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Middle East Peace Programs

Americans Engage in Dialogue in Jerusalem

The October 2006 Middle East Peace Initiative trip featured several opportunities for first-hand learning about the current situation in Israel. In Jerusalem, Ambassadors for Peace from the United States engaged in discussions with representatives of various aspects of Israeli society.

In the morning, Dr. Antonio Betancourt, director of UPF’s Office of Government Relations, moderated a panel discussion in the format of a TV talk show at the Olive Tree Hotel. Questions from the audience were addressed by prominent panelists:

Michael Barnea - former chief economist at the Ministry of Trade and Commerce; a thinker and a writer on social justice issues.
Mafra' Mahmoud - an Israeli Arab and Deputy Mayor of Bostan El-Marj Regional Council; former chairman of the Jewish-Arab institute at Beit Berl College.
Yoni Ben Menachem – director-general and chief editor at the Israel Broadcasting Authority; a political correspondent and expert in issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Musi (Moshe) Raz – former member of the Knesset from the Meretz Party; director of an Arab/Israeli peace radio station.

Questions were raised about the ability of the US and the European Union to be honest brokers in the peace process; the prospects of a peace treaty between Israel, Lebanon and Syria; and the possibility of Hamas turning into a political entity only.

The panelists all expressed concern about the dangers facing the peace process as a result of Iran’s radical influence over Syria and Hamas. Some expressed fears about an imminent second round of clashes in the north. However, there was an overall consensus among them that sooner or later both sides will have to go back to the negotiation table. The solutions have been on the drawing board for quite a while; the question is only how heavy a price paid each side will have to pay until they agree to adopt the solutions and implement them.

The deputy speaker of the Knesset, Hon. Izhak Ziv, hosted the MEPI delegation in the new auditorium of Israel’s legislative body. Hon. Ziv expressed his appreciation for UPF’s work for peace and proudly pointed out his Ambassador for Peace award that is placed in a prominent place in his office.

Another senior Knesset member and former minister of trade and commerce, Hon. Ran Cohen, joined the deputy speaker on the stage. The two Knesset members responded to several questions from the audience regarding current affairs, such as the status of the kidnapped soldiers and the urgent need to defuse the explosive situation in the north. Hon. Cohen, who is a member of the Security and Defense Committee, pledged before to do all he can to push the government towards conducting peace negotiations with Syria.

Also on the panel were several dignitaries from the delegation led by Dr. Betancourt: Hon. Marjorie Buessing, former member of the New Hampshire State Legislature; Hon. Norma Champagne, former member of the New Hampshire State Legislature; Senator Hillman Frazier of the Mississippi State Senate; Prof. Eliezer Glaubach, president of the Professors World Peace Academy in Israel; and Senator Howard Nielson, former member of the Utah State Legislature. Hon. Marjorie Buessing gave a heart-warming call for a leadership that is first and foremost parental in its nature. Prof. Glaubach stressed the importance of creating a spiritual change that will enable decision-makers to chose the right path. The panel was moderated by Mr. Hod Ben Zvi, secretary general of UPF, Israel.

Back at the Olive Tree Hotel, Mr. Hod Ben Zvi, secretary general of UPF-Israel gave an orientation about UPF. Five discussion circles were formed, focusing on the following topics: women leadership, media and peace, the role of NGOs in peace making, religion and peace, and family education towards peace. The delegates were joined by17 Israeli Ambassadors for Peace and immediately engaged in a lively 40 minutes of discussion. When time was up reports from each circle were given, summarizing the key points in discussion.

The bonds of heart were intensified over dinner, which culminated in colorful evening entertainment. Gospel songs and Yemenite music, Russian and South American singing, and Arabic and Hebrew languages all merged into a beautiful tapestry of joy.

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