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Grassroots Peacemakers
Ami Ayalon and Sari Nusseibeh

Grassroots Peacemakers

Israeli and Palestinian adversaries seek reconciliation and co-existence

Admiral (ret.) Ami Ayalon headed Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, from 1996 to 2000. Before that he was Commander-in-Chief of the Israeli Navy. Professor Sari Nusseibeh is President of Al Quds University and Palestinian Authority Commissioner for Jerusalem. Last June they launched the People’s Voice campaign which is circulating a peace petition to Palestinians and Israelis, asking their leaders to end the armed conflict between the two peoples. So far the petition has over 300,000 signatures. Ayalon and Nusseibeh presented their project in a recent meeting at UCLA.

“We’re trying to get the respective leaderships on the two sides to focus on the final status issues directly,” said Nusseibeh. “We hope that if we’re able to develop a critical mass of people on both sides, it will be possible to impact the formal political players.” He said he and Ayalon feel that if the implementation of a two-state solution is delayed much longer, “what we will end up with is a single state, probably for many years undemocratic, maybe never democratic, we’re not sure.”

Ayalon recalled a transformative experience in which a Palestinian friend in London claimed, “Ami, we finally won, we Palestinians.” “I told him, ‘How come you won? You’ve lost so many people, you’re losing your state, you’re losing your dream of having an independent state. What is the meaning of victory?’ And he told me, ‘You don’t understand. Victory for us is to see you suffer. In the last fifty years we were the only ones who suffered, and finally we aren’t the only ones. We achieved a balance of power. Your F-16 versus our suicide bomber. This is victory for us.’ So I came to the conclusion that the leadership on both sides has lost control. It’s up to us to show our leaders the way, because the leaders have become followers.”

After their remarks, Nusseibeh was asked how he could agree to waive the right of Palestinians to return to the land they left in 1948.’“We have two rights,” he said. “We have the right of return, in my opinion, but we also have the right to live in freedom and independence. And very often in life one has to forego the implementation of one right in order to be able to implement the other rights.”

Ayalon was asked how the Jewish settlements in the West Bank could be dismantled. “It will be very painful,” he said. “We’ll be very close to something which I’m afraid to call a civil war, but it will not be far from it.” He said that Israel is now deeply divided between supporters and opponents of the settlers. “So it is up to us to bring them back home. It is up to us to build them homes, create jobs, etc.”

Nusseibeh urged Palestinians and Jews in America not to replicate the conflict in the Middle East. “Clearly there are differences between the Jews and the Palestinians that can never be resolved. We can go on fighting forever, and it is easy to go on fighting. It is extremely hard to try to build peace. By building peace you have to take in a lot of pain. You have to make a lot of compromises.”

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