Before a location is chosen, before pads and pens are in place, before a diplomatic hand ever reaches across a table, Aviva Raz Shechter is already hard at work.
In an interview with JointMedia News Service in New York City, Raz Shechter—Deputy Director General for the Middle East and Peace Process Division at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs—said the Israeli-Palestinian meetings this past January in Amman, Jordan, provided an important opportunity for direct dialogue between the two sides, despite no significant breakthroughs in the negotiations.
However, any optimism for peace is tempered by history, Raz Shechter explained. Echoing the 1973 comments of then-Israeli Ambassador Abba Eban after the Geneva Peace Conference that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” she acknowledged that, “There are no expectations at this point.”
Prior to the talks, Israeli negotiator Mark Regev had expressed “hope [for] the beginning of direct ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to achieve peace.” Palestinian Authority (PA) negotiator Saeb Erekat said at the time that the gatherings would “commit” Israel to “international legitimacy, including the road map for peace, which calls for a freeze of construction in the settlements.”
Amid threatening developments such as PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s meetings with Hamas (which condemned those talks), Raz Shechter has held out hope that the discussions in Amman will lead to more direct peace talks.
“We do want to reach an agreement,” Raz Shechter said. “It cannot be unilateral—an agreement has to be achieved by sitting together, by direct negotiation.”
April’s follow-up letter from the Palestinians to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was described by some as milder, but did—as expected—demand that Israel stop settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and accept the 1967 borders as a basis for a two-state solution. Still, the prime minister’s envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, remains ready to go back to Amman (or another location) for further negotiations, or to proceed to direct talks. “Any move towards unilateralism,” said Raz Shecter, is “an unwise direction.”
“I don’t think [PA Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad agreed with the way that [Abbas] chose to continue the peace process,” said Raz Shechter, referring to the PA president’s apparent desire to act unilaterally. “It’s the wrong track. This way was rejected by the Quartet and the United States. I don’t think Fayyad supported it.”
Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have a history of “wrong moves,” Raz Shechter noted. Among those, she considered that the compromise with Hamas signed by Abbas at their January “reconciliation” meeting in Doha, Qatar “was among the most obvious” in that category.
Asked whether she believed economic growth along with visible enhancement of infrastructure and structural development on the West Bank would be a spur to peace, Raz Shechter said, “There are those who think it is not enough.” She emphasized that Israel does “not want to see the failure” of the PA.
Raz Shechter said Israel is “very much in support” of the Amman talks and “wants to speak seriously—to make progress by putting core issues on the table without pre-conditions.
Peace negotiations may, however, be further complicated by the current rift within the PA. Abbas and Fayyad are reported to have “completely cut off communications, according to reports. On April 17, Fayyad was scheduled to lead a delegation to meet with Netanyahu, but he did not attend the meeting and refused to carry a letter from Abbas thought to contain demands Fayyad believed would not lead to a positive result.
Raz Shechter, formerly director of the Department for Combating Anti-Semitism at the Foreign Ministry, said the most “painful of challenges in terms of Jewish identity” is that “the younger generation is simply not connected with the State of Israel…because they’ve bought into the incessant anti-Israel propaganda that is a staple on campuses and in the media.”
“We must re-package Zionism and teach Jewish students the truth; and that truth is that Zionism is composed of Western values of individuality, equality, justice and freedom and is not a bellicose ideology that is bent on racism and prejudice, as our enemies would have us believe,” she said.