Sheetrit: Negotiate with Arab League

At Peace Now rally, minister says time not on Israel's side, window of opportunity for peace will soon close.

sheetrit big head 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
sheetrit big head 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Israel should open immediate negotiations with the Arab League on the basis of the 2002 Saudi plan, Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) told hundreds of Peace Now members gathered in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night to mark the group's 30th anniversary. "To make peace, you do not have to go to Annapolis," Sheetrit said. Israelis and Arabs can do it directly, with interlocutors, he said. The League has adopted an amended version of the Saudi proposal, in which it has offered normalized relations with Israel if the latter withdraws to the pre-1967 borders and allows Palestinian refugees to return to the country. The initial Saudi plan called only for a "just solution" to the refugee issue. In the past, Sheetrit has told The Jerusalem Post that he does not agree with all parts of the proposal, but that he views it as a good basis for negotiations. Like many at the rally, he argued that "time is not on Israel's side," as the window of opportunity for peace would soon close. Israeli leaders have to put everything aside and "invest in peace" in the same way they "invest in security," said Sheetrit. He was one of a number of politicians and activists who spoke during the five-hour event that marked the anniversary of a movement that began in 1978 to support the peace process with Egypt. It quickly moved to the issue of a two-state solution and a withdrawal to the 1967 borders. Peace Now secretary-general Yariv Oppenheimer told the crowd he hoped another such anniversary event would not be needed. Unlike Sheetrit, most of the other speakers in the large tent in Kikar Rabin focused on the Palestinians. Jailed Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences for his involvement in terror attacks that killed numerous Israelis, sent a statement to the rally, saying that the majority of Palestinians were ready for peace. Many of the speakers spoke of Peace Now's role in pushing a two-state solution into the mainstream thought of Israeli political culture, even as they noted it had failed to stop the expansion of settlements. There are now some 282,000 settlers living in the West Bank, and that population rises at a rate of five percent a year. "We have won ideologically, but the settlers have won on the ground," said Education Minister Yuli Tamir. She, too, warned that the two-state idea would die if it did not soon become a reality. It was a warning echoed by former Palestinian Authority minister Sufian Abu Zaida, who warned the crowd that all of Peace Now's work in the last 30 years would be futile unless peace was soon achieved. Palestinians are losing hope, he said, adding that the lack of progress had weakened Fatah and strengthened Hamas. Former settler leader Israel Harel struck the only right-wing note in the event when he told those assembled, "If you have been working for peace for 30 years, where is it?" He acknowledged that it was true that they had influenced the public debate and leading politicians, but added that they had also led to the failure of Oslo and the rise of Hamas in the aftermath of the 2005 disengagement.