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Meeting the President

President Shimon Peres made a short visit to the Peres Center to toast in the Jewish New Year and meet employees at the Center he founded. Whatever your opinions of him are, it was still a special day to see him in the flesh, shake his hand and have my photograph taken with him.

I suppose it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see the founder of the organisation I am interning with make an appearance for one of the Jewish calendar’s biggest celebrations, Jewish New Year (we’re now in the year 5772). Asking around the office though it seems his appearances at the Center are few and far between nowadays.

Shimon Peres and The Peres Center

At the ripe old age of 88 and with plenty of official duties to carry out as the President of Israel it’s understandable that he’s no longer deeply involved in the Center’s work. Cynics might argue that it’s no longer politically rewarding for him to be associated with projects aimed at bridging the Israeli-Palestinian divide. A far cry from the days when the Peres Center was founded in 1996 when prospects for peace were as high as they have ever been: the Oslo Accords, a peace treaty with Jordan and Shimon Peres with the political capital of a Nobel Peace Prize. How times have changed…

Although it’s undeniable Peres in his times as Prime Minister and in government was tied to the Israeli occupation of Palestine as much as any other Israeli leader he is now seen, at home and abroad, as the ‘moderate’ Israeli face – in stark contrast to the hawkish and right-wing traits of the current Netanyahu government.

So although his involvement in the Center is now minimal his name in the organisation’s title is a priceless asset when it comes to opening doors and attracting funding, here in Israel and abroad.

A Political Leader, or a Human Wax Statue?

After an initial tour of the premises, a few brief speeches and the celebratory toast it was time for him to be wheeled off to his next assignment. In an tortuously slow escape for the exit, row after row of employees and assorted family members gathered around him, in hope of catching a single photo alongside the old man.

Okay so I was as guilty as anyone for trying to get a photograph next to him but I couldn’t help but feel slightly awkward about it all. After decades of highly influential political life it seems his role in Israeli public life is to act as a human wax statue for people to take their photographs with. Has it come to this? And on the occasions that Netanyahu ships him off abroad things aren’t much better. His role – to placate foreign leaders with conciliatory views and assurances that we all know, Peres included, Netanyahu has no intention of ever keeping.

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Posted by on October 13, 2011 in Internship at the Peres Center

 

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50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State

Last week, the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum launched a new campaign: “50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State” Their aim: to garner Israeli public support for the ongoing Palestinian UN bid for statehood and the 2-state solution. After a summer of energized activism on social issues (Israeli social justice protests), unseen in modern Israeli history, it’s time for the country to re-engage with Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State

We Already Live in 2-States

Okay, so it’s a hard sell. Israeli society has become so detached from the Palestinian issue that it’s a tough to ask getting the average Israeli to proactively engage with the issue.  With the social justice campaign the average Israeli didn’t need an NGO manifesto to realize that they were suffering – the growing inequalities in Israeli society are easily visible.  But for most Israelis, the Palestinian issue is a distant one that has little or no influence on their daily lives. For them, even though they might not admit to it, the partition between Israel and the West Bank & Gaza (physically and mentally) is so stark that it’s almost as if we live in two separate states. Unfortunately it’s only the Israeli side that can enjoy the freedoms that go hand-in-hand with being a fully sovereign and independent state,

For this reason the campaign has produced a list of 50 reasons why a 2-state solution is worth fighting for; not only as means to end the conflict  but also – in my opinion – to highlight how the more popular fight, the struggle for social justice in Israel, is both unachievable and unsustainable without the succesful creation of a Palestinian state.

Don’t Lobby at the UN; Lobby the Israeli Public

Re-hashing the 101 arguments for and against the Palestinian UN bid is pointless. Everyone knows that once the dust settles and the Israeli and Palestinian leaders return home, with or without some form of UN recognition, the facts on the ground will remain much the same. Of course gaining the support of the international community will provide the Palestinians with added leverage in future negotiations, but the UN decision is essentially a side-show, a distraction. Why are we getting worked up over whether far-away countries like Gabon or Colombia vote for or against Palestine? The real decision-makers, the parties all proponents of the 2-state solution should be lobbying intensively are not hidden away in the bowels of the UN, but right here, down on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and up and down this fraught land. Only an Israeli public convinced of the benefits of a 2-state solution can truly grant Palestinians the state they legitimately demand – any amount of international pressure and isolation will do little to change the current inflexible Israeli position.

Of course trying to convince the Israeli public to support a 2-state solution is a different matter entirely. Whilst polls indicate that a majority of Israelis are willing to accept some form of 2-state solution getting any percentage of this majority to demand of their government an end the occupation has failed – hence the ability of the Netanyahu government to continue, with ease, the policy of maintaining the status quo.

It’s for this reason that campaigns such as the “50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State” are so important.

The Reasons:

Here are just some of the reasons – the full list can be found here: 50 Reasons to Say Yes to a Palestinian State). They also have a Facebook page.

The Israeli Peace NGO Forum is launching a campaign in support of Palestinian statehood leading up to the Palestinian Authority’s request for recognition in the UN General Assembly, planned for September 20th 2011.

3. We will be available to nurture social solidarity and rehabilitate Israeli society.

5. The establishment of a Palestinian state will open the door for all of Arab world to recognize Israeland implement the decision of 22 Arab League member states to normalize relations with Israel.

9. The establishment of a Palestinian state will end the occupation that corrupts us and harms Israel’s strength.

11. The Palestinian state will allow a dramatic improvement in relations between Jews and Arabs inside Israel, allowing us to engage in processes that will bring equality between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

14. Establishing an agreed upon Palestinian state will silence those who are using the Palestinians as a reason for war and boycotts against us.

19. In Tel Aviv, Ramallah,Cairo and Damascus a young, secular, technological generation is growing, that believes in its own power to affect change and despises governments’ falsely injected fears.

21. Only a Palestinian state can prevent us from becoming the next apartheid state.

26. Establishing a Palestinian state is an act of justice. Palestinians are a people and deserve a state.

31. The two-state solution is supported by both Israelis and Palestinians in all surveys in recent years.

32. It will create great economic opportunities for Israelis and the entire Middle East that do not exist today because of the conflict.

40. If South Sudan can have a state, why not Palestine?

42. Because you can not demand rights for Israelis and not recognize Palestinians’ right to a state.

46. We will finally live in a democratic moral country which respects its minorities with equal rights.

48. Because a situation of military occupation and the ‘settlers’ state can not continue forever, it endangers us, and does not correlate with universal humanistic Jewish values.

50. Because it is the only viable solution, and you know it.

 

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Overlooking the Mediterranean

Entering into my 3rd week in Jaffa and I thought I’d better share with you these photos of my workplace. The first is of the Peres Center itself, the second one of the sea view from just outside the office. Stretch my neck slightly and from my desk I too have clear view across tops of palm trees and out over the bright blue Mediterranean Sea.

The Peres Peace House (home to the Peres Center for Peace)

 

The Mediterranean Sea

 

It’s still somewhat of a mystery, to me at least, why the Peres Center is located here in Jaffa. Most Israeli-Palestinian peace NGOs are located up in Jerusalem and Ramallah, the natural epicentres of the billion dollar aid industry in the region. That said there is definitely some symbolism to it being located in the heart of Tel Aviv’s Arab neighbourhood – a neutral meeting place for Israeli and Palestinians. Yet, it is still a bit of an anomaly to see this grandiose building in the middle of this relatively run-down/neglected part of town; quite a contrast from the central Tel Avivian sea-front with its glitzy high-rise hotels and wide tree-lined boulevards. And for all the scepticism there was towards the Center for re-locating here a couple of years back (Aesthetic Dispossession in Jaffa) it does seem that it’s doing its bit to engage with the local community and earning its right to be here (Community Activities in Jaffa).

 

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The Peres Center for Peace:The start of a new experience…

As many of you may well know I’ve started a 4-month internship at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv. Founded by former Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, the organisation attempts to encourage socio-economic cooperation and development between Israelis and Palestinians. I am working in the Business & Economics Department which at the moment is working on business-to-business cooperation projects across the divide as well as economic academic research and advocacy based on the principles of a 2-state solution – goals and projects which can seem entirely out-of-place in the current environment where reaching out to “the other” is often deemed a highly contentious act in itself.

It’s been a tough old first week, not least getting used to the 2 ½ hour commute between our home and their offices magically located on the seafront in Jaffa (the Arab part of Tel Aviv). Thankfully the work has been challenging and far from the menial administrative tasks you fear you might end up doing as intern. A mixture of editing, translating, writing newspaper opinion pieces, attending budgets meeting with the EU, as well as the odd business lunch with Israeli and Palestinian academics (discussing water rights in the West Bank) in a swanky East Jerusalem hotel thrown in for good measure – all of which has made the first week an interesting one.

Hopefully I’ll have some good stories and experiences to tell over the coming months. Until then I leave you with this rapidly re-written op-ed piece I was assigned to draft for two academics who are publishing a paper on the upcoming UN bid by the Palestinians. It’s basically about the economic potential of Palestine and the dire economic consequences that it would continue to face should meaningful negotiations remain….well non-existent. It’s a hard task translating a 50-page economics paper full with graphs, tables and lofty economic rhetoric into something relatively catchy and approachable for the general public. Anyway I gave it my best shot and tried to relate it to the ongoing social protests in Israel as means to engage the average Israeli.

Op-Ed: September as a Cross-Road

As much as we try to erect walls, physical and psychological, between ourselves, the future economic prosperity of both our nations remains intrinsically intertwined. The social protests in Israel may have tactically avoided the issue but if social justice is to be based on a fairer division of the economic pie, Israelis must recognize that the size of the economic pie depends on long-term peace between Israeli and Palestine.

Aspirations for social justice are not limited to the protestors on Rothschild Av. but extend to the occupied territories. Whilst on Rothschild Av. the protestors legitimately protested against the millionaire tycoons and decades of neoliberal policies, so Palestinians feel legitimately compelled to protest against the economically restrictive measures intrinsically interwoven into the status quo. Furthermore, the political impasse is endangering the two-state solution by deterring international aid – so long the life-line of the Palestinian economy. This in turn risks stirring up a highly dangerous situation where Palestinian political instability and a depressed economy couple with the frustrated aspirations for a Palestinian state.

Thus we approach September’s UN Palestinian bid with the hope that the “September Process” will revive the peace process. It is true that tensions are likely to be running high in the coming weeks. At the UN Israel is bracing itself for a diplomatic “tsunami” as the General Assembly is set to upgrade the Palestinian’s status. At home Israelis are bracing themselves for the possibility that peaceful Palestinian outpourings of celebration and/or demonstrations will spillover into violent confrontations with the IDF and settlers. However, these legitimate concerns in the short-term must not blind our long-term aspirations

For all the obstacles the occupation places on Palestinian economic activity the potential for a vibrant and sustainable economy remains within our reach. A new economic regime betweenIsraelandPalestine, with a free trade agreement at its core, would reignite the Palestinian economy, 11-12% annual growth over the next decade. A stable sovereignPalestinestate with a prosperous economy will be a dynamic economic partner forIsrael. Israeli companies will benefit from the Palestinian need for Israeli technological know-how and advanced industrial infrastructure and products. Equally Israeli consumers can expect to benefit from the introduction cost effective Palestinian products to the Israeli market. Finally, the prospect of a viable solution to the conflict will enhance stability in the region and in turn provide international investors the guarantees they need for boost investment in Israel.

The peace process (or lack of) need not be framed as an insidious battle to see which side can extract the largest concessions from the opposing party. Instead we should use the window of opportunity afforded to us by the September Process to refocus our negotiations on the win-win situation that can be achieved by economic cooperation and the economic prosperity it can sustain for both Israelis and Palestinians.

 

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Falling Rockets over Israel & Gaza

For the third consecutive day the sky over southern Israel and Gaza is full of Grad missiles and Qassam rockets, mortars shells and other assorted forms of rocketry.

The inevitable recommencing of hostilities between the Israeli Defence Forces and Gaza militants came after the multipronged terrorist attack on Israel this Thursday left eight Israelis dead and dozens injured (Seven killed in series of terrorist attacks in southern Israel)

In Jerusalem we are normally far away from the ‘action’ but this weekend we’ve been visiting Asya’s family in kibbutz Mash’abbe Sade in the heart of the Negev desert, a mere 50km from the Gaza border. Normally there wouldn’t be too much to worry about as a) 50 km is still on the border line of the militants’ range, b) the kibbutz sits happily in the middle of nowhere and far from any of the targeted urban areas such as Sderot, Be’er Sheva, Ashkelon and Ashdod and c) the recent deployment of the missile defence shield, the ‘Iron Dome’ has meant a number of rockets are now being successfully shot out of the sky.

Still last night at 4 am the air-raid siren here kicked into life, warning of an incoming rocket. Given the proximity to Gaza you then have less than a minute before the rockets hits. Normally they fall into open fields but every once in a while they hit a building resulting in smashed houses, severe injuries and the occasional death. So far in the last 3 days a number of houses have been hit, scores injured and a single death. Thankfully for us it was only a false alarm… especially since I slept through the whole thing and first heard about it over the breakfast table.

Fortunately here in the middle of the Negev desert there is really nothing to worry about with regards to incoming rockets. But every once in a while you hear a distant thud and you wonder how many innocent civilians, Israelis and Palestinians, are being caught up in the belligerents’ mindless ‘rocketeering’. It’s a horrible way to live and in any other country it would be far bigger deal. However here, sandwiched between hostile entities, Israel has managed to normalise this eternal conflict in a way that continues to baffle me…

Here below is a copy of fridge magnet stuck on many a fridge door up and down the land. It indicates the response times you have for incoming rockets from Gaza or Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon.  Only 60 seconds here in the kibbutz, but a whole 3 minutes in Jerusalem. That said I’m still quite clueless as to what to do and where to go if and when the alarm goes off again. Perhaps better to just sleep through it all and hope for the best…

 

 

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Israel’s Call for Change

Here’s a better (and more visually appealing) description of what I was trying to explain in my previous post about the spate of demonstrations unleashed across Israel this summer by CNN’s Middle East correspondent Kevin Flower – who, by the by, I saw give a very interesting Q&A at Hebrew University earlier this year where he did a very good job of trying to persuade a tough audience that the foreign media does not have an inherently anti-Israel bias

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2011 in Domestic Israeli News

 

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A Summer of Discontent

In the space of a couple of days last week I attended two protests in central Jerusalem; one evening the annual gay pride parade followed a couple of days later by the even larger housing demonstration.

Yes, it’s the summer of discontent for sure.

I am not sure how much the news of these latter protests have reached the wider world but here in Israel the sights and sounds of chanting students alongside tented villages has become all-pervading.

The cause: initially it was the issue of rising housing costs that face students and young people that had protesters erecting tented villages along Tel Aviv’s main boulevard and in parks and squares in other cities. As the number of tents multiplied their grievances began to touch upon wider issues of social justice. And now a day doesn’t go past without a myriad of other single-issue demonstrations tagging themselves onto the protests. It’s not entirely surprising as Israeli society has become increasingly unequal and unfair despite its strong economy and low unemployment levels (Israel’s Economic Miracle (or is it…?). For all the bravado that successive Israeli government have put on about the state of the Israeli economy and the dynamism of its hi-tech sector it has been failed miserably in addressing the societal inequalities that have steadily built up over a generation. As is happening across Europe and North America there is a sudden realisation that the young generation today are going to be worse off than the generation before them.

No one really knows where this is going and how long it can last. The government is unlikely to cave in as none of the coalition parties have anything to gain from jumping ship and the central-left parties are still too disorganised to gain any advantage – besides elections are still a year and a half away. Then there is the spectre of a September show-down as the Palestinians push for statehood at the United Nations; not to mention the possibility of rocket attacks from Lebanon or Gaza and whatever other security threats may exist.

Life here is definitely hotting up (as is the weather)…

 
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Posted by on August 4, 2011 in Domestic Israeli News, Jerusalem

 

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