Former Israeli negotiator speaks on Mideast peace

    Israeli Parliament member Avshalom Vilan discussed the “”Prospects for Peace”” between Israelis and Palestinians in the final installment of a weeklong Israel lecture series sponsored by the San Diego Israel Public Affairs Committee.

    Lyon Liew
    Guardian

    Vilan is a member of the left-of-center Meretz party in the Knesset, or Israeli Parliament.

    His close relationship with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak made him a prominent figure in the peace process and a key negotiator with the Palestinians.

    “”It’s fantastic to have someone who was at Camp David — a first-hand authority who negotiated with the Palestinians,”” said attendee Nimrod Pitsker.

    When Israel was created, “”the first and most important aim was to create a Jewish state, to create a Jewish majority and to create a real democracy,”” Vilan said.

    But now, because of the higher average birthrate of Palestinians compared to Jews, Palestinians are expected to become the majority ethnic group by 2011.

    “”We must find a solution now,”” Vilan said.

    He maintained that there is no military solution to the conflict.

    “”Even right-wing parties know today there is no way to continue controlling 3.5 million Palestinians,”” he said. “”But the problem is all proposals put on the table are rejected.””

    Vilan mentioned a suggestion by former President Clinton to raise the standard of living for Palestinians, which has fallen under the current intifada, which is Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation.

    Clinton’s proposal was to establish a foundation with $2 billion donated yearly by the wealthy nations of the world. The foundation would pay for new houses for refugees along the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

    Since the latest intifada, annual per capita income in the Palestinian Authority has fallen from $2,200 to around $1,000, according to Vilan. During the same period, the unemployment rate has risen from 10 percent to over 50 percent.

    “”[The Palestinians] are paying, in standard of living, a very heavy price,”” Vilan said.

    More than 250 Israelis and over 1,000 Palestinians have been killed since the beginning of the new intifada, he said.

    An audience member asked if the Palestinian attacks were not entirely unprovoked.

    It was a mistake for Ariel Sharon to visit the Temple Mount, Vilan admitted.

    “”It’s true [Israelis] made many mistakes and many provocations, but I don’t think by using terror against citizens you can achieve something,”” he said.

    “”[Israelis and Americans] focus so much on Palestinian terror, when they have the overwhelming power to effect change in that region,”” said audience member Byron Didat. “”[Vilan] is a typical politician, whether American, Israeli or Palestinian.””

    Audience members also asked questions.

    “”At what point is Israel willing to evacuate settlements unilaterally?”” Pitsker said.

    Israel is unlikely to withdraw unilaterally, Vilan said, because it would be taken as a sign of weakness. When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon, it seemed as if 600 Lebanese fighters had succeeded against the Israeli army, Vilan said.

    “”I don’t see us evacuating over 100 settlements without an agreement [with the Palestinians],”” Vilan said.

    Sandipac member Shira Landau described an earlier conversation with a Muslim on campus.

    “”She said, ‘my people will die and continue to die until the Palestinian people are liberated,'”” Landau said.

    “”In San Diego, it’s very easy to be an extremist,”” Vilan said. “”In Palestine, Hamas and Jihad are minorities — the majority is Palestine Liberation Organization.””

    The PLO is an umbrella coalition of several Palestinian nationalist groups.

    “”One of the good points [Vilan] made was the only thing you can do is to have hope for the future,”” Landau said. “”He recognizes that there’s extremists, but the majority of Palestinians want peace.””

    The lecture concluded a week of Israel-related lectures and film screenings.

    “”I was really impressed with what happened this week,”” Landau said. “”We wanted to present a different side of Israel that we don’t see on the Fox News bites that last for two seconds. It was a wonderful example of what can be accomplished when we listen to each other and be receptive.””

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