Security, business leaders unveil new peace initiative

With unrest in Arab world and Israel's global image plummeting “Yisrael Yozemet” pushing for gov't to take lead and kick-start peace process.

Israeli flags 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Israeli flags 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The changing landscape of the Middle East and Israel’s declining international image demand a new Israeli peace initiative, a group of security and business leaders told a press conference in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.
The “Israeli Peace Initiative” or “Yisrael Yozemet” (“Israel initiates” in Hebrew) is pushing for the government to take the lead and kick-start the peace process, by adopting a framework for a peace settlement based on the 2002 Arab peace initiative. The basic principles of the Arab peace initiative - normalization of relations between the Arab world and Israel in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines and a compromise on the Palestinian refugee issue, would form a framework for the plan, which would then be open for adjustments.
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One of the project’s main supporters, former Shin Bet Director General Yaakov Perry, described the current status quo in the West Bank as presenting a mortal threat to the state of Israel.
“Our continued presence in the [Palestinian] territories is a threat to Zionism. With every passing minute further damage is done to the state of Israel,” he said.
Perry said that Israel is now seen more and more as “peace refuseniks” and “insistent on holding on to the territories. Presenting our neighbors as impossible partners is no longer accepted.”
In a somewhat rare utterance for an Israeli security or political leader, Perry said that the recent upheavals in the Arab world may present an opportunity for Israel, and will require a total paradigm shift for Israelis.
“In Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, the public went out into the streets, in some of the states violently, in others in huge quiet protests, with the goal of bringing down the old order…In our region the countries around as are going through a great deal of change and no one can predict which way things will develop. One thing is clear, the Middle East is changing, dramatic things are happening around us, we are witnessing historic changes towards reform, most of which are not being led by extremist groups…All of this demands a drastic change in our dealings with our Arab neighbors. We must rid ourselves of the paradigm that led us for years to look at our neighbors as a single bloc.”
He added that the recent changes have created “an excellent opportunity” for Israel to present a new peace initiative and that Israel does not have the luxury of “sitting on the sidelines anymore.” (he said “leshevet b’yetzia”)
For his part, Israeli mogul Idan Ofer framed the necessity of the initiative in terms of how the current state of affairs is threatening Israeli businesses abroad and the Israeli economy back home. He related how he has been told time and again that if the situation doesn’t change then his businesses would be in danger of being hit with boycotts, and warned of the dangers that widespread sanctions and boycotts against Israel would have on the country.
“If there are sanctions against Israel, like there were against South Africa and elsewhere, from a economic standpoint it would be a catastrophe, simply a catastrophe.”
In terms of Israel’s place in the regional economy, Ofer said “if Israeli businessmen want to do business in the Arab world, there will need to be peace with the Palestinians. Personally, I have came into contact with many businessmen from the Arab and Muslim world who said there is no chance they will do business with us as along as there is not peace with the Palestinians. If we do reach an agreement, than all of the Arab world will be open for business for us.”
Professor Aliza Shenhar, President of Emek Yezreel College, agreed with Ofer that international boycott movements give Israel no choice but to change its policies.
“The boycott against the state of Israel is strengthening around the world. A boycott begins in one place and it spreads. The fact is that there are many states that have recognized Palestinian statehood in South America and Europe and if in September, the Palestine state is declared, what will the state of Israel do then?”
She added, “without a real diplomatic process we will lose. We won’t be able to say that the hasbara failed because what exactly would hasbarah be able to do when there is no political process? What exactly will it explain? The failure is not of hasbara, the failure is the lack of a political process.”