Peace Now director says Israel should freeze settlement activity in West Bank, Gaza

Despite ongoing conflict and violence, the existence of a Palestinian state is in Israel’s best interest, according to Israeli peace activist Yariv Oppenheimer.

“If [Israel] wants to survive, it has to make this painful compromise,” Oppenheimer said last Tuesday during a speech at Concordia University.

Oppenheimer is the Director General and official spokesman of the left wing organization Peace Now, Israel’s oldest and largest peace movement.

Peace Now’s mandate is to inform Israeli citizens and policy makers of the country’s current practices and violent activity. The group’s ultimate goal is to fulfill the Zionist dream of creating a democratic Jewish state in Israel.

“The Israeli public understands that [the two-state system] is the right alternative and [Israel] cannot control the West Bank and Gaza forever,” Oppenheimer said.

The Gaza Strip borders the Mediterranean Sea, Israel and Egypt, while the West Bank spans the coast of the Jordan River because both Palestinians and Israelis inhabit the areas, ownership of these two territories is in constant dispute.

Israel has constructed numerous settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, something that Peace Now is ardently against, Oppenheimer explained. “We strongly believe that the building of settlements was a mistake, and that Israel should freeze settlement activity,” he said.

Israel disengaged completely from the Gaza Strip in Sept. 2005, under then prime minister Ariel Sharon. Nonetheless, Oppenheimer explained that since the country’s departure from the area, there has been an increase in the number of Palestinian rockets being shot into Israel.

“If the Palestinians can’t control the territories of Gaza and live without any violence, it’s much harder to convince the Israelis to leave the West Bank as well,” he said.

Still, Oppenheimer explained that peace is a viable outcome, as long as both sides are willing to make compromises.

“If you think [Israel] can control the West Bank and Gaza and still be a strong nation that is here to stay, you are a naive person,” he said.

Oppenheimer explained he is optimistic about current President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. The leader, he said, should be Israel’s main ally in finding a peaceful solution.

“If Israel chooses to speak with Abbas and treat Abbas like a real partner for peace, [Israel can] then overcome the voices of Hamas calling for the destruction of Israel.”

Abbas’s political party, Fatah, is a centre-left wing political organization that is primarily nationalistic and secular. Fatah lost its majority in the Palestinian Parliament to radical group Hamas in the Jan. 25, 2006 election. Now, it assumes the opposition role in government.

Hamas is widely considered in many Western countries, including Canada and the United States, a terrorist organization. It is notorious for its suicide bombings against Israeli civilians, and has called for the obliteration of the state of Israel. It has also called for Palestinian control of all Israeli territories, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

“If Israel ignores Abbas, the only people to gain from it will be Hamas. I really hope that we are not going to miss this opportunity for peace,” Oppenheimer said.

Finally, the peace activist addressed the growing concern over violent conflict between Israel and Iran. It is crucial for Israel not to attack Iran, he explained, as this would play directly into the hands of extremists.

“The threats coming from Iran are making it even clearer to me that we have to solve the problem with the Palestinians,” he said. “We don’t need that added conflict on our backs.”

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