Giving peace a chance
Israeli and Arab negotiators take note: The people are trying their hands at peace making.
Just ask the 20 Israelis and Palestinians who recently convened on King George Street in Jerusalem to sign what they call, “The People’s Peace Plan.”
The partial treaty was negotiated in five sessions over two days. Passersby were invited almost every 30 minutes to participate in the discussion, though only members of the delegations could sit around the table that was set up.
The initiative was a project of Minds of Peace, an apolitical organization that is committed to reaching a peace treaty on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
According to Minds of Peace, the treaty covered all aspects of final status negotiations, including Jerusalem, the settlements and the Palestinian Right of Return.
The issues of Jerusalem and the Right of Return were not resolved, but the two sides committed to meet again to reach an agreement.
But the two sides agreed upon the following:
• All settlement building would cease during negotiations, which should last no longer than a year.
• Palestinian prisoners (political, not criminal) would be released gradually under the supervision of a joint Palestinian-Israeli committee and would commit to giving up violence and incitement.
• The borders for a Palestinian state would reflect the 1967 lines, allowing for land swaps that would not exceed 5 percent of the West Bank.
• Land swaps would be regulated by a joint committee of Palestinian and Israeli experts.
• The new Palestinian state would not have an army but would have armed police forces.
• A security strip would be established along the border between the Palestinian state and Jordan, supervised by an Israeli, Palestinian and international “border protection unit.”
• The border crossings between the Palestinian state and Jordan would be under Palestinian jurisdiction.
• All Israeli residents living beyond the Green Line would be given the option of evacuating or staying under Palestinian sovereignty; the Palestinian state in return would agree to protect the rights of minorities.
To be sure, the process wasn’t easy.
“At certain points the discussion became very emotional and it seemed that it was on the brink of violence,” Sapir Handelman, founder of Minds of Peace and chair of the Israeli delegation, said in response to questions submitted by the Chronicle via email. “Three things prevented escalation: 1. The presence of settlers in the Israeli delegation; 2. The dialogue between the Palestinian delegation and the audience; 3. The few visits of the police.”
According to Handelman, the process was set up so that a variety of opinions and backgrounds would be represented on both sides.
“Israelis and Palestinians chose their delegations independently,” he said. “The Israeli and the Palestinian chairmen of the congress were in charge of the selection process. The intention was to have people from all walks of life that would reflect the different opinions in the opposing societies.
“In the Israeli side it was very important to have representation of the right wing,” Handelman continued. “On the Palestinian side, it was important to have people that have connection to political prisoners and bereaved families.”
Specifically, the Israeli delegation included religious settlers, (including the wife and son of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman), secular Israelis with liberal views, and conservatives.
Froman, who died earlier this year, was an Orthodox rabbi from the West Bank and a well-known peace activist who previously negotiated a cease-fire with a Palestinian journalist with ties to Hamas. Hamas endorsed that agreement, but the Israeli government did not respond to it.
The Palestinian delegation included religious and secular Palestinians, conservatives and liberals. There were no Hamas representatives, but the Palestinian chair, Ibrahim Enbawi, sent the agreement and pictures of the assembly to Hamas’ leaders in Gaza.
Handelman did likewise with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The congress ended with a coordinated march to the Israeli prime minister’s home,” he said. “It is not a common view to see Israelis and Palestinians, escorted by a special police force, marching with their flags in the streets of Jerusalem to the prime minister’s home. Many people, who were passing by, stopped the march in order to take pictures.
“The guards [at] the prime minister’s house refused to accept the agreements,” he added. “The excuse was that this is a private house and the agreements should be given to the Public Affairs Department in the Prime Minister office.”
The agreement won’t collect dust now that it’s drafted.
“The main purpose of the agreement is to show that peace is possible and the people on both sides want to end the conflict by peaceful means,” Handelman said. “We publish the agreements on the Internet and the Palestinians always send them to their leaders.”
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)