamin Netanyahu) after the General Elections here on January 22.
Two of the panelists were distinguished Israeli academics with vast diplomatic experience (Shlomo Avineri and Itamar Rabinovitch), the third a very seasoned diplomat (Zalman Shuval) and the fourth a German pollster, Dr Peter Matuschek.
The consensus among the three Israelis was, first, that the Prime Minster of Israel must come to terms with Turkey, including issuing whatever apology it wants, because reconciliation is in the vital interest of both countries. Not only Israel and Turkey but the Middle East as a whole needs this in view of the ever more volatile atmosphere in the region in the wake of the Arab Awakening.
The other piece of advice by the Israeli panelists was for the Prime Minister to go to Washington soon after the elections, not to grandstand or make speeches but to sit down with President Obama and carefully identify what they agree on and what they disagree about. This should be followed by detailed discussions with lower-level politicians and diplomats from both sides to flesh out the issues and narrow the gaps.
The German guest suggested that the next Prime Minister should heed the proposals that Ambassador Dennis Ross had made in the opening session of the symposium. (I had heard the same speech a couple of weeks earlier in Toronto.)
Ross has a 16-point program of confidence-building measures between Palestinians and Israelis, six for each side and four mutual ones. They don’t amount to an agenda for making peace but each can be heeded without much sacrifice or even inconvenience. This would help create a climate conducive to subsequent peace negotiations. Here’re some of Ross’ suggestions.
Israel should compensate settlers who wish to return by helping them to find homes within the Green Line; building there instead of the West Bank; ease restrictions for Palestinians in the West Bank; refrain from provocative building projects.
The Palestinian Authority should put Israel on its maps (which it hasn’t done hitherto); talk to its people about two states; prevent and condemn incidents of incitement; prepare the public for peace in the belief that you must speak peace before you can make peace; improve the conditions in Palestinian refugee camps and allow their residents to leave if they so wish; focus on the rule of law against corruption.
Both sides should encourage students in their schools to get to know each other by way of exchange programs; acknowledge positive steps that the other side takes, e.g. the way Palestinians are treated in the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem.
As much as I’d like to stop here, I must also report that the pollsters who also participated in the symposium pointed to the sharpening of attitudes toward the other, not least in the support for right-veering parties in the Israeli political system. Whether after the elections this trend can be reversed is by no means certain. In any case, it requires a different discussion.