Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Creating Positive Facts on the Ground …

… rather than negative facts at the negotiating table.

Yesterday, August 31, 2009, I had the pleasure of attending one of those rare events that gives one some hope for an eventual Arab-Israeli peace.

The event was a press conference featuring the mayor and deputy mayor of Gilboa and the governor of Jenin. It was held at the offices of the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations.

(Attending there was also nostalgic for me, since according to my sister, my father's office had been directly across the street until he had to move a block away when that building was torn down. He then moved to a location a block away until that building was also torn down, at which point he moved a few doors farther away.)

The change in the relationship between Afula (the "capital" of northern Israel) and Gilboa, which is adjacent to Afula, and nearby Jenin borders on the astounding.

Jenin had been the terror capital of the Palestinian Authority's territories, with Afula and Gilboa the primary targets.

When my wife and I visited in 2002, we woke up our first morning in Gilboa to the sound of sirens, which we later learned were in response to a suicide bombing at a nearby junction, one which we had driven through the night before.

When we visited in 2006, security had improved in Israel, primarily because of the anti-terror barrier for which Gilboa mayor Danny Atar had worked so hard, but we were still advised to not drive along the most scenic road on Mount Gilboa because it was too close to Jenin.

The article, along with others that have appeared dealing primarily with the improvement in law enforcement in Jenin, give only a small glimpse current relationship between the people on the two sides of the seam line.

Regarding the implications for peace: The cooperation needs to continue and the lives of people on both sides, but particularly on the Palestinian Authority side, need to improve. Qadoura M. Qadoura, the governor of Jenin, referred to 58 percent unemployment in Jenin. I disagreed with some of the things the governor said, but such unemployment is intolerable - even if the primary cause was the rejection of peace by Yasser Arafat in 2000 and the launching of a terrorist offensive instead.

If the cooperation continues, and if the llves of all become normal, and if these improvements become a model which spreads throughout the Palestinian Authority territories and the nearby Israeli areas, it will be to the benefit of all and bring about the possiblity of a negotiated peace within a few decades.

The half-empty part of the situation is the following: It appeared to me that even the mayor and governor who are now friends and are working together to improve the lives of all on both sides would not now be able to agree even on the parameters of a peace agreement.

Efforts today to reach a peace agreement are not only doomed to fail, but are counterproductive. Israel and the Palestinian Arabs, not to mention the greater Arab nation of which the Palestinian Arabs are a part, are much further from peace than they were at the start of the Oslo Experiment. It will take years of successful endeavors, such as those now being promulgated in Gilboa and Jenin, before the sides are no farther apart than they were in 1993.

When that point is reached, the sides will be in sight of meaningful negotiations that can result in a real peace rather than destroying chances for peace.

And peace will get that much closer when this reality is recognized by the current American president whose misguided pressure is so counterproductive.

This is the article as it appeared in The Jerusalem Post.

The article may be viewed on the Post's web site at www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1251145166763&pagename=JPArticle%2FShowFull.

Gilboa region leaders and Jenin governor visit US to promote Jewish-Arab coexistence

Aug. 31, 2009

E.B. SOLOMONT, Jpost correspondent in NY , THE JERUSALEM POST

Over traditional Middle Eastern fare, the Jewish chairman of the Gilboa Regional Council and his Arab deputy broke bread on Monday with the Palestinian governor of Jenin in New York City.

In the United States to promote their unique social and economic partnership, the trio shared more than good food: They promoted their grassroots cooperation as a bridge to broader Israeli-Palestinian relations.

"We are sitting now on one table," said Qadoura M. Qadoura, governor of Jenin, as he sat alongside Danny Atar and Eid Saleem.

Finding a "common language," they said, is imperative to peace and stability in the region. Of the Gilboa region's 30,000 residents, 60 percent are Jewish and 40 percent are Arab.

"We understand together the special needs of the Palestinians and everything that is connected to improving their lot in life," Atar said. "We are witnessing that our future in the state is a good future."

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which hosted the Monday meeting, said the fact that 20 percent of Israel's population is not Jewish showed the need for such partnerships.

"It is not to change policy as much as it's to help identify needs," he said. "What appears to be impossible is possible."

The visit was spearheaded by a Connecticut federation that for the past decade has supported programs to foster coexistence among Israelis and Palestinians. On Sunday, the Israeli and Palestinian officials headlined a federation event.

"It's simple, real simple," said Robert Zwang, executive director of Jewish Communities of Western Connecticut. "The organized Jewish community in North America needs to be introduced to the concept that the only solution to this conflict is a two-state solution."

He said it is not just an issue of security, but one of Jewish values and morals.

"They need to begin to support this," Zwang said.

At a midday news conference Monday, the three visitors described to reporters the main components of their partnership, including a new industrial zone that will provide jobs to thousands of Palestinians and Israelis; a security paradigm; and educational tools that promote coexistence.

Asked if Palestinian schoolbooks, which incite violence, have been removed from schools, the leaders said no. Instead, they have focused on training teachers to promote coexistence.

"We sat them down for a whole year," Saleem said of the teachers. "The teachers would be people who would believe in the curriculum."

But Qadoura offered his own perspective on the challenges they face.

"No two people can coexist next to each other where one has luxury and the other has a bad economy," he said. "No two people can coexist where one is occupied and one is not occupied."

Atar said the partnership reflects a process that is not complete. Many details make up the partnership, he noted.

"Most important is hope for a better future," he said. "The minute we decided to do this, we believed in everyone's sincerity."

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