First Posted: 8/30/2013
RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinians have traditionally shown little affection for Israeli politicians. These days, however, they are reaching out to their adversaries in an attempt to jump-start recently renewed peace efforts.
Hoping to persuade skeptical Israeli decision makers that they are serious about peace, leading Palestinian politicians have been holding a series of meetings with their Israeli counterparts. The meetings have taken place in Europe, in Israel’s parliament and next week at the Palestinian government headquarters in the West Bank.
Mohammed al-Madani, who is organizing the effort, said the Palestinians realized they need to take a new approach after watching Israeli governments build Jewish settlements on the lands the Palestinians seek for their future state. The settlements, he said, are destroying hopes for peace.
Al-Madani heads the Palestinian Outreach Committee to the Israeli Society, a government-backed group that was formed last year after the U.N. General Assembly, over Israeli objections, recognized Palestine as a non-member state. Senior Palestinian officials, including members of President Mahmoud Abbas’ inner circle, sit on the committee.
Last year’s U.N. vote sent already strained Palestinian relations with Israel tumbling to a new low, with Israel retaliating with additional settlement plans and the Palestinians threatening to use their new upgraded status to pursue sanctions and war crimes charges against Israel.
After months of prodding by the U.S., Israel and the Palestinians last month reopened their first substantive peace negotiations in nearly five years.
While previous rounds of peace talks, particularly in the 1990s, generated widespread hope and optimism, the current round has created little excitement. After so many years of mistrust, failure and bouts of violence, neither side seems to be optimistic that the latest talks, expected to last nine months, will be successful.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, territories captured by Israel in 1967, for their state. But as Israel continues to build settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, the Palestinians fear time is running out to divide the land between two states. More than 500,000 Israelis now live in the settlements. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.
Israeli peace advocates say the establishment of a Palestinian state is the only way to preserve Israel’s character as a democracy with a Jewish majority. The alternative, they say, is a single state in which Arabs, with their higher birthrate, will one day outnumber Jews.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has embraced the idea of a Palestinian state. But he has continued to expand Jewish settlements and refused to commit to the broad territorial concessions the Palestinians seek.