RAMALLAH, West Bank — A group promoting understanding between the Palestinian and Israeli communities is under fire again by those who say it's doing more harm than good.
The Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society has been criticized since its creation in December 2012. That criticism recently intensified after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent an official delegation to offer his condolences on the the death of Brig. Gen. Munir Amar. Amar, who headed the Israel Defense Forces' civil administration in the West Bank, after his small airplane crashed March 25 in northern Palestine.
Leading the delegation was the committee's chief, Muhammad al-Madani, who is also a member of Fatah's Central Committee. News of the visit, reported March 29 by IBA News, has raised ire in the Palestinian street. Also, the delegation’s visit to Amar’s birthplace, the village of Julis in northern Palestine, came just one day after Abbas met with a delegation of Mizrahi Jews at his presidential headquarters in Ramallah.
The meeting has placed a spotlight on the Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, whose mission is to mobilize Israelis to support the two-state solution. The committee aims to influence members of the Israeli public supporting peace and enlist their help in urging Israeli decision-makers to take serious action to reach an agreement with the Palestinian leadership.
The committee developed many approaches, such as lectures before Israeli citizens and contacting Israeli media outlets to broadcast political statements and interviews, to deliver the message that there is Palestinian interest in the peace process.
For instance, Abbas was interviewed March 31 on Israeli Channel 2 and hosted a delegation of Israeli women on Jan. 21 at the presidential headquarters. There have also been tours for Israeli individuals and groups in the Palestinian Authority-controlled areas. The committee hopes to make progress with a wide variety of Israelis, including school and university students, activists within political parties, businesspeople, media outlets and other associations.
Elias Zananiri, deputy chairman of the Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society, told Al-Monitor, “Israeli society’s inclination toward the far right has required that all means be used from within this society to try influencing it or halting this trend, which is far from the two-state solution and tries to impose unilateral solutions.”
He sees political dialogue as the committee's most important means of confronting the occupation and communicating with the Israeli community.
“The committee’s objective is to push Israeli society to place pressure on its government to implement the two-state solution, after overcoming the idea that its government’s stance is correct. Yet a long time is required before these results are reached,” Zananiri explained.
The committee plans to follow these efforts by studying the changes that occur in Israel, but its effectiveness has always been an issue, especially in light of growing support for Israeli right-wing religious parties, as documented in a 2016 report by the Palestinian Forum for Israeli Studies.
“The committee’s contacts have not achieved a significant breakthrough in Israeli society, in light of the major hostility against the Palestinians," Antoine Shalhat, director of forum's Israeli Scene Unit, told Al-Monitor.
Omar Shehadeh, a member of the PLO's Central Council, told Al-Monitor that the interaction committee's involvement in sending condolences for the general's death shows that the committee is ignoring decisions the PLO has made regarding Israel and is making its own decisions "randomly."
The PLO Central Council decided March 5 to halt security coordination with Israel and said it would determine all future political, economic and security relations with it. The council tasked the PLO Executive Committee with implementing the decision. Yet, no changes has have been made, and the meetings of the Committee for Interaction continue in parallel with the Israeli security meetings.
Shehadeh added, “There is no supervision over the activities of the Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society to hold it accountable for its actions, which has harmed the Palestinian cause and served the occupation and Israeli policies. It has also consolidated normalization [of relations with Israel].”
The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) National Committee demanded in October that the Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society be dissolved, calling it part of the normalization process with Israel. The Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel made the same demand March 21.
Omar Assaf, a member of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, told Al-Monitor that Israel's persistent campaign against the BDS movement has been successful and has expanded globally. The committee's actions are not helping, he said.
“The Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society is providing the occupation with net gains through its meetings. Those in charge must review this and meet the people's demands to boycott Israel.”
However, as Abbas said in the March 31 interview that he is committed to security coordination, the PLO Executive Committee is not expected to dissolve the interaction committee as long as it has his support.