An important event took place in Ramallah on Saturday, the 28th. Three hundred personalities, half of them Palestinians, half of them Israelis, took part in the founding conference of the first wholly integrated joint peace organization - the Joint Israeli-Palestinian Action Group for Peace.
This followed the publication, two months ago, of a joint political statement signed by 1500 Palestinian and Israeli personalities.
The occupation forces tried to prevent the Israelis from reaching Ramallah, some of them had to walk two kilometers in the heat to evade the checkpoints.
I was invited to give one of the keynote speeches. I would like - however immodestly - to publish it here in full:
Today we come together, Israelis and Palestinians, Palestinians and Israelis, to create something completely new: a Joint Action Group for peace.
Not for a hudna (truce), not for some temporary compromise, not just another little step in an endless step-by-step process, but for a real peace, for a just peace, for a peace with dignity, for a peace between equals.
What we are trying to do is completely new. We do not want to set up just another framework for cooperation between enemies, but a completely integrated task force. Not an Israeli movement with a Palestinian tail, nor a Palestinian movement with an Israeli tail. But an organization in which we all, Israelis and Palestinians, shall be full partners, united by a common vision of a free Palestine and a free Israel living together, side by side.
Of all the people I have met in the long fight for peace, the one whom I miss most at this meeting is Issam Sartawi, who was murdered 20 years ago. He would be sitting here. His spirit is with us.
Sartawi was a patriot, an ex-Fedai, who believed that the only way for the Palestinian people to achieve their national aims is to win the hearts of the Israeli people. In the same way, I believe that the only way for Israel to find a secure and prosperous future is to win the hearts of the Palestinian people.
Sartawi believed that the battle for Israeli public opinion is not just one task among many, but that it is the main front in the Palestinian struggle for liberation. In the same way, I believe that the battle for reconciliation and justice together with the Palestinian people is the main task of every real Israeli patriot. And we are the real Israeli patriots.
When we created the slogan "Two States for Two Peoples", we did not mean separation. We certainly did not mean two ghettos living side by side, each surrounded by high walls and electric fences. On the contrary, we meant close neighborly relations, cooperation, partnership, open borders, free movement of people.
In order to convince our own peoples that this is possible, that this is not simply a dream of naive peaceniks, we must prove in our day-to-day activities that we can work together and speak together with one voice. It is a tragedy that in all these years, especially since Oslo, no joint peace organization has come into being.
Of course, we have often met in action. We have many common memories. We have been beaten up together, we were tear-gassed together, we have demonstrated together many times. But there was never the one thing that was needed: regular, systematic, continuous joint action, day after day, week after week, month after month. We must now correct this historic mistake, which has had grievous consequences for peace.
We are meeting in dark times. Targeted assassinations, suicide bombings, the killing of women and children have become routine events. On both sides, people live in a state of fear, hopelessness and apathy. But we have no reason lose hope. Looking back on the decades of our struggle, we see a steady move towards peace.
There were times when almost all Israelis denied even the existence of the Palestinian people. "There is no such thing as a Palestinian people," said Golda Meir. Today, there is hardly an Israeli who denies it.
Many years ago, when we raised the idea of two states living side by side, we were a tiny minority on both sides. Today, the vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians accept this idea, and the whole world supports it.
30 years ago, when we established the first contacts with the PLO, we were considered traitors. Today it is official Israeli policy.
Seven years ago, in a joint demonstration with Faisal Husseini (Had he lived, he, too, would be sitting here!) at the wall of Jerusalem, we broke the Israeli taboo and declared that Jerusalem will be the capital of two states. Today this idea is generally accepted even by those who hate it.
We are still very far from victory. Many hardships and much suffering still lie ahead. But if we act together, with vigor and determination, our vision will prevail.
We must be the lighthouse, the fixed light that gives the direction and shows the way.
What can we do in practice?
I propose the following actions:
- Set up joint expert committees to prepare within three months the full text of an Israeli-Palestinian
peace agreement, including detailed solutions for all the problems - borders, Jerusalem, settlements,
refugees, security, water - and present it to the public, showing that such an agreement is possible. If some
disagreements remain, we shall say so candidly.
- Set up a joint Committee for Truth and Reconciliation, on the South African model, in order to examine the
history of the last 120 years and establish a true picture, acceptable to both peoples.
- Set up immediately a joint Press Office, to address the Israeli, Palestinian and world media.
- Set up a joint operations staff, to plan public campaigns and demonstrations.
These are only a few ideas for discussion today. I am sure that many of you have more. Let's put them on the table.
The main thing is, let us do it together and carry it through, until the peace which we all desire comes to this beloved country.
Some weeks ago, when we met Yasser Arafat, some journalists asked him when will peace come. He said: Both Uri Avnery and I will see it in our lifetime. Arafat is 74 years old, I shall be 80 in a few weeks. So let's get moving!