In June the Duke of Cambridge – the first senior member of the royal family to make an official visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories – was asked by Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin to take a “message of peace” to the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Mr Rivlin has made a point of reaching out to Israel’s Arab minority, saying that they form a “bridge to peaceful coexistence” with the Palestinians. He is a popular figure who enjoys cross-party support though his outspoken opinions have led to a series of disputes with key figures in the Israeli government.
He said to Prince William: “I would like you to send him a message of peace. And tell him it is about time that we have to find together a way to build confidence.
“To build confidence as a first step to bring to an understanding that we have to bring to an end the tragedy between us that goes along for more than 120 years.”
William said in a speech at the British embassy in Tel Aviv: “Never has hope and reconciliation been more needed. I know I share a desire with all of you, and with your neighbours, for a just and lasting peace.”
Uri Avnery, who died in October, was described in a Haaretz obituary as one of the first Israelis to extend a hand to the Arab minority.
He co-founded Gush Shalom (Hebrew for the Peace Bloc), a pressure group and published an English-language version of the column titled “Who the Hell Are We?” The group advocates the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 war, and describes itself as “the hard core of the Israeli peace movement.”
After fighting as a commando in Israel’s 1948 war of independence and being seriously wounded, he emerged with a conviction that the new Jewish state was part of the Middle East, not the West, and needed to live in peace with its Arab neighbours.
He was one of the first proponents of the “two-state solution”, with Israel and Palestine existing side by side with open borders and Jerusalem as their joint capital, which would become the basis of peace negotiations decades later: “The war totally convinced me there’s a Palestinian people, and that peace must be forged first and foremost with them. To achieve that goal, a Palestinian nation-state had to be established.”
In July 1982, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, he crossed the front lines in besieged Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel’s arch-enemy. It was allegedly the first time that Arafat had met an Israeli. They talked for more than two hours, filmed by a German television crew. Avnery joked that the unmarried PLO leader could solve the Middle East conflict in an instant by marrying an Israeli woman.
He then returned to Israel to face the inevitable accusations of treason. Even his mother disowned him, cutting him out of her will and complaining: “He did not take care of me and instead went off to visit the murderer Yasser Arafat.”
- He exposed atrocities by Israeli soldiers.
- After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war Avnery urged Israel to withdraw from the territories it had gained and set up a Palestinian state.
- In 1975 he co-founded the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace.
- He acted as a “human shield” to prevent the Israel military shelling Arafat’s headquarters in Ramallah during the second Intifada.
- In 1965 Avnery created a political party in response to a defamation law that appeared to target HaOlam HaZeh. He won a seat in the Knesset that year and held it four years later, but the party disintegrated. He wrote a book about his tenure called 1 against 119: Uri Avnery in the Knesset.
- Later Avnery developed secret relationships with some Palestinian officials and served on occasion as an unofficial back channel between them and the Israeli government.
- He was one of a handful of Israelis to attend Arafat’s funeral in 2004.
- He supported negotiations with the militant Palestinian organisation Hamas and a boycott of goods produced in Israel’s West Bank settlements.
His estate is bequeathed to peace activism.
Pope Francis welcomed the Palestinian leader, President Mahmoud Abbas, to a private audience in the Vatican on December 3rd.
In a statement released after their meeting, the Vatican said the two leaders focused on “efforts to reactivate the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, and to reach a two-state solution, hoping for a renewed commitment on the part of the international community to meet the legitimate aspirations of both peoples.”
They exchanged gifts and discussed the status of Jerusalem, underlining “the importance of recognizing and preserving its identity and the universal value of the holy city for the three Abrahamic religions.
Writer Amos Oz was one of the first Israelis to advocate a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict after the Six-Day War.
In 1978, he was one of the founders of Peace Now. He is opposed to Israeli settlement activity and was among the first to praise the Oslo Accords and talks with the PLO. His thoughtful book How to cure a fanatic is a collection of Amos Oz’s lectures on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Read more here.
“The Palestinians are in Palestine because Palestine is the homeland and the only homeland of the Palestinian people. In the same way in which Holland is the homeland of the Dutch, or Sweden the homeland of the Swedes.
“The Israeli Jews are in Israel because there is no other country in the world which the Jews, as a people, as a nation, could ever call home. As individuals, yes, but not as a people, not as a nation.”
He draws a parallel between the experience of the Palestinian people and the experience of the Jews, stressing that both claims to Palestine are justified and right. Accordingly he concludes “What we need is a painful compromise.”