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GI holds a conference in Haifa on the role of Israeli Arabs in the peace process

22/06/2008: GI holds a conference in Haifa on the role of Israeli Arabs in the peace process
Date: 22.06.08

On Sunday, June 22nd, Geneva Initiative held a conference on the role of Arab Israelis in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Some 140 people attended the conference, which was held in Haifa in cooperation with the center for the advancement of democracy among Arab Israelis.

The conference consisted of two sessions: During the first, former MK Eti Livni and former Palestinian minister Dr. Sufian Abu-Zaydeh discussed the Annapolis process and its connection to the Geneva Initiative. During the second panel, Minister Ami Ayalon, Prof. Majid al-Haj of Haifa University's Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Hadash Chairman MK Mohammad Barakeh, and Haifa Deputy Mayor Zvika Dahari discussed the relationship between Arab citizens of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and peace process.

Ms. Livni presented an overview of the progress made on the Annapolis process. She said an agreement could well be reached and presented the findings of a recent Palestinian public opinion poll which show widespread support for Israeli-Palestinian peace and the two-state solution.

Dr. Abu Zaydeh presented the Palestinian perspective on the slow progress of the Annapolis progress, and warned that there would never be another Palestinian leader as moderate as President Mahmoud Abbas.

Minister Ayalon likened Israeli-Palestinian relations to those of Siamese twins, which have many separate organs but also some joint organs, such as Arab citizens of Israel, which cannot be severed. He expressed his wish that both sides must use the Arab population within Israel as a bridge for peace, and also stressed that great identity conflicts faced by Palestinian with Israeli citizenship.

Prof. al-Haj likened efforts to reach an Israeli-Palestinian agreement to a traditional Arab arranged marriage, in which the each side barely knows the other and has no sympathy for the other, but in the long run such marriages rarely end in divorce. He said that the problem, as he sees it, is that Israel has never acknowledged the role of peace in brining the two sides together, but has instead always talked about "separation." With such terminology, Arabs in Israel cannot serve as a bridge for peace, because as Palestinians that are also Israel, any discussion of separating Israelis from Palestinians places them in an impossible position.

Mr. Dahari voiced his desire for better integration for the Arab population in Israel and said he viewed Haifa as a great example of such integration.

MK Barakeh voiced his criticism that Israeli Arabs have not been included in the diplomatic process in the past, and said they can and must serve as a bridge for peacemaking. He discussed his party's support for the notion of "two states for two peoples" and said he and the rest of the Arab population in Israel would support such a separation of states even though it would come at the expense of their own national realization.