Member of Knesset Hillik Bar sat down next to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat just behind me and I instantly began to eavesdrop. Bar kissed both Erekats’ cheeks, one, two, three, and then they began to chat.
“Did you come from Ramallah?” Bar asked.
“No, Jericho.” Erekat responded. “We’re enjoying the summer in Jericho.”
“But it’s hot!” Bar looked amazed.
“Not yet, but next week.” Erekat reassured him.
Turns out even politicians make small talk about the weather.
“We’re busy,” Bar continued. “A 61-59 majority is crazy. We’re all trying to make Bibi fall, but it’s not easy.”
Erekat nodded sympathetically.
Erekat and Bar had come together along with former Israeli ambassador to South Africa, Alon Liel and EU Representative to the West Bank, John Gatt-Rutter to discuss the newest issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal – an issue pertaining to the Palestinian internationalization effort.
Bar is a very talented and engaging speaker and wasted no time in ripping into the Israeli right’s concept of ‘conflict management’ and dismissing it as a defeatist approach. He also dismissed the right’s position that Israel has no peace partner in Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas as a defeatist view as well.
“We won’t talk to Abbas and we’re talking to Hamas!” he lamented. “We talk to them about ceasefire, about prisoner exchange… The message we’re sending is ‘You want to talk to us? Shoot at us!’”
Bar ended by touching on an idea that more and more Israeli politicians are beginning to address: peace with the Palestinians, while of course being vital for the Palestinians, is something the Israelis need to do for their own good. Just last week a study was published revealing that in the event that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was settled, Israelis would gain $120 billion and the Palestinians $50 billion in the following decade.
“Menachem Begin didn’t make peace at Camp David to make the Egyptians happy,” Bar said. “He did it because it was the right thing to do for his country.”
Bar projected the hope of a politician but the same couldn’t be said for Alon Liel who “wakes up every morning feeling terrible because Israel is solely responsible for the occupation of the Palestinians.” He thanked various European parliaments for recently recognizing the State of Palestine and encouraged Erekat to continue with the Palestinian effort to ban Israel from FIFA. “The FIFA ban will be felt in every Israeli home,” he promised.
Liel had started by saying that he’d just celebrated the birth of his fourth grandchild.
“My parents didn’t help build this country for it to become an occupier,” he shouted. “If my grandchildren grow up to be occupiers, we can close up shop!”
His comments prompted a fiery response from MK Bar who argued that steps like these that lead to Israel’s international isolation will only drive the Israeli public and the government further to the right as was evidenced in the last elections.
Bar may have been incensed by Liel’s comments but Erekat echoed them.
“If you don’t ignore the facts, you should wake up and feel terrible! In June, 2015 there are roads in the West Bank that we as Palestinians cannot use. The Israeli government now practices one state and two systems and is destroying and torpedoing the two state solution.”
Erekat threatened (not for the first time) to disband the Palestinian Authority if an agreement is not reached by the end of the year and to hand over all control from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean to the Israelis.
Erekat is an even better orator than Bar and uses flowery language and funny anecdotes to illustrate his points. Most times, he has the crowd in the palm of his hand, knowing exactly what to say, but there are plenty who consider him to be a smiling face in a suit whose intentions are not as flowery as his language.
“Our Palestinian state will respect the rights of women,” he promised “And when we have a disagreement, we will resort to ballots, not bullets.” No one asked him how that democratic ideal matched up with President Mahmoud Abbas serving his tenth year of what was supposed to be a four year term.