Palestinian Prime Minister Rejects Violence in Meeting with American Jewish Leaders

Palestinian Prime Minister Rejects Violence in Meeting with American Jewish Leaders
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Published September 22nd, 2010 - 07:06 GMT

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Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, in a meeting with American Jewish leaders, said he rejected violence and would try to eliminate incitement against Israelis to help speed the inevitable creation of a Palestinian state.

Photo by David Neff
Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad with TIP President Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi

In an unprecedented question and answer session organized by The Israel Project at a private home in Manhattan, Fayyad said violence “has to be dealt out of the equation permanently regardless of what happens in the peace process.” Security, he said, was a vital interest both for Israelis and Palestinians and those who used violence to advance their agendas needed to be prosecuted and punished through due process.

Fayyad criticized Israeli military incursions into territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority which he said weakened his government’s credibility at a time when it was working hard to improve the lives of Palestinians, including those living in refugee camps, and moving closer to the goal of achieving economic self-sufficiency by 2013.

Around 65 business, religious and community leaders attended the gathering and the conversations continued informally over dinner.

Israeli and Palestinian leaders resumed direct peace negotiations earlier this month after a 20-month hiatus. Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas committed themselves to trying to reach a final agreement within a year if possible.

Fayyad declined to discuss final status issues such as the Palestinian “right of return” but rejected Netanyahu’s demand to station Israeli troops along the eastern border of a future Palestinian state with Jordan as incompatible with true sovereignty.

“The occupation is not going to end overnight but signs of it ending are very important,” he said. “We need to continue to create better conditions on the ground, consistent with the ultimate emergence, the inevitable emergence of the state of Palestine,” he said.

Abbas met around 50 Jewish leaders on Tuesday evening at a separate event hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.

Asked about continuing incitement in the West Bank against Israel and Jews in school text books and in the media, Fayyad said his government was committed to an “incitement-free environment.”

“I don’t think one can ever say that we have done everything that could possibly be done … but we are trying,” Fayyad said. “Incitement is a problem and we see it as such.” He stressed that using places of worship to whip up hatred was particularly inadmissible.

But given the bitter history between the two peoples, it was natural that some should look backward instead of forward. One of the tasks of leaders on both sides was to make the benefits of peace tangible to people, building from the bottom up, creating a sense of hope about the future.

Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project (TIP), called the meeting “historic” and said TIP was honored to host it.

“Prime Minister Fayyad’s spirit of hope was extremely welcome. We know that some people will criticize us for falling for a Palestinian ‘charm offensive.’ However, there is nothing offensive about charm. More Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians, should sit together over dinner and exchange ideas -- especially when it can help lead to security and peace,” Mizrahi said.

Returning to the issue of violence, Fayyad said: “There is no question as to the way we view this as (being) much a Palestinian interest as an Israeli one.”

“We’re not doing anyone a favor but ourselves and that is the highest form of insurance I can give to anyone on anything.”

Among the attendees were Michael Gelman, chair of the executive committee of the board of the Jewish Federations of North America who is a TIP chairman emeritus and current board member; Misha Galperin, a senior official at the Jewish Agency; Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism; David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee; and Andrew Tisch, chairman of Loews Corp.

Dr. Ziad Asali, president and founder of the American Task Force on Palestine, joined Fayyad in circulating among the guests discussing concerns about the current situation in the region.

The Israel Project is a non-profit educational organization that provides information about Israel and the Middle East to the media, officials and the public. Among its activities, TIP runs a unique Arabic program which provides information about Israel to the Arab world.

On Monday in Jerusalem, TIP hosted a news conference with Deputy Israeli Prime Minister Dan Meridor. The following day, it organized two tours for journalists, in Arabic and English, to the West Bank. On Wednesday, former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations Gabriela Shalev will address a TIP news conference in New York.

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