Seminar for a Key Political Activists from Centrist and Right-Wing Parties

In late June, we held a two-day seminar for 40 key Israeli political activists. The seminar provided the participants with an understanding of the history of the conflict and negotiations, core issues of the conflict, the narrative of the other side, the two-state solution and the potential fruits of peace.
Participants were key political activists from across the Israeli political spectrum, especially ones from centrist and right-wing parties such as Likud, Kulanu and Yesh Atid. They also included leading social activists who live and operate in Israel's social/geographic periphery. The diverse and inclusive nature of this group created an extremely stimulating environment in which participants constantly challenged each other's views and opinions.
 
The seminar opened with a presentation by Prof. Uzi Rebhun from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who is a prominent expert in the field of demography. Prof. Rebhun spoke about the demographic reality and challenges in Israel, as they relate to the conflict and its proposed solutions. He explained to the group that when taking the West Bank and Gaza into account, Jews make up only about 53% of the population in Israel/Palestine – a percentage that is expected to decrease over time. Thus, if Israel wants to continue to control the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it will not remain a Jewish and Democratic state. Either Palestinians are given equal rights, including the right to vote, which means that Israel ceases to be Jewish; or they are deprived of these rights, which means that Israel ceases to be democratic.
 
 
Next, the group met with Col. (res.) Shaul Arieli, former Head of the Peace Administration. Arieli gave a presentation on the likelihood of achieving a negotiated final status agreement with the Palestinians. He spoke about the geographic, demographic and political conditions necessary for achieving an agreement, and stressed that despite all challenges and difficulties, the main problem today remains political. Other challenges – such as the building of new settlements and expansion of existing ones in the West Bank, are by no means insurmountable. He paid particular attention to the kind of psychological barriers that prevent us from putting an end to the conflict, such as the lack of willingness of the public and broad leadership to acknowledge the legitimacy of the other side's narrative, needs and claims.
 
 
The participants also met with Brig. Gen. (ret.) Israela Oron, former Deputy Head of the National Security Council, who talked about the Palestinian national narrative in general and particularly as it relates to the Palestinian concept of the right of return; Gadi Baltiansky, HLEP-GI Director General, who presented some of the existing model agreements, including the one proposed by the Geneva Initiative; and Yossi Beilin, the Israeli chairperson of the Geneva Initiative, who spoke about the peace process – past, present and future.
 
At the end of the seminar, the participants got to talk to Ashraf Al-Ajrami, former Palestinian Minister of Prisoners, who told them about the 'Palestinian partner'. Explaining why it is so hard for moderate Israelis and Palestinians to be heard, Al-Ajarmi said that "during a conflict, extremist rhetoric is always the one to prevail - and so no one is able to hear the moderate voices of those who want a normal life for themselves and their children." The conversation was heated, at times emotional; but for many of the participants, who have never had a chance to speak with a Palestinian former official before, this encounter was nothing less than eye opening. One Likud activist wondered after she met him: "could it really be that there are people on the other side who genuinely want peace? why is it that we never hear them - is it them who fail to be heard, or us who fail to listen"?
 
Ashraf Al-Ajrami, former Palestinian Minister of Prisoners
 
This seminar was a huge success, with participants leaving better informed and motivated to promote the two-state solution. We are always excited to see the level of interest and commitment on the part of party activists from across the political spectrum, who prove time and again that they are the best ambassadors for peace.