Here we are on the week-long “Israel Symposium” of Partners for Progressive Israel in late October, with Shani Chabansky — then still a Tikkun intern — who blogged on our trip here. Symposium participants were an impressive bunch, including: five university academics (two historians, one philosopher, a journalist, and an astronomer), an internationally celebrated singer & actor (our board chair, Theodore Bikel), a retired school principal, and a very impressive graduate student in international relations.
We were primarily guests of the Meretz party in Israel, but for one day, we were hosted by the Palestinian Authority and the PLO in Ramallah. It was there that the veteran PLO official and Geneva Accord peace activist Yasser Abed Rabbo confirmed Bernard Avishai’s account of how close the Abbas-Olmert negotiations came to peace in 2008-’09 (see Avishai’s article in the December 2011 issue of Harper’s, and his earlier piece in the New York Times Magazine, February 11th, 2011). Along with the legal difficulties that forced Ehud Olmert’s resignation, the war in Gaza cut short a promising effort, as Olmert’s government chose not to attend what was meant to be a concluding round of talks scheduled by George W. Bush and Secretary of State Rice during the closing weeks of his presidency. Rabbo indicated that the P.A. planned to send negotiators to Washington, D.C. for a meeting set to begin Jan. 6, 2009, even in the midst of what we now need to regard as the first Gaza war.