Middle East Conflict

A New Initiative for Palestinian-Israeli Dialogue

"Yes to the Accord!" was the slogan of an ambitious media campaign that was initiated one year after the signing of the Geneva Accord by Palestinian and Israeli politicians hoping to end the Middle East conflict. Igal Avidan reports

www.geneva-accord.de
Israeli activists attaching stickers with peace slogans to the wall

​​Former Israeli Justice Minister Yossi Beilin gazed into the camera and addressed Palestinian viewers. "We are people and you are people. We are furious and you are as well." The camera then closed in on his face. "The time has come for us to sit together at the table and declare that we can only live here together, side by side. You are our partners."

Saeb Erakat, the main Palestinian negotiator in the Palestinian-Israeli talks, explained to Israelis that the matter was quite simple. "Either we both win or we lose together." Then he raised his voice. "The view that you do not have any negotiating partners is the greatest of lies. We, the Palestinian leadership, are your partners, and we are committed to peace and a 'two-state solution,' which is a real possibility."

Since the beginning of December 2004, one year after the signing of the Geneva Accord in which Israelis and Palestinians worked out a framework for a final agreement, the same activists launched a media campaign entitled "Yes to the Accord." Six Palestinian and seven Israeli politicians appear before the camera.

Political advertising from both sides of the divide

On the Israeli side are Yossi Beilin, one of the architects of the Geneva Initiative, former Parliamentary Speaker Avraham Burg, Ex-Minister Yuli Tamir, Yael Dayan, the Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Labor Party Member of Parliament Amram Mitzna, and the Reserve Generals Giora Inbar and Shaul Arieli.

Appealing to the Israelis are the former Palestinian Information Minister Yasser Abed Rabbo, Minister Kadoura Fares, Jibril Rajoub, the security advisor to the Palestinian Authority, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, Minister for Women's Affairs Zahira Kamal, and Abed al Kader al Husseini, the director of the Feisal Husseini Foundation.

They all sit together in an oriental living room. Each participant attempts to convince the opposing side that they are reliable negotiating partners for a peace agreement. For the first time, the seventh Palestinian, the legislator Mohammed Horani, has been denied permission to travel to Jerusalem.

"I am a Jew. I love my religion, my God, and my culture," said Burg. "I don't want you to think that Judaism consists merely of checkpoints, settlements, walls, and occupation." Abed Rabbo spoke of children's anxieties caused by exploding buses and bombs. "We can protect Israeli and Palestinian children," he said, and then added, "but the basis of this security can only be a mutually recognized peace."

Restrained optimism

After the death of Yasser Arafat, the project has taken on an even greater relevance, says Dror Sternschuss, the Israeli campaign manager. Project participants take the anxieties of both peoples very seriously. In the TV spots, Palestinians attempt to dispel Israeli fears that Israel's right to exist is called into question.

The Israelis, on their part, speak of the necessity of ending the occupation. Both sides endeavor to overcome the "mantra of the Sharon government" that Israel has no Palestinian partners, explains Elias Zananiri, the Palestinian director of the Geneva Initiative.

The new spots are being broadcast on twelve private television stations on the West Bank, and this is seen as a sign of reserved optimism before the elections and the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip. "Six months ago, these spots provoked some very severe responses," said Tariq Jabara, director of the television station in the city of Qalqilyah. A television station in Ramallah had to stop the broadcasts at short notice after militants caused damage to the station.

A different mood was prevalent in the Palestinian territories by the beginning of December. Stations, initially intimidated due to hostage takings of Palestinians by extremists and militants in the previous four years of the Intifada, began to participate in the initiative, said Zananiri. He believes that after the mourning period for Arafat and the elections for president in the middle of January, even Palestinian State Television and the satellite channel Al Arabiya will start to run the advertisements.

Turning point after Arafat's death

The fact that the campaign began shortly after the death of Arafat has upset a number of Palestinians who weren't prepared to hear anything other than eulogies for their deceased President. Here, the Internet isn't a viable alternative to presenting the spots, as there is a lack of necessary technical facilities in the Palestinian territories.

Israelis can see the Palestinian politicians in 200 cinemas. "This way we can reestablish their legitimacy and provide them with a positive image," said Sternschuss. The Israeli television broadcasting law prohibits political advertising, however some 75,000 Israelis have already seen the spots on the Internet. The response was overwhelmingly positive, but there was also some criticism, as we weren't able to ignore issues of conflict."

The 200,000-dollar campaign has been financed exclusively through European donations – primarily by the Swedish government. The video spots will be shown until the end of February. The initiators are hoping that this will result in more support for a final agreement. Afterwards, opinion polls will indicate whether further clips will be produced featuring students, mayors, and union activists.

Igal Avidan

© Qantara.de 2005

Translation from German: John Bergeron

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