Reaching across the divide (III)

by Akiva Eldar
Dear Salameh,

By the time this letter—the second in our correspondence—is published, I shall be in Madrid, where an extraordinary event is taking place this week. Civil society representatives from Arab countries and Israel are arriving in the Spanish capital with one common goal—to bring back to our region the hope for peace. They are not coming to negotiate borders or to solve the refugee problem. Hopefully no one will use this opportunity for mutual recriminations or for scoring points with their local, as well as international, public opinion. The guests from Ramallah and Damascus, from Beirut and Jerusalem, accepted the invitation, issued by the NGOs sponsoring this conference, out of a sense of anxiety for the future of the Middle East. Members of parliament have taken time off from their duties in order to send to their own people, and to the people of neighbouring countries, this message from Madrid: "There are partners for peace."

Former Prime Ministers, Ministers of Foreign Affairs and retired senior military officers are taking the trouble to come to Spain in order to contribute their talent and experience to this attempt at reviving the spirit of Madrid 1991.

My dear Salameh, you are just as familiar as I am with the cynics—including our colleagues—who will dismiss the Madrid+15 conference. They will say, and rightly so, that this meeting has no political clout and that statements issued from it will have no practical value. True, the invitations to the first Madrid conference were highly official. The sponsors were the U.S. Secretary of State and the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, and the delegates were the official representatives of Middle Eastern countries. But from my point of view, wearing the hat of both a peace lover and a political analyst, there is a large and significant difference between Madrid 1991, which I was privileged to cover for Ha'aretz, and Madrid 2007. While with the former it was necessary to drag Israel almost by force to the conference, today it would have been possible to fill a jumbo plane with Israeli personalities competing for a place in the meeting halls and still leave many behind.

These are not the usual suspects of the Left whom you meet at every peace seminar. In the Israeli delegation, and among those who had to stay at home, there are people who believed, fifteen years ago, that there is nothing more important than land and creating a Jewish settlement on every hilltop. They saw the Madrid conference as a forum for international pressure on Israel, to force it to relinquish territories which they believed it had an absolute right to keep—and all this in exchange for a peace they did not believe in, or which they believed Israel could exist forever without. I vividly recall the response of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir when he read my report in "Ha'aretz" that President Hafez Assad was about to accept Secretary of State James Baker's suggestion to send a Syrian delegation to an international conference for Middle East peace. Shamir, who assumed that Assad would decline the invitation, thus extricating him from the conference as well, instructed his spokesman to deny the story, hoping that the trouble would simply disappear.

Dear Salameh, my hope that time actually serves the cause of peace has to do with two members of the Israeli delegation to Madrid 2007—Dan Meridor and Roni Milo. Both of them were ministers in Shamir's government; both were senior members of the political Right. For many years, Meridor followed his father—one of the leaders of the "Etzel" [militant underground before 1948] and a founder of [the right-wing party] "Herut". Milo followed the footsteps of his uncle, Menachem Begin, and was considered an enemy of the Israeli Left. Both of them have given up on the dream of a Greater Israel, and have replaced it with the dream of peace. They are not alone. Over the past years, we have seen a clear movement of political "princes" from the Right to the Left. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and the chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, Tzahi Hanegbi, were born in Revisionist homes. All three of them have abandoned the Likud, and together with Shimon Peres, the architect of Oslo, they have created the Kadima party. I know of no Israeli political prince who has moved in the opposite direction.

And yet, dear Salameh, according to the polls, if there is no dramatic turning point soon in our relationship, with our neighbours in particular and in the region in general, power will return to those who follow Shamir's path. Just as the first Gulf War strengthened the pragmatic coalition in the Middle-East and paved the way for the Madrid Conference, the profound crisis in Iraq, which strengthens religious zealots—Sunnis as well as Shi'ites—has turned the spirit of Madrid into badly needed oxygen. I was glad to read the prominent item about Madrid+15 in your newspaper, "Al-Hayat", written by your colleague from Damascus. I hope that many of our journalist friends, in Israel and throughout the Arab world, will find in Madrid this week the good news we all so need and long for.

Akiva Eldar


* Akiva Eldar is Senior columnist for Ha'aretz in Tel Aviv ( This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 11 January 2007,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
Women of Tunisia: Let your voices be heard!

The women of Tunisia have a decisive role to play in shaping Tunisia's future. Fatma Ben Saïdane reminds women of the power of their vote and the importance of civic engagement.
"For both scholars and policy-makers, the materials on the Middle East produced by Search For Common Ground are outstanding. If one is looking for balance and depth of analysis, this is the place to go to get a better understanding of the complexities of the contemporary Middle East."

- Dr. Robert O. Freedman, Peggy Meyerhoff Pearlstone Professor of Political Science, Baltimore Hebrew University and Visiting Professor of Political Science Johns Hopkins University

It takes 200+ hours a week to produce CGNews. We rely on readers like you to make it happen. If you find our stories informative or inspiring, help us share these underreported perspectives with audiences around the world.



Or, support us with a one-time donation.

Reaching across the divide (I)
Reaching across the divide (II)
Reaching across the divide (IV)
Reaching across the divide (V)
Reaching across the divide (VI)
Reaching across the divide (VII)
Reaching across the divide (VIII)
Reaching across the divide (IX)
Reaching across the divide (X)
# of hours per week to create one edition
# of editors in 6 countries around the world
# of subscribers
Average # of reprints per article
# of media outlets that have reprinted our articles
# of republished articles since inception
# of languages CG articles are distributed in
# of writers since inception


Other articles in this series

Reaching across the divide (I) by Salameh Nematt
Reaching across the divide (II) by Akiva Eldar
Reaching across the divide (IV) by Salameh Nematt
Reaching across the divide (V) by Salameh Nematt
Reaching across the divide (VI) by Akiva Eldar
Reaching across the divide (VII) by Salameh Nematt
Reaching across the divide (VIII) by Akiva Eldar
Reaching across the divide (IX) by Akiva Eldar
Reaching across the divide (X) by Salameh Nematt