Behind the Headlines: Grassroots Peace Activists Speak out

Some 200 leading Palestinian representatives and activists from American Arab and Jewish and Israeli Jewish peace camps met in a rare, grassroots dialogue here Sunday.

The dialogue, sponsored by American Friends of Peace Now, heard Palestinians and Israeli Zionists call for mutual recognition of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination and Israel’s right to security, an end to violence, and territorial compromise.

While some participants said direct negotiations for peace was the preferred method, most welcomed any opportunity for dialogue including an international peace conference.

The first half of the conference was devoted to presenting the long and short term views of peace and the obstacles. Prof. Galia Golan, a consultant to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and leading expert on the Soviet Union and a leader of Peace Now, and Avishai Margalit, a Hebrew University professor of political philosophy, presented the Zionist perspective.

The Palestinian points of view were offered by Hanna Seniora, one of two people accepted by both the PLO and Israel to represent the Palestinians in talks with the United States and editor of Al-Fajr, the Arabic daily widely read in the territories; and Jack Yousef Khazmo, a Palestinian author and publisher/editor of Al-Bayader Assiyasi, a weekly Arabic newspaper.

LACK OF COMPREHENSIVE TALKS ASSAILED

Seniora said the Middle East peace process has largely failed because of attempts to make individual agreements in place of a comprehensive peace treaty in which the PLO, Syria, Jordan and Israel all would be included.

President Ronald Reagan’s failure to endorse a preparatory committee for an international peace conference is another obstacle to negotiations, Seniora said.

But Israeli and Jordanian tacit control of the vital matters of daily life in the territories presents perhaps the biggest threat to any negotiated peace settlement, according to Seniora. “This harsh occupational policy prevents the Palestinian voice from being heard,” Seniora said. “We won’t accept the perpetuation of two masters over us.”

Seniora also discussed dissension and factionalization within the Palestinian movement, a subject usually reserved for private forums. The Palestinian leaders are “working to reunite the inner Palestinian house,” Seniora said.

KHAZMO BLAMES ISRAEL

Khazmo also catalogued the obstacles to an immediate peace. On the top of his list was Israel’s lack of peace initiatives toward Palestinians coupled with Israel’s occupation of the territories. He cited deportations, administrative detentions, house arrests, closure of Palestinian newspapers, censorship, closure of universities and expropriation of land as policies which alienate Palestinians and catalyze the radicalization of Palestinian youth. “Everybody is losing hope” in the West Bank, Khazmo said.

The U.S. Administration presents a second obstacle to peace in the Middle East by providing financial aid to Israel without any conditions to promote the peace process, Khazmo said. He also criticized the U.S for refusing to recognize the PLO or the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

The third obstacle, as Khazmo saw it, comes from the Arab camp, where the extremists “are looking at the peace activists and laughing,” he said.

GOLAN FOCUSES ON AGREEMENT

Golan also addressed these issues, focusing on areas of agreement. “The major obstacles that we are facing are years and years of hostility, mutual distrust and fear on the part of both peoples that has created stereotypes nurtured and cultivated by both sides,” she said.

The continued occupation has led to the radicalization on both sides and “is corroding our values,” she said.

“The only alternative today I believe is partition — acceptance of the fact that there are two peoples with two claims to the land, two national identities, histories, two peoples . . . deserving their own rights and protection,” Golan said.

Any settlement must address Israel’s security needs and her right to exist, Golan said, as only this will mobilize support within Israel for a settlement. On the other side, the Palestinians’ rights to self-determination must also be recognized, he said.

The Jordanians are not an appropriate partner in any peace settlement because the Palestinians see the PLO as their leadership, Golan said.

Golan suggested strengthening the moderates on both sides to demonstrate there are willing partners to peace negotiations. “The only alternative we are facing today is one of mutual destruction,” she said.

EGYPTIAN INVOLVEMENT RECOMMENDED

Margalit said he agreed with the view of MK Ezer Weizman (Labor) that “the road to peace goes through Cairo.” He recommended making the peace with Egypt more appealing to Israelis and to Palestinians and said Mubarak is a key figure because he is on good terms with the Palestinians.

Margalit supported a confederation of Jordan, Israel and a Palestinian “entity” in the territories as a solution to the conflict. But the process must begin by talking to each other, he said. ” Dialogue is necessary to destroy the dehumanization of the conflict” in which Israelis are racists and Palestinians are terrorists, he said.

When asked to offer a concrete vision of a peaceful settlement, both Seniora and Khazmo pointed to an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank. Seniora said, “The Palestinians have realized the need for a political option to lead to a solution.”

Golan said her model of peace was only: no threat of war and no fear. She said she would be happy if both parties would “sign on the dotted line that we are going to stop fighting each other.”

Following the presentations, Seniora told the JTA he believes the grassroots peace movement can have an effect. “In the absence of formal initiatives for peace in various governments, these kinds of meetings help keep the glimmer of hope going among various parties,” he said.

Next: Suggestions on how American citizens can promote Mideast peace.

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