The following is just in from our khaver, Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal:
On Tuesday, September 26th, members of the Israeli Peace/NGO forum representing about 60 Israeli peace and human rights organizations, including Israeli representatives of joint Israeli-Palestinian organizations, met with Defense Minister Amir Peretz in Tel Aviv.
The reports which appeared in the Israeli print and electronic media ignored the most important potentially constructive outcome of the meeting: Peretz agreed that a regular channel of communication, he called it a “mechanism,” will be created between a small forum representing the Israeli PeaceNGO community and the Defense Ministry. This would enable the Israeli Peace/NGOs to raise specific issues of concern, such as the question of human rights violations, permits, checkpoints, crossings, the removal of the outposts, behavior of the settlers and IDF soldiers, etc.
The steering committee of the Israeli Peace/NGO forum will follow this up by deciding how to implement this idea, in communication with Peretz’s aides at the Defense Ministry. The essence of the proposal is its potential. The question, of course, is whether it will be seriously carried out, and whether such communication can help create real change on the ground.
In a brief follow-up meeting on the spot, Galia Golan also suggested that this mechanism also be used to discuss and promote ideas connected to the peace process.
The meeting itself was quite (understandably) tense. Although it was called for 5 p.m., Peretz arrived at about 6 p.m., though he did stay till almost 7. Difficult negotiations were held with Peretz’s aides about the format, and in the end they agreed that the encounter would be opened by Ron Pundak, followed by two presentations by representatives of the Peace/NGOs, followed by a response/speech by Peretz. It was agreed that the war would not be dealt with in the encounter, and Peretz did not accept that there be five initial presentations, or that there be any follow-up questions, answers or discussion.
Peretz was defensive throughout the meeting, and the essence of his presentation appeared in the Israeli Hebrew language media, including comments about the Kassams, the need to combat terror, etc. He seemed to have adopted security thought patterns in his presentation. He did clearly state that the ultimate solution has to be a political one, and that he is in favor of resuming talks with Abu Mazen. He also said that the Defense Ministry would not allow this year’s olive harvest to be violated by the settlers.
I would add that the people who appeared to a be most angry at Peretz were the ones who voted for him. Perhaps the rest of us had fewer expectations, though Peretz clearly knew that he was facing an audience which he had disappointed. The fact that he came, and agreed to set up “the mechanism” of communication, was a sign that he is at least trying to reach out to the peace camp.
P.S. It turns out that while Peretz was giving less than an hour to the Peace/NGOs, Prime Minister Olmert devoted seven full hours to a discussion with the settler leaders of the national religious Zionist movement.
Wishing an easy fast to those who do and G’mar khatima tova (to finish with a good decree)- Ed.