In new ads, Palestinians try to sway Israeli public on peace plan
On Hebrew language billboards and newspaper ads, the Palestinian Authority promotes an Arab peace initiative to skeptical Israelis.
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Part of what's driving the campaign, Ms. Barghouthi says, are concerns that following the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama – and soon afterward, a new Israeli government here – Israel will put any peacemaking energies into reaching a deal with Syria and leave the Palestinian issue in the dust.Skip to next paragraph
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"Peace cannot take place in the region without solving the Palestinian issue," adds Barghouti. "We wanted to get our voices heard by the Israelis that if you want peace, you have to take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into consideration, first and foremost. We hope it will have an impact on upcoming elections in Israel."
But Hani el-Masri, a leading columnist in the Al-Ayyam newspaper, says the whole idea was ill-conceived. "The issue is not an issue of public relations. Israel is an occupying state which thinks it can impose its decisions on the Palestinians," he says.
"There is a Palestinian group that believes we are very close to reaching an agreement with the Israelis, and they believe that appealing to the public and holding all these meetings, conferences, and workshops will make it happen," he says. "This group believes that if Benjamin Netanyahu wins, it is disastrous, and this is what sparked this campaign."
Mr. Masri warns that such a strategy could push Israelis further to the right. "I think it will backfire. The problem is not lack of knowledge. The Arab initiative is clear and can be summarized easily: complete Israeli withdrawal for complete peace." The plan stipulates that if Israel pulls out of the territories it occupied in 1967 and allows for the creation of a Palestinian state, all members of the Arab League will recognize Israel. An earlier version of this plan was proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002.
"It's a futile exercise, because Israel is not interested in this initiative," says Masri. "The number of Israeli supporters of this initiative is tiny, and most of the people in positions of leadership are against it. Meanwhile, the popularity of Netanyahu has risen since this campaign began."
One poll, released last week by Israel's Channel 2 TV station, showed that if elections were held today, right-wing Likud – led by Mr. Netanyahu – would win 32 seats in the 120-member Knesset, or parliament, while the centrist governing Kadima Party would get 26.
"We will not be happy if Netanyahu is elected, because his positions and announcements tell us that he's not exactly interested in peace," says Bassem Salhi, a senior official in the Palestine People's Party. "But our main goal [with the campaign] was that we don't want Arab countries to go directly into talks with Israel before ending the occupation."