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Moderate Voices Urge Mideast Reconciliation - 2002-03-21

Throughout the months of raging violence in the Middle East, moderate voices urging reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians have largely been silenced by extremists on either side that support harsh actions. But today, after more than 1,000 Palestinians and 350 Israelis have died in the bloodshed, voices of compromise are again emerging as both sides seek ways to end the violence and get the peace process back on track.

Givat Haviva is the home of the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace. It is an oasis of calm located in an area ravaged almost daily by Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli military raids into Palestinian-controlled areas that are just a few kilometers away across the line separating Israel from the West Bank.

It is one of the few places anywhere these days that supporters of reconciliation are brought together for symposiums to look for ways to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to bring the two sides back to the negotiating table.

The co-director of the center, Sarah Ozacky-Lazau, says her organization is dedicated to finding a way for Israelis and Palestinians to live peacefully together.

"Our idea is of dialog, talking to each other, negotiating with each other and not talking to each other through guns, violence, killings and suicide bombs," she said. "People I think from both sides are tired, are fed up, they want to see light at the end of this very, very dark tunnel and the little we can do here to raise our voice, to open minds, to talk differently, this is our small contribution for a change."

For more than 50 years, Givat Haviva has brought together moderate Israeli and Palestinian leaders to discuss ways to bring peace to the Middle East.

Sari Nusseibeh is the Palestine Liberation Organization's Political Commissioner for Jerusalem Affairs.

He has long advocated compromise on thorny issues dividing both sides as well as favoring a continuing dialog with the Israelis.

Mr. Nusseibeh says the basic desires of the Israeli and Palestinian people are simple.

"The general idea is on the Israeli side they need to feel safe and secure from any attacks by Palestinians on Israeli targets, whether civilian or military," he said. "On the Palestinian side they need an assurance that the Israeli military machinery will pull out from the territories and from the areas which they now occupy."

A surprising voice of moderation at a recent peace center forum came from Ami Ayalon, the former director of Shin Bet, Israel's secret police.

Mr. Ayalon, a retired admiral in Israel's navy, says Israel does not deserve high marks for using its military might in an effort to bring an end to the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

He says, however, the country has every right to use force to stop attacks by Palestinian suicide bombers and gunmen.

Mr. Ayalon says a political solution is needed to end the conflict and advocates the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"I think creating a Palestinian state means for us painful things," he said. "It will be deep, deep pains for the Israeli society. It means to uproot all the settlements and bring all the settlers to Israel. I don't think this will be easy. I think this will be very difficult, but we have to do that. Why do we have to do that? According to my vision, Israel is a state of the Jewish people in a frame that the majority is Jews and they have an opportunity to create their own culture and symbolism of the Jewish people. This is never going to happen unless we pull out from the West Bank and Gaza."

So at the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace voices of compromise and moderation are calling for an end to the fighting and a return to negotiations to bring a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

People here hope these opinions will gain momentum among two badly divided peoples, and not be drowned out by the hostility and fears created after a year and a half of conflict.