Palestinian representatives rejected any possible compromises at an event in Jerusalem on Monday showing support for the Arab Peace Initiative.
No surprising attendees came to the launch of the Prague Forum of Israelis and Palestinians.
MK Hilik Bar (Labor), chairman of the Knesset Caucus for the Solution of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and Muhammad al-Madani, chairman of the PLO Committee for Communication with Israeli Society, both of whom seem to appear at every Israeli-Palestinian forum, were there, as well as longtime Arab Peace Initiative supporter and presidential candidate MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnua) and former Palestinian Authority Detainees and Prisoner Affairs Minister Ashraf al-Ajarmi.
Though both sides professed to want peace, there was a marked difference in tone between the Israelis and the Palestinians at the conference.
“The Israeli government is hostage to extremists who want to continue the conflict, not end it,” Madani, who was unable to communicate with Israelis in Hebrew or English, said.
“How long do you expect us to continue supporting the peace declared by Rabin and Arafat?” he asked rhetorically.
According to Madani, the Palestinian leadership “made mountain-shaking efforts to compromise” and “there is no way you can expect full peace in return for a partial withdrawal.”
Seemingly expressing confidence that PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s four-year term, which is in its 10th year, would continue, Madani said that if the PA’s “goals are not attainable under the current government of Israel, Abbas will continue his timeless efforts” after a new one is elected.
Abbas will celebrate his 79th birthday on Wednesday.
Abdallah Abdallah, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Committee, said the Palestinians already made a major concession in that “we can only have a state on 22 percent of our land, but we still think we have a right to live in Jaffa or [the western Jerusalem neighborhood of] Katamon, which were occupied in 1948.”
“Israel does not recognize or accept anything related to international law,” Abdallah claimed.
As for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Abdallah said he can accept Israelis’ “character,” which leads them to have weekends on Fridays and Saturdays and not produce pork.
“But we will never abolish our character and say this is the land for the Jewish people,” he declaimed. “We were here before Jewish people were.”
Sheetrit expressed frustration at the Palestinians’ rhetoric.
“They don’t stop complaining. I don’t accept their tone. They represent their views as if there are no peace talks. The Palestinians have to realize that there won’t be peace if they don’t talk and act like they want it,” he said.
The presidential candidate added that, in international forums, he points out flaws in the Palestinians’ arguments.
“Abdallah wants to be able to visit Katamon without a checkpoint. Well, there weren’t any checkpoints until the second intifada [that began in September 2000]. They created the problem! If there wasn’t terrorism, checkpoints wouldn’t exist. They also didn’t accept [peace offers] from [prime ministers] Ehud Barak or Ehud Olmert, and that was their choice.”
The reason Sheetrit has supported the Arab Peace Initiative since its inception in 2002, he said, is that he does not believe the Palestinian leadership can make the necessary concessions alone, but Arab League support could convince them to do so.
In his speech, Sheetrit asked: “Why should we only make peace with the Palestinians if, for the same price, we can have peace with 57 Muslim countries?” “In Israel, hawks make peace, doves make war. If Netanyahu makes peace, it will be approved by a vast majority,” he posited.
Bar called the government’s lack of recognition of the Arab Peace Initiative “diplomatic stupidity.”
“No offense to the Palestinians, but you’re not the only problem we have. Other Arabs don’t like us, either,” Bar quipped. “To reach an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians will be very hard, but to reach one with all the other countries in the Middle East has huge potential.”
The event, organized by the Arab Center for Equality, Empowerment and Cooperation – Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development, the Palestinian Center for Democracy and Community Development and the EU Partnership for Peace, marked the launch of the Prague Forum, which was founded in February to facilitate dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian supporters of the Arab Peace Initiative. The forum sent a letter of support to the Arab League ahead of its summit in Kuwait City on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Arab Peace Initiative, also known as the Saudi Initiative, calls for an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967, lines and a settlement for Palestinian refugees, displaced people and their descendants, in exchange for ties between Israel and 57 Muslim countries.