Shas activists at a Geneva Initiative workshop: dialogue with the Palestinians is urgently needed

35 leading Shas activists, including local council members, heads of municipal religious committees and journalists took part in a unique day-long workshop we held in partnership with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung.
In the morning, the group toured the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem with Lt. Col. (res.) Ron Shatzberg, who told them about the demographic and political trends in the city, as well as about the daily lives of local residents. This was the first time most of the participants have ever seen the Eastern neighborhoods of Jerusalem, and were shocked to see from up close the gap between the symbol of Jerusalem as the "unified capital of Israel", and the reality on the ground. One participant, Deputy Mayor of the City of Ofakim, said: "one can really see how neglected, crowded and poor these neighborhoods are. The lack of services and poor living conditions here in East Jerusalem clearly create a volatile atmosphere. Perhaps peace can calm things down".
In the afternoon, the Participants talked with the Geneva Initiative Director General, Gadi Baltiansky, about how the political reality in Jerusalem demonstrates the urgency of reaching a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. They also discussed the role of Shas in promoting the two-state solution within the Israeli political system. One participant, the chairman of the Religious Committee in the city of Bat-Yam, said that after years of focusing primarily on social and economic issues, Shas voters and activists are beginning to understand how crucial and urgent a dialogue with the Palestinians is.
The group then met with Elias Zananiri, a senior representative of the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society. This was a tense but fruitful conversation, during which Zananiri told the participants about the Palestinian perspective and daily experiences, and argued that a Palestinian partner for peace still exists on the other side.
The Geneva Initiative has been working for years with Shas leaders, rabbis, ministers, Members of Knesset and activists, with the aim of helping them play a more significant role in advancing the two-state solution within their circles of influence. According to a public opinion poll we recently held, Shas voters' support for a peace agreement continues to consistently grow. For example, 50% of them support a peace agreement with the Palestinians based on the above-mentioned parameters, compared to 0% among United Torah voters, the other Ultra-Orthodox party. Similarly, 63% say the ongoing stagnation in the peace process is bad for Israel, compared to 5% of United Torah voters.