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Palestinian, Israeli Activists Open Dialogue Center - 2001-12-28

A group of Palestinian and Israeli peace activists have launched a new center for dialogue despite the continuing tensions.

The idea behind the center is to promote dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians to bridge the gap of misunderstandings and distrust.

The Palestinian representative for Jerusalem affairs Sari Nuseibeh helped launch the initiative. He says most people are fed up with the violence on both sides and want to see the peace talks back on track. "First of all, it's possible to make peace because we tried it," he said. "For the past eight years there are ups and downs but the bits that were up prove to us and to others that it's possible. And in my opinion we should once again grab that opportunity and push ourselves back to the peace track."

Hebrew University Professor Galia Golan is one of the founders of the Israeli Peace Now movement and an active voice behind the dialogue initiative. She says the current cycle of extremist violence silenced the peace activists and it is time to give a voice to the moderates on both side. "There's been nothing like this for years, with tremendous enthusiasm and goodwill you had a very large number of Israelis and Palestinians coming together with the intention of working together, of creating a coalition and working together," she said.

Ms. Golan acknowledges there is a lot of frustration on both sides, but she says opinion surveys show most Israelis and Palestinians do want to bridge the gap and resume peace talks.

The small hotel lobby in East Jerusalem was crowded with the who's who of Israeli's political left and Palestinian peace activists. Many had been involved in the early stages of the Oslo peace negotiations launched a decade ago.

Ironically, the ceremonies took place at the same hotel where Mr. Nuseibeh was prevented from holding a reception for foreign diplomats two weeks ago. Israeli officials justified the action on the grounds that Palestinians are not allowed to organize political events in East Jerusalem.

More than 1,000 activists on Friday attended the opening and signed a declaration of peace while demonstrators outside called for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.