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There is a Real Partner

By Yariv Oppenheimer, Maariv

Via Maariv (click for original)
Last Sunday I was deeply sorrowed by the fact that only 100 Israelis could take part in the historic meeting that was organized by the Geneva Initiative movement in the mukataa in Ramallah. Had it been up to me, all of Israel's citizens would have gone and seen, with their own eyes, the dramatic change that has taken place in Palestinian society.

The place that is associated more than any other as Arafat's command headquarters in the middle of the second Intifada, was turned for a few hours into a delicious and welcoming Mediterranean restaurant that warmly and respectfully hosted dozens of Israeli guests who had been invited, some of whom were army officers in reserves, and some of whom even hailed from the Likud and Shas. The PA leadership attended in full and spoke openly and candidly about its wish to reach peace by means of negotiations, a peace based on the principle of two states, Israel and Palestine. Beyond the speeches and the political messages, between the stuffed vine leaves and the sweet kenafeh, it was impossible not to recognize the tremendous change that has occurred within Palestinian society and its leadership in Ramallah.

A responsible and strong government resides in the mukataa, with a secular and moderate worldview that advocates reaching an agreement and living together in a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel. Abu Mazen is not a weak leader, and he controls all of the PA territory in the West Bank with a strong hand. This was shown very well by Saeb Erekat, when he admitted to everyone present that never had the West Bank been so quiet and safe for Israelis, more than during the days when the IDF deployed in every corner of every casbah, from Nablus to Hebron.

Outside the mukataa I met with a Palestinian journalist who speaks fluent Hebrew. Like me, he too is a fan of the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team and who devoutly watches its games on Thursdays. He spoke to me about the Palestinians' wish for peace and normalcy and described how forsaking terror and violence was not just something the leadership had done but how this was a central component of the current Palestinian narrative.

It was impossible not to feel, from all the speakers at the conference, the frustration and sorrow at the lack of progress in the peace process and at the refusal of the Israeli government to hold serious negotiations on the permanent status arrangement. Precisely now, when there is a real partner for peace, Israeli society has become more right wing and elected a Knesset and a government that does not truly believe in and want to reach a permanent status arrangement with the Palestinians.

Despite the statements at Bar Ilan University and in Washington, Netanyahu is unwilling to talk about the issue of borders and invents excuses in order to drag out the time. In the test of the result, the Israeli government has given up on the peace process solely so that it can continue to devote itself to the obsession of the settlers to build a few more thousands of housing units in the territories. Israeli society is apathetic, cynical and does not sense the magnitude of the opportunity at hand to make the peace process manifest and the magnitude of the danger that a failure of the peace process is liable to pose for the entire region.