Abbas talks to Israeli Students

On Sunday, the Knesset Caucus for Ending the Israeli-Arab conflict, which OneVoice Israel was instrumental in establishing, brought over 300 Israeli students to Ramallah  for a personal and candid meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The landmark discussion underscored that the centrist majority of Israelis and Palestinian supports an agreement on the core issues that is in the mutual interests of both sides. I’m so proud of the OVI team’s efforts. Read the New York Times coverage of the event after the jump. 

Spotted by Daniel Lubetzky, by Julianna Storch

Abbas, Talking to Israeli Students About Peace, Finds a Receptive Audience


RAMALLAH, West Bank — A decade ago, after the suicide bombings of the second Palestinian uprising, Israelis mostly came to Ramallah and the Mukata, the West Bank headquarters of the Palestinian leadership here, in tanks or armored military vehicles. On Sunday, about 300 Israeli students and youth leaders arrived in busloads to meet President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority for a conversation about the peace process.

The students applauded Mr. Abbas when he insisted that there was no alternative to making peace. He tried to allay some common Israeli fears, declaring, for example, that he did not intend “to drown Israel with millions of refugees” and describing claims to the contrary as “propaganda” and “nonsense.” Instead, he said, he was seeking a “just and agreed” solution to the refugee problem that would be acceptable to Israel.

The Palestinian news media described the well-publicized event, which was rare in its scope, as part of Mr. Abbas’s outreach efforts toward Israelis. Mr. Abbas’s conciliatory tone also seemed to be intended as a way to keep up the pressure on the Israeli leadership.

The Obama administration plans to complete a “framework” accord in the coming weeks that would be a first step toward a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian agreement and serve as a basis for a continuation of negotiations.

Pamphlets detailing the Palestinian negotiating positions in Hebrew were placed on chairs in the reception hall at the Mukata before the Israeli guests arrived.

Although the peace talks resumed last summer, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have had no direct meetings in recent weeks. The two sides have met separately with Secretary of State John Kerry and his team as part of an American effort to come up with proposals to bridge their differences.

The Israelis’ visit was started by Hilik Bar, a deputy speaker of the Israeli Parliament and the leader of its caucus working to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. One Voice Israel, a grass-roots movement, helped organize the event.

The students and youth leaders were said to represent all regions and political viewpoints in Israel, though many of them appeared sympathetic toward Mr. Abbas’s remarks. There was no heckling.

Mr. Abbas said that the Palestinians had already made concessions to reach an agreement, listing his readiness for land swaps to compensate for areas across the lines drawn in the 1967 war that Israel insists on keeping; his proposal for a third-party NATO force to ensure security after the establishment of a Palestinian state to counter the argument for an Israeli military presence; and a solution for the refugee issue that is also fair and acceptable to Israel.

“We want a state with a strong police force,” he said, alluding to Israel’s demand that any Palestinian state be demilitarized. “We do not want nuclear weapons or missiles.”

Israel has already rejected the idea of relying on third-party forces for security. Adding to the challenges Mr. Abbas faces, his rivals in Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls Gaza, have stated in recent days that they will regard any international force in Palestinian territory the same way they regard Israeli occupation forces, as an enemy.

Asked by one of the Israeli students how he intended to integrate Gaza and the West Bank in any peace deal, Mr. Abbas replied that most people in Gaza supported peace and that his Fatah Party was working to reconcile with Hamas. That response elicited applause from the Palestinian side of the hall, where some dignitaries sat with a few dozen young Palestinians who had also been invited.

Batting away accusations by some Israelis that he says one thing in Arabic and another in English, Mr. Abbas said, “I speak the same language with everyone.” (Mr. Abbas addressed the students in Arabic; simultaneous translations in Hebrew and English were provided.)

After the 90-minute session, several Israeli students praised Mr. Abbas for his courage, noting the pressure he faced from Palestinians who oppose any kind of normal ties with Israelis. And in a more personal aside, Mr. Abbas told his guests that his grandchildren had attended the Seeds of Peace summer camps in the United States with young Israelis.

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