To some, it was a (peace) camp reunion. To others, it served notice that peace with the Palestinians has returned to its place atop the agenda of Israel’s political left following its dalliance with socioeconomic issues. To the more than 2,000 participants in Haaretz newspaper’s Israel Peace Conference held last week at Tel Aviv’s David InterContinental Hotel, it was an elegant opportunity to mingle with the iconic stewardship of days past – topped by Shimon Peres – while honing the movement’s agenda among those poised to embrace the next wave of leadership, such as opposition head and Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog and activist-turned-politician Stav Shaffir, who personifies the bridge from social activism to the politics of peace.
The history of the Israeli Peace Conference was itself microcosmic of the fortunes of the movement it supports. The idea began amid optimism born of word of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace mission, according to conference chief executive officer, journalist Akiva Eldar. “The original idea was to push [Israeli] Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to say ‘yes’ to Kerry but, around April, everything came to a halt,” he told this reporter.
“We kept pushing it off, finally setting it for July,” said Eldar, senior columnist for Al-Monitor. But, by the time the date rolled around, a new set of obstacles had presented themselves in the form of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens followed by the killing of a Palestinian youth. The atmosphere became more toxic to the point where key Palestinian participants, chief negotiator Sa’ib Erakat and businessman Munib Al-Masri, pulled out of the conference. Yet, the decision was made to continue as planned. According to Eldar, “We decided we don’t give veto power to terrorists on both sides.”
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