Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Israeli Intellectuals Press for Palestinian State

(N.Y. Times) - JERUSALEM — Dozens of Israel’s most honored intellectuals and artists have signed a declaration endorsing a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 lines and asserting that an end to Israel’s occupation “will liberate the two peoples and open the way to a lasting peace.”

The signatories plan to announce their position on Wednesday from the same spot in Tel Aviv where the Jewish state declared its independence in the spring of 1948. The page-long declaration is expected to be read there by Hanna Maron, one of the country’s best-known actresses and a past winner of the Israel Prize, the country’s most prestigious award granted yearly on Independence Day.

Of the more than 60 who signed by Tuesday, some 20 were winners of the Israel Prize and a number of others were awarded the Emet Prize, given by the prime minister for excellence in science, art and culture. Signatures were still being collected.

“The land of Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish people where its identity was shaped,” the statement begins. “The land of Palestine is the birthplace of the Palestinian people where its identity was formed.” It goes on to say that now is the time to live up to the commitment expressed in Israel’s Declaration of Independence by its founders to “extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness.”

Yaron Ezrahi, a political theorist at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem and one of the signatories, said the group chose this week to issue its declaration because it is Passover, which marks the freedom of the Jewish people from slavery.

“We don’t want to pass over the Palestinian people,” Mr. Ezrahi said. “This is a holiday of freedom and independence.” He added that given the struggle for freedom across the Arab world today and the Palestinians’ plans to seek international recognition of their statehood by September, it was important for Israeli voices to be added to the call.

Two weeks ago, another group of several dozen prominent Israelis, many of them from the fields of security and business, issued what they called the Israeli Peace Initiative, a more detailed but somewhat similar plan for a two-state solution. Both groups say they are upset by their government’s policies in this regard, which they consider insufficient.

The Palestinian leadership says that unless Israel ends Jewish settlement building in theWest Bank and East Jerusalem, it will not return to negotiations with it and will instead seek international recognition of Palestinian statehood by September at the United Nations.

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the real problem is that the Palestinians refuse to acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state. Official recognition of that, it says, would jump-start negotiations, although there are also clear differences over land and Israel’s future security needs.

Mr. Netanyahu is expected to announce by the end of May his proposal for moving forward negotiations on a two-state solution.