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Over traditional Middle Eastern fare, the Jewish chairman of the Gilboa Regional Council and his Arab deputy broke bread on Monday with the Palestinian governor of Jenin in New York City.
In the United States to promote their unique social and economic partnership, the trio shared more than good food: They promoted their grassroots cooperation as a bridge to broader Israeli-Palestinian relations.
"We are sitting now on one table," said Qadoura M. Qadoura, governor of Jenin, as he sat alongside Danny Atar and Eid Saleem.
Finding a "common language," they said, is imperative to peace and stability in the region. Of the Gilboa region's 30,000 residents, 60 percent are Jewish and 40 percent are Arab.
"We understand together the special needs of the Palestinians and everything that is connected to improving their lot in life," Atar said. "We are witnessing that our future in the state is a good future."
Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which hosted the Monday meeting, said the fact that 20 percent of Israel's population is not Jewish showed the need for such partnerships.
"It is not to change policy as much as it's to help identify needs," he said. "What appears to be impossible is possible."
The visit was spearheaded by a Connecticut federation that for the past decade has supported programs to foster coexistence among Israelis and Palestinians. On Sunday, the Israeli and Palestinian officials headlined a federation event.
"It's simple, real simple," said Robert Zwang, executive director of Jewish Communities of Western Connecticut. "The organized Jewish community in North America needs to be introduced to the concept that the only solution to this conflict is a two-state solution."
He said it is not just an issue of security, but one of Jewish values and morals.
"They need to begin to support this," Zwang said.
At a midday news conference Monday, the three visitors described to reporters the main components of their partnership, including a new industrial zone that will provide jobs to thousands of Palestinians and Israelis; a security paradigm; and educational tools that promote coexistence.
Asked if Palestinian schoolbooks, which incite violence, have been removed from schools, the leaders said no. Instead, they have focused on training teachers to promote coexistence.
"We sat them down for a whole year," Saleem said of the teachers. "The teachers would be people who would believe in the curriculum."
But Qadoura offered his own perspective on the challenges they face.
"No two people can coexist next to each other where one has luxury and the other has a bad economy," he said. "No two people can coexist where one is occupied and one is not occupied."
Atar said the partnership reflects a process that is not complete. Many details make up the partnership, he noted.
"Most important is hope for a better future," he said. "The minute we decided to do this, we believed in everyone's sincerity."