IPCRI In The News

From Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, March 13, 2003

Abu Mazen's test

With Arafat breathing down his neck and Sharon flanking him, Abu Mazen will need to take a deep breath to bring the situation back to where it was before October 2000. His first test of the balance of power between the new premier and the old president, will be the appointment of a new interior minister. Abu Mazen doesn't hide his desire to get rid of the current interior minister, Hanni el Hassan, who is considered an Arafat loyalist. Hassan doesn't hide his disappointment that Arafat didn't name him as prime minister.

His second test will be imposing an end to the violence against Israel in exchange for renewal of dialogue with it. Practically from the start of the intifada, Abu Mazen has not hidden his negative view of the use of force to achieve political goals. Since Oslo and the Yossi Belin-Abu Mazen talks, the refugee from Safed has not ceased believing that the negotiating table is for talking around and not throwing around.

A member of the old generation, Abu Mazen was imposed on Arafat by the middle generation of Mohammed Dahlan and the Fatah youths. They all agree the intifada has done its bit and can be done with. They also agree that the intifada's greatest damage to the Palestinian cause was the dissolution of the Israeli peace camp and they believe that the rehabilitation of the Israeli peace camp is an important step on the way to a Palestinian state.

Even in the bloodiest days of the intifada, Abu Mazen kept his channels open to Israelis. His experts, mostly lawyers who prepared working papers for the talks with Ehud Barak's administration, kept working under fire. Former defense minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer filled in Abu Mazen on his peace plan from last May, before the Labor primaries, and Abu Mazen encouraged Yasser Abed Rabo, who is not one of his favorites, to keep meeting with Yossi Beilin, whose Economic Cooperation Foundation holds ongoing meetings with Camp David and Taba alumni from the Palestinian Authority.

Amram Mitzna's refusal to join the Sharon government gave the Palestinians back the hope there is someone to talk to on the Israeli side. Peres' departure from the government, even if it was forced upon him, gave back the Peres Center's lost honor among the Palestinian neighbors and the donors from Europe. The center's director, Ron Pundak, who once said Peres had become a burden to the center, now points proudly to a new flowering of its activities. Other peace groups, like the Israel Palestine Committee for Research and Information, the Middle East Children Project, the Nusseibeh-Ayalon group, Adam, the human rights group, the Truman Center's peace project, and other organizations are all reporting hunger on the Palestinian side for talks with Israelis.

Peres' work

The Peres Center conducts a broad range of activity through working groups and forums. There's the Gilo-Beit Jalla dialogue and the Jerusalem forum, headed by Jerusalem city councillor Yehoram Gaon and Al Quds University president Sari Nusseibeh. The center brings together young political leaders from both sides, and holds mayors meetings, with the latest in Rome in mid-December 2002. Last November, a forum of peace and dialogue groups met in Rome; farmers met in Jordan recently, and youth groups met in Oslo and Malta. Diplomats met in October 2002, and students in November 2002 met in Tel Aviv, with Gaza's Movement for National Change.

Businessmen met in Istanbul with the cooperation of the Industry Ministry and the Israel Chambers of Commerce, while economists met in France in October 2002. Senior officials and academics from Ben-Gurion University have met, and there have been theater and film meetings with the cooperation of Adam - in January a 100-seminar series began. There was a journalists' meeting in Berlin in December and a joint football team, the Peace Team, played an exhibition game last October.

The Peres Center has instituted cooperation between Hadassah University Hospital and the premature infant ward at the Red Crescent's Women's Hospital in Gaza, and the center is working on a cancer ward at Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem. The center initiated a team from TAU and Al Quds University to work together on a nutrition project, with 20 doctors and teachers from the West Bank, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The team has already held joint trips and working sessions at Sheba Medical Center and the TAU medical school.

IPCRI also conducts working sessions, trying to hammer out working models for solutions for five issues: arrangements in Jerusalem, water, economic relations and agriculture, third party intervention, and monitoring the situation on the ground. They also plan a working group on the "road map" and one for business people. IPCRI is also very active on the Internet. Due to travel restrictions, their school-to-school projects have moved their activities to the `net.