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Idan Ofer leads peace delegation to Ramallah

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Friday, May 6th, 2011

As reported in Globes.co.il: The former Israel Corp. chairman met PA President Mahmoud Abbas who conveyed a message to the Israeli government.

Idan Ofer, the former chairman of Israel Corporation met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen) at the Mukataa in Ramallah today, at Abbas’s request. Ofer is part of a delegation of Israel Initiates (“Yisrael Yozemet”), an organization set up to promote regional peace.The meeting follows Abbas’s recent statement that he was prepared to forego asking the UN General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state in September if peace talks with Israel are resumed on the basis of an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines.

Ofer was joined by former IDF chief of staff Amnon Lipkin-Shahak, Former director of the Mossad Danny Yatom, and NICE Systems Ltd.  CEO Koby Huberman, Adina Bar Shalom, the daughter of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Ministry of Foreign Affairs director general Dr. Alon Liel, Prof. Aliza Shenhar, and Prof. Eva Berger.

The Palestinian side was represented by, besides Abbas, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, and Jibril Rajoub. Yatom pointed out during the meeting that whereas Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to meet the Israel Initiates group, Mahmoud Abbas had invited them of his own accord.

Abbas took advantage of the meeting to convey a message to Netanyahu, who called on him yesterday to choose between Hamas and Israel. “Hamas is part of the Palestinian people,” Abbas said, “Whether you, Netanyahu, agree with them or not, they are part of our people, and you, Netanyahu, are our partner. We will not choose, we want both.” Abbas added that the one who needed to make a choice was Netanyahu. “You, Netanyahu, have to choose between settlements and peace. We are not asking to move the settlements, but to freeze Israel’s activity there and to give negotiations a chance.”

The meeting was arranged several days ago, after Abbas’s recent statement that he was ready to forego an approach to the UN in September if diplomatic negotiations resumed on the basis of Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines. However, yesterday evening, after the announcement of the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, which caught Israel by surprise, the Israel Initiates people feared that the meeting might be cancelled. After a few hours of uncertainty on the Israeli side, Abbas’s staff confirmed that it would take place as planned. The possibility of cancelling the meeting also occurred to the Israeli group. Yatom said he felt doubts, but explained that Israeli had to talk with the unified government, and not just with one faction.

“We hope that this initiative, together with the Arab initiative, will give impetus to the peace process and bring about a happy ending and the setting up of two states for two peoples, with Palestine an independent state existing alongside Israel,” Abbas told the Israeli Initiates group. “The solution is negotiations, we have no other possibility, but if that fails to come about, there will be no choice, and therefore we decided to appeal to the UN. The UN is a neutral organization. We are not taking action alone, but are seeking the world’s help in finding a solution. If, tomorrow, there are genuine, serious negotiations, there will be no need for a UN resolution on founding a Palestinian state. If there is an alternative, we will prefer it.”

In an attempt to dispel the uncertainty, Abbas declared that, despite the setting up of the joint government, there would be no change in policy. “The government was formed with the aim of making progress on two matters: the rehabilitation of Gaza, and preparations for elections the authority, the parliament, and the presidency.” Referring to Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held in captivity in Gaza, Abbas added “All political matters remain under my authority, and there will be no change in my policy. We believe in peace.” Abbas expressed sympathy for Shalit’s plight, but called on the Israeli government to free some of the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Idan Ofer said in his opening remarks that he decided to join the initiative because he believed in an economic peace that would lead to fewer wars in the future. “Every time I come to the West Bank, I see the rapid development, the enthusiasm of the Palestinian people to do more. It’s no secret that big money is being poured in by Qatar and other countries to build up the West Bank,” he said.

Ofer said Israel could be involved in many joint initiatives with the Palestinians. “We can be involved in many projects here, in water, gas, and industry. As a businessman, I do everything possible to improve relations between my companies and Palestinian companies.” He told how Israel Corporation, which he controls, is the only Israeli company with a bank account in Ramallah. “I feel like a pioneer,” he said.

Ofer spoke about a joint project he promoted with Palestinian business people in which he invited 30 Palestinian students for a one-day visit to Israel. “These 21-year olds had never seen the sea, and had never been in Israel. At the end of the day they smiled and said they had seen another side of Israel, and not what they had imagined from the stories they heard,” Ofer related proudly.

The Israel Initiates organization is calling on the Israeli government to initiate measures that will ensure Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, its security and prosperity and normal relations with the Arab and Islamic world, rather than merely react to events. More than 70 Israeli economic, defense, education, communications, diplomatic, and educational leaders have signed the initiative.

In early April, Ofer held a press conference to present the plan. He warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that unless Israel acted to prevent a unilateral declaration of independence by Palestine at the UN, Israeli business and companies would be severely harmed. “People don’t see the economic side of the catastrophe that is bearing down on us,” Ofer said at a press conference today in Tel Aviv.