Sunday, January 29, 2012

An unusual peace conference - in a Jewish settlement

Makor Rishon reports on an interesting, if quixotic, conference that took place at Ariel University.

They were there to debate "What is the best peace plan?"

It was sponsored by an Israeli organization that had already held similar conferences in Tel Aviv, eastern Jerusalem and Beit Jala. The Ariel conference was attended by Palestinian Arabs, Jews who live in Samaria, students with yarmulkas together with Muslim men and women.

While the organizers were upset that some of the Arab invitees were barred and others were held up at checkpoints, the atmosphere was described as intimate as the groups mingled over coffee and cookies.

One right-wing speaker said "I do not believe in separation. Oslo failed, the disengagement failed. I believe we need to cooperate as much as possible in creating a life together, so these discussions are so important."

Most of the Arabs spoke about variants of a one-state solution but all options were on the table.

The Israeli organizer, Doron Tzur, said he wants to "create a reality where Israelis and Palestinians participate in presenting their own ideas of peace, and design by asking questions and answers and requests for clarification. [We want] a more detailed plan, one that is transparent, that everyone can explore, ask questions and expect a response. The way to build confidence, create some sort of agreement , where a majority of both nations agree; let's do a referendum, let's make it a reality."

One Arab speaker stressed that DNA studies showed that many Palestinians are of Jewish origin who converted, and wants them to embrace their Jewish roots without abandoning Islam, and therefore being part of a single state. Another proposed a federation of two states into one, where the Jewish side could "even have an army."

Tzur specializes in conflict resolution, and he doesn't think that his idea of getting Jews and Arabs to discuss these ideas together is too utopian.

"In 1897, Zionism was a dream. Fifty years later we have the State of Israel. True, there are many intersections in history, but that does not mean we are exempt from exploration and trying to change reality. The conflict is not a tsunami, nor a decree. It is inside the minds of people, and you can also change their hearts and minds. If people would open up, sit down and combine their desires, it will happen."

While I think this is simply not conceivable, the photo illustrating the story was worthy of a poster. Especially since Ariel University does have Arab students - even as some left-wing Israeli academics choose to boycott it.

(h/t Yoel)