Diplomatic outreach

“Every journey starts with a first step," Rivlin says,“We have to live together and bring an end to misunderstandings between Jews and Arabs.”

People carry Israeli flags during a Jerusalem Day march in the capital. (photo credit: REUTERS)
People carry Israeli flags during a Jerusalem Day march in the capital.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Jerusalem Post Diplomatic Conference being held in the capital on Thursday will no doubt address the upcoming general election, but it will also focus on relations between Israel and the international community.
In a representative survey of 500 Israelis conducted by the Smith Institute for the Post ahead of the conference, almost two-thirds (64 percent) said the US is very committed to Israel’s security. More than two-thirds (72 percent) said the strained relationship between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama had harmed bilateral relations.
US Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, on the other hand, wrote in an essay for the conference magazine that the two countries’ special ties have strengthened under Obama’s presidency.
“The unique, unparalleled relationship between the United States and Israel is anchored by shared values and common strategic interests,” Shapiro wrote. “Under President Obama’s leadership, we have found ways to further deep our special ties, including by building up what can now be called a third pillar in US-Israel relations: our common prosperity.”
Shapiro referred to the robust economic and commercial ties that have created jobs for tens of thousands of Israelis and Americans, as well as “countless innovations and scientific breakthroughs.”
Israel’s trade with Europe, China, Russia, India and numerous other countries have similarly boosted diplomatic partnerships, winning the Jewish state many friends in the world. Yet Israel’s international image, especially in the media, remains negative, particularly after this summer’s Operation Protective Edge. Rather than the progressive, vibrant and thriving democracy that it is, a minority of public opinion perceives Israel as a racist state occupying the Palestinian people.
Perhaps this is why President Reuven Rivlin, the keynote speaker at the conference, sees as his greatest challenge convincing the country’s Arab citizens that Israel is not waging a war against Islam or the Palestinians.
“Every journey starts with a first step,” Rivlin told Post reporter Greer Fay Cashman in an interview that appears in the magazine handed out to participants in Thursday’s conference. “We have to live together and bring an end to misunderstandings between Jews and Arabs.”
For the state’s ninth president, Shimon Peres, peace with Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority remains a primary goal.
Peres, whom Editor-in-Chief Steve Linde will interview at the conference, told Managing Editor David Brinn that a deal with Abbas is still possible. “I do believe that we could have achieved peace with him, and I still believe that we can achieve peace with him,” Peres said. “I know maybe I am a minority. That doesn’t change my mind.”
An important panel discussion at the conference moderated by the Post’s veteran Diplomatic Correspondent Herb Keinon will focus on the challenges facing Israel and Europe. Participants will include Senior Contributing Editor Caroline B. Glick, the Foreign Ministry’s deputy director- general for Western Europe, Aviv Shir-On, MK Hilik Bar (Labor), who chairs the European Forum of the Knesset, Simon Johnson, CEO of the Jewish Leadership Council in the UK, as well as the ambassadors of Italy, which holds the presidency of the Council of the European Union, and Denmark, whose parliament will be voting on Thursday on recognition of a Palestinian state.
Attended by some 200 members of the diplomatic corps and dozens of journalists, the conference “has a tremendous impact on how Israel is presented and perceived around the world, which is especially important in these difficult times,” said Ronit Hasin-Hochman, CEO of the Jerusalem Post Group.
Headlines will undoubtedly be made on Thursday that will take us firmly into the election season. What will Interior Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, whom Netanyahu recently fired as finance minister, say about their parties’ strategies and chances ahead of the March 17 election? How will Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and Maj.-Gen. Nimrod Shefer relate to the tense security situation in the country and the capital? To find out, follow our live-stream broadcast, tweets and reports on JPost.com from about 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time. It will be a chance to hear in clear English from some of the country’s leading figures about the issues that matter most to all of us.