No boos for adversaries at J Street panel



Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich: "We will act as a political safety net" for a peace treaty.
Opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich: “We will act as a political safety net” for a peace treaty.

Washington — With adversaries like the members of Knesset who sat on a panel Sunday at the J Street conference here, you might start to wonder who needs friends.

There was Tzachi Hanegbi, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right wing Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party, who called for a joint agreement on Jerusalem as part of a two-state solution.

And Merav Michaeli, of the opposition Labor party, who said, “I want to believe” Netanyahu when he says he wants a two-state solution.

Talk about turning spears into pruning hooks. Is it possible that more Israelis – left and right – are of a similar mind about more issues than is generally thought?

Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich started the leaning across the aisles (Israel has more than one political aisle) when she declared in her keynote speech that her party will “act as a political safety net” for the prime minister if he should bring a peace treaty with the Palestinians before the Knesset.

“If Prime Minister Netanyahu is serious about peace, we will support him.”

As the sole right winger at a conference of left wingers, Hanegbi said “it was time for someone here to be booed.”

He said “every Palestinian leader knows that Israel will never go back to the ’67 borders, like everybody knows that the two-state solution is the only option.”

Hanegbi said that Israel “will give a good answer” to the Palestinians on settlements and Jerusalem. But we can’t compromise on refugees.” He was referring to the Palestinian position that those who want to should have the right to return to homes in what is now Israel.

Instead of drawing boos, or a polite silence, he received applause from the packed auditorium.

Asked if his opposition Shas party would support a peace treaty with the Palestinians, Yitzhak Vaknin reminded his colleagues that every time a peace agreement has come up for a vote, his ultra-Orthodox party supported it.

Vaknin, speaking in Hebrew, drew repeated applause often before his comments were translated into English.

“Israelis have grown used to the idea of separation,” said Labor’s Michaeli. “This is an illusion. We are all here on this piece of land. The two states need an arrangement where we can live together in peace – not a separation. I’m not sure this is what Netanyahu has in mind.”

Peace can be the prime minister’s legacy, said Meir Sheetrit, a former Likud member who is now the number two in Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party.

“Netanyahu is on the verge to make history or be history,” he said. A peace agreement with the Palestinians “is the only thing standing in the way of normal relations with all 65 Muslim countries. This is the best security for Israel.”

Ruth Calderon, a member of Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, said that a change in Israeli identity will help peace along.

“The way we’ve seen ourselves for too long is as a villa in a jungle. It is time to see that we are an Eastern religion, not a Western religion. Once we see ourselves as from this place, it will start a new momentum toward peace,” she said.

[email protected] Twitter: @davidholzel

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