Israeli-Palestinian peace group formed

TEL-AVIV – The founding conference of a new Israeli-Palestinian Joint Action Group for Peace (JAGP) took place on June 28 in Ramallah, the still-besieged seat of the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Some 300 peace activists, about half of them Israelis and the other half Palestinians, took part. The Group’s main slogan is “Two states for two people.”

The Israeli participants, arriving by bus, had been held up at the occupation army roadblocks at the entrance to Ramallah, but they all found secret paths – some traveling miles on foot – into town and to the meeting hall.

While participants greeted the impending cease-fire and Israel’s withdrawal from parts of the Gaza Strip and possibly also from Bethlehem, most said that this was only a very first step in the direction of a comprehensive peace.

Achieving a true peace will require the unconditional and complete withdrawal of Israel from all Occupied Territories, including East Jerusalem, to Israel’s pre-1967 lines, they said. Many expressed serious doubt that the current right-wing Sharon government would be willing to pay such a price for peace.

In his opening speech, Dr. Lev Grinberg of the Beer-Sheva Ben-Gurion University, stressed the importance of a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization on the basis of a detailed peace plan. “We are here to show our Palestinian friends, that we Israelis are not enemies, that the enemy of all of us is the very existence of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, that our common purpose is to act together for real, just and durable peace between the state of Israel and the state of Palestine,” he said.

Well-known Palestinian human rights activist and spokeswoman for the Arab League, Prof. Hanan Ashrawi of the Bir-Zeit University, welcomed the Israeli peace activists. “The approach common to all of us here, to Israelis and Palestinians alike, is based on the concept of security, not a military, fake security, but a human security, creating mutual trust and recognizing the human rights for all and everybody.”

Without directly referring to the roadmap designs, she stated, that even the most difficult problems standing in the way to peace, such as the Jewish settlements on Palestinian soil, the refugee problem and the future of Jerusalem, have to be squarely faced and equitably solved, rather than swept und the rug and their solutions deferred to a probably never-to-be reached future.

Uri Avnery, the Israeli peace activist and leader, mapped out a plan of action for the new body. Among his proposals were setting up joint expert committees to prepare within three months the full text of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, including detailed solutions for all the problems – borders, Jerusalem, settlements, refugees, security, water – and present it to the public, showing that such an agreement is possible. “If some disagreements remain, we shall say so candidly,” Avnery said.

Other proposals were a joint “Committee for Truth and Reconciliation,” on the South African model, in order to examine the history of the last 120 years and establish a true picture, acceptable to both peoples; a joint Press Office and joint operations staff, to plan public campaigns and demonstrations.

The veteran (communist) leader of the Palestinian People’s Party, Naim el-Ashhab, said the group’s founding was the result of dozens of preparatory meetings of Palestinian and Israeli peace activists over a period of two years. “This body should continue to monitor now the actual implementation of the roadmap, and see to it that it would fulfill its official stated purpose, the end of the Israeli occupation and the creation of a viable Palestinian State, which is the only way to achieve peace.” However, El-Ashhab pointed to the dangers inherited in that roadmap design, with too many details and bias similar to those which derailed former such plans.

The conference also called for solidarity with the thousands of Palestinian Intifada prisoners, detained by Israel, part of who are in a hunger strike. Specific mention was made of one of the outstanding Palestinian leaders, Marwan Barghouti, who is in Israeli custody since April last year and put on a framed-up trial in a Tel-Aviv court. “He did much for Israeli-Palestinian understanding, and if he would be able, he would be here with us,” Ashrawi said.

A delegation of the conference participants met with the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, who welcomed the establishment of the Joint Peace Group, wishing it success.

Gush-Shalom spokesman Adam Keller contributed to this report. The author can be reached at pww@pww.org