Knesset parley on Jewish-Arab relations draws small turnout

The recent addition of Israel Beiteinu to the gov't was a popular topic at the meeting, with many representatives expressing outrage.

November 2, 2006 00:21
2 minute read.

While most of the Knesset was in the midst of preparations for the 11-year memorial of the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, a group of five MKs gathered to discuss what could be done to improve Palestinian-Israeli relations. Although the Jaffa Convention's "call to action" for Jewish-Arab relations in the aftermath of the Lebanon war was held in the midst of a busy Knesset day, only MKs Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad), Ibrahim Sarsour (Ra'am-Ta'al), Nadia Hilu (Labor), Hanna Sweid (Hadash), and Ze'ev Elkin (Kadima) answered the call. While more officials - as well as MKs - are expected to attend the central event in Jaffa on November 9, many were concerned over the small turnout. "Even as we create a huge memorial for Rabin, we forget the reason for his death: his fight for peace," said Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines during a plenum session, even as the group of MKs was meeting. "The same issues that were on the table, the same problems between that existed between Arabs and Jews then exist now," said Eliezer Scheter, a schoolteacher from the Haifa area, during the meeting. "Peace will only come when an Arab finally steps in the shoes of a Jew and vice versa." During the session, representatives from the Arab and Jewish sectors proposed various projects to encourage peace, ranging from a TV station called Channel for Peace to mandatory Arabic classes through high school and college, because as one representative noted, "Nobody can ever understand each other." The proposals, however, were preliminary and none will be formally considered until the central event. "It is especially important for us to come together and discuss peace in the light of the new tone this government has taken. I can't hide my disappointment in the government for adding a clearly racist party to the coalition," said Sweid. The recent addition of Israel Beiteinu to the government was a popular topic at the meeting, with representatives from all the sectors expressing outrage at views expressed by party chairman Avigdor Lieberman. "I must say that I too, cannot understand adding him [Lieberman] to the government," said Melchior, whose Labor Party is also in the government. "We can only hope that he changes his tune and does not set back the progress we hope to make for peace… There are a lot of tempers running high at this time; we all need to consider our words more carefully." For some, however, words were not the problem. Ahmad Tomaa, a Haifa college student, was one of the few to lash out at the MKs for "too many words and not enough actions." "We elect you to work for us, but so little is done among all the political infighting," said Tomaa. He also criticized Arab MKs, who he said spent more time "talking to Assad" than "talking to the person who matters - Olmert."

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