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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Governments may sign peace treaties, but it's the people on the ground who make peace through dialogue and cooperation.
With this in mind and after some 500 phone calls and nearly as many e-mails, Felice Friedson, founder of the Mideast Press Club, a project of The Media Line news agency of which she is the president, on Tuesday succeeded in bringing together Palestinian and Israeli journalists for an MPC meeting at the Knesset.
The historic event, which may be a prelude to Palestinian journalists receiving permission to report from the Knesset, was hosted by Tzahi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, with the full cooperation of Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who broke away from a Knesset seminar on law and government in order to address the MPC and to welcome participants to "the shrine of democracy."
Responding to a framed letter of praise and appreciation given to him by Friedson, Rivlin credited Hanegbi with the initiative, and said that he supported it because he believed it to be important. "We are not doomed to live together," he said to the gathered Palestinian and Israeli journalists. "We are destined to live together."
Other MKs who spoke included Minorities Minister Avishay Braverman, deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmed Tibi and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon.
Though not suggesting that they take the place of negotiators, Hanegbi said that Israeli and Palestinian journalists can have enormous influence. "If Israeli and Palestinian journalists get to know each other better, their consumers will get a better understanding of each others' societies. The way to peace and reconciliation is through an objective media."
Pointing to a definite change in Israeli attitudes, Ayalon said that in 1993 (the year of the Oslo accords), only 35 percent of Israelis were willing to accept a Palestinian state whereas, today, the ratio has jumped to 75%.
One of the essentials in resolving the conflict, he asserted, was for each side to agree on the inherent right of the other to be here.
Implying that Israel was at fault because not all the Palestinian journalists who had indicated that they wanted to attend were present, Tibi noted that there were no journalists from Gaza, and that some from the West Bank were also missing. Friedson clarified that the Gazan journalists had received permission from Israel, but Hamas had not allowed them to attend.
Tibi, looking directly into a phalanx of TV cameras at the back of the room, said that, in the 18th Knesset, many motions promote inequality, and that there was an attempt to push Arab MKs into a corner by trying to get them to declare loyalty to a Jewish and Zionist State. "No-one can force the victims to be loyal to those who acted against them," he said.
At one point in the ensuing debate, Ayalon implied that it was the Palestinians rather than the Israelis who were delaying Palestinian statehood. "The irony of history is that a Palestinian state will be created by a Jewish state and the Jews," he said, mentioning possible land swaps and changes of nationality when this happens.
Tibi retorted: "We do not accept being moved around as guests. We were not brought here by airplanes. We are the indigenous people in this land."
With the politicians dominating the exchanges, there was little of the anticipated interaction between the journalists, beyond speakers on each side insisting that they were not to blame for failed peace efforts and that most of their respective populations were genuinely committed to a two-state solution.
At the end of it all, Hanegbi said that it had been too short, but it should be perceived as the beginning of an ongoing dialogue. He would have liked to hear more from the Palestinian journalists about the feelings of the Palestinian people, he said, and less from his colleagues. He hoped that MPC would organize future meetings of this kind, but without television cameras so that participants can speak more freely.
For the Palestinians the visit was more than just a gathering in a conference room. After lunch, they were also taken on a tour of the Knesset.