(photo credit: AP)
Jailed Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti called for a comprehensive cease-fire and affirmed his support for a two-state solution in a message he sent to Israelis on the eve of Peace Now's 30th anniversary event in Tel Aviv, being held Tuesday.
"We have to reach a comprehensive cease-fire that involves both sides as soon as possible," he wrote in a letter that reached Peace Now on Monday night and will be read aloud on Tuesday.
Barghouti is serving five life sentences for his involvement in terror attacks that killed numerous Israelis. But he is also considered a rising political star in Fatah and has the support of a number of Labor politicians, including National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and MK Amir Peretz, who have recently called for his release.
In his letter, Barghouti wrote, "I am ready, as is an overwhelming majority of the Palestinian nation, for an historic [reconciliation] based on international decisions, that will insure that two nations, Palestinians and Israelis, will live side by side in peace and security." He noted that he was among those jailed leaders along with those from Hamas and the Islamic Jihad who had forged the Prisoners' Document, which supported negotiations with Israel toward a final-status agreement.
The Peace Now movement, he said, had given Palestinians hope that there were Israelis who opposed the occupation and the West Bank settlements. In addition, he called for Israel to release Palestinian prisoners, reopen Palestinian institutions, remove roadblocks and stop settlement activity.
His letter is just one of the many voices from the past and present, including speeches from Education Minister Yuli Tamir (Labor) and Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima), that are included in Tuesday's program. The event takes place 30 years after the first Peace Now rally in Rabin Square in early April 1978, in which some 30,000 Israelis gathered to support the peace talks with Egypt.
Support for that rally had been galvanized by the publication of an open letter to then prime minister Menachem Begin written by 348 reserve soldiers and officers with a request that he stop the settlement movement.
Tamir, who helped organize that first rally, told The Jerusalem Post that at the time she didn't know that a new movement had started. But instead of fading, it has grown over the last 30 years and has become known particularly for its work in tracking and publicizing settlement activity.
Tamir said that when it was started, Peace Now was viewed as radical and extreme, particularly as it soon began to promote a two-state solution. But it has since moved to the center, she said.
As a result, she said, instead of advocating for a two-state solution as an activist, she can work toward it as a member of a centrist government.
"The movement still carries what is for me a very important message that without two states for two people it will be a disaster here and Israel won't be able to remain a Jewish and democratic state," said Tamir.
Peace Now Secretary-General Yariv Oppenheimer said that while he too saw the shift on the two-state solution as part of the group's success, he noted that in the interim the settler movement had also gained a lot.
Peace Now marks its 30th anniversary as the Jewish population in the West Bank increases by some 5 percent a year and has reached a total of 282,000.
While Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met on Monday for their latest in a series of talks toward a two-state solution, they do so after a number of setbacks in pursuin that goal.
The Israeli public in the last two decades has watched the failure of a major past initiative, the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, the outbreak of a second initfada in 2000 and the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2006 in the aftermath of the 2005 Israeli pull-out.
The security threat posed by the possibility of a Hamas takeover in the West Bank as well was one of the more difficult challenges that faced Peace Now as it headed forward into its fourth decade, said Oppenheimer.
The concern these days was less about territorial concessions and more about how to secure the peace, he said. "We need to make sure that there will be enough guarantees to support an agreement," he said.
There are some risks, said Oppenheimer, but the alternative was a one-state solution, and that was more dangerous.