(photo credit: SAMEH SHERIF / AFP)
LONDON – On Monday Ambassador to the UK Mark Regev and Palestinian Authority Ambassador to the UK Prof. Manuel Hassassian took part in a polite, albeit sometimes heated, debate on London-based radio station LBC.
Covering a wide range of issues, including the peace process, incitement, and the relationship between Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and Israel/ Palestine, the debate culminated with Regev asking Hassassian to “get the peace process back on the track” by helping to arrange a meeting between Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly this week.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post
about how the discussion came about, host Iain Dale said, “I interviewed both men separately in July, and I had such a huge reaction that I thought I’d ask if they would come in together. In all honesty, I never expected it to come about, and it is to their credit that they both immediately agreed with no preconditions. I understand it’s the first time this sort of debate has happened on the radio.”
Both ambassadors were given the opportunity to be frank with one another, including a section in which each had five minutes to ask the other uninterrupted and unmoderated questions of their choosing.
Hassassian, going first, asked Regev what Israel envisioned as its future borders, suggesting that unlike the PA’s pursuit of the pre-1967 borders, Israel’s policy was unclear. Suggesting that flexibility was key, Regev said, “The level of our [Israel’s] ability to be flexible is dependent upon what you give to us on the issues that are important to us,” giving the example that for Israel, it was essential that the future Palestinian state was not structured along the lines of Hamas-led Gaza.
Regev countered by asking Hassassian why Fatah had chosen to issue a statement praising the perpetrators of the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli sportsmen, in the midst of the commemorations that took place at the recent Rio Olympics.
Arguing against this interpretation, he answered, “It is not a matter of praising, this is wrong, and I’m not agreeing on the praising issue...Fatah is not a monolithic movement, my friend, there is opposition in Fatah to President Abbas’s policies, so we cannot say that anybody who comes up with that represents the Authority.”
A question from a user on Twitter asked, “Is the British Labour party a friend of Israel or a friend of Palestine?” Hassassian, when pushed by Dale on the idea that the party was more pro-Palestinian under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, responded that, “[While] he [Corbyn] comes from that background... he’s shunned talking about Palestine [since he became leader].”
Regev, commenting on his recent meeting with Corbyn in the months following the antisemitism controversy the Labour Party has faced, said, “It was a good meeting, but obviously he doesn’t agree with me on all the issues.” When pressed for more insights into the gathering between the two, Regev declined to divulge further.
As the discussion came to a close, Regev asked Hassassian to pass on a message to Abbas, asking him to meet with Netanyahu at the UN this week, saying, “Israelis are ready to start the peace process now... let’s get [it] back on track.”
In response, Hassassian said, “I will pass it [on] to President Abbas,” adding, “President Abbas has been serious about peace since he became the president of Palestine.”
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