IPCRI Co-Directors Meet with Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Mr. Ehud Olmert
On Friday morning, July 9, 2004 IPCRI Co-Directors Dr. Gershon Baskin and Dr. Zakaria al Qaq conducted a policy briefing meeting with Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The main subjects of the meeting concerned the Israeli disengagement plans from Gaza and the Northern West Bank and IPCRI’s proposed contribution towards the political re-engagement of a direct Israeli-Palestinian bilateral internationally assisted political process.
The IPCRI Directors presented to Mr. Olmert the many efforts that are currently being undertaken by IPCRI’s Strategic Affairs Unit of convening 12 joint strategic policy planning teams working on rehabilitating an Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Mr. Olmert expressed his interest in this work and requested to receive all coherent policy papers on these subjects as they are developed. Mr. Olmert was briefed on the 12 teams (political, security, economics, economics-security, Jerusalem, water, environment, agriculture, Culture of Peace, Media, Human Rights, and border regimes-disengagement). IPCRI invited Mr. Olmert to speak at the November Notre Dame Policy Conference on “Breaking the Impasse – Learning from the Past, Looking at the Present and Shaping the Future”. The IPCRI Directors explained that this conference aims to create an opportunity for positive and constructive Israeli-Palestinian dialogue creating a new kind of discourse between the sides towards the resumption of cooperation and coordination in rebuilding peace. Mr. Olmert left open the possibility that he would participate in the conference.
Mr. Olmert stressed that in his view the Israeli disengagement plan is an opportunity for the two sides to end the violence and to resume a process that could lead to further advances towards peace. From IPCRI’s point of view, the directors stated that the best way to ensure the success of the Israeli disengagement is to begin now to coordinate and cooperate with the Palestinian Authority on the full transference of governance and territory and to ensure that the disengagement in Gaza is linked to further coordinated disengagements from the West Bank. The IPCRI directors emphasized that this is the primary aim and focus of the IPCRI strategic teams. These teams are working on plans and proposals for the rebuilding of cooperation and coordination in every field possible – from both the “bottom-up” as well as the “top-down”.
On the subject of economic cooperation and coordination, Mr. Olmert emphasized that he believes that the Palestinians must not rely on building their economy based on labor in Israel, though he stated firmly that there is a lot of room for economic cooperation between the two parties for the benefit of both peoples. The IPCRI directors stated that in the short run there is no replacement for exporting Palestinian labor to Israel and that it is necessary to design mechanisms that can ensure security for Israel and enable the Palestinian economy to survive and prosper. IPCRI informed Mr. Olmert that this is one of the subjects being worked on in the Strategic Affairs Unit.
Lastly, the IPCRI Directors raised the issue of logistical problems involved in convening Israeli-Palestinian meetings inside of Israel and outside of the country. Since May 2004, the Israeli security services have prevented Palestinians from traveling abroad through Ben Gurion Airport. IPCRI maintains that without the possibility of flying out of Ben Gurion airport there is almost no possibility of convening regular meetings between working groups of Israelis and Palestinians. Next week IPCRI is convening encounter meetings between some 270 Israeli and Palestinian educators and in September there will be the third round of meetings for the twelve Strategic teams. Mr. Olmert promised to speak with the security officials and to recommend adjusting the current policy so that Israelis and Palestinians flying together to convene joint meeting abroad will be able to continue to do so via Ben Gurion airport.