From Gush Shalom
Saves a lot of trouble.
I was invited by Mahmood Abbas, the President of the Palestinian National Authority (as well as of the PLO and the Fatah movement) to take part in joint Palestinian-Israeli consultations in advance of the international conference in Paris.
Since Binyamin Netanyahu has refused to take part in the Paris event side by side with Mahmood Abbas, the Ramallah meeting was to demonstrate that a large part of Israeli society does support the French initiative.
SIMPLE AS it sounds, the Ramallah meeting was not simple at all.
Before the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, such meetings were almost routine. Since our groundbreaking first meeting in Beirut in 1982, during the Israeli blockade, Arafat met many Israelis.
Arafat had almost absolute moral authority, and even his home-grown rivals accepted his judgment. Since, after our first meeting, he decided that Israeli-Palestinian meetings served the cause of Palestinian-Israeli peace, he encouraged many such events.
After his murder, the opposite trend gained the upper hand. Palestinian extremists held that any meetings with Israelis, whoever they might be, served "normalization" -- a terrible, terrible bogeyman.
Abbas has now put an end to this nonsense. Like me, he believes that Palestinian statehood and independence can come about only through a joint struggle of the peace forces on both sides, with the help of international forces.
In this spirit, he invited us to Ramallah, since Palestinians are not normally allowed into Israeli territory.
He seated me next to him on the stage, and so the meeting started.
MAHMOOD ABBAS -- or "Abu Mazen," as he is generally known -- was gracious enough to mention that he and I have been friends for 34 years since we first met in Tunis, soon after the PLO had left Beirut and moved there.
Through a number of years, when my friends and I came to Tunis, the same procedure was followed: first we met with Abu Mazen, who was in charge of Israeli affairs, and drew up plans for joint action. Then we all moved to Arafat's office. Arafat, who had an almost canny capacity for making quick decisions, would decide within minutes "yes" or "no."
There could hardly be two more different characters than Abu-Amar (Arafat) and Abu-Mazen. Arafat was a "warm" type. He embraced and kissed his visitors in the old Arab style -- a kiss on each cheek for ordinary visitors, three kisses for preferred ones. After five minutes, you felt as if you had known him all your life.
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