The Israelis were ushered into the building’s conference room, where they were greeted by the Secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee, Yasser Abd Rabbo, and Fatah officials Nabil Shaath and Muhammed Madani. Shaath, smiling and welcoming, opened the meeting by wishing a speedy recovery to Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, and did not hide his excitement for the unusual gathering.
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"This is a first meeting of its kind, in a long time. I do not believe we can reach an agreement only through US mediation. I believe that peace through a two-state solution is possible and we have not lost our hope to reach an agreement," Shaath said.
In between, some of the guests left the room and toured the first floor of the building and the entrance, taking photos alongside Palestinian flags and pictures of Abbas, which they quickly uploaded to social networks.
Shlomo Madmon, a member of the Likud Central Committee, said that he visited Ramallah two years ago. "At that time, I was the only Likudnik. Today there are almost fifty people here from the Likud and this means that something has happened."
In general, most of the participants made it clear to the Palestinian spokesmen that the ideology on which they were raised could not remain blind to what was happening on the ground.
Meeting between Israelis and Palestinians (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
"When I came to Israel as a refugee from an Arab land, they taught me that Hebron and Nablus were the land of Israel, but when you live here, you understand that no ideology can win over reality," said Madmon.
Attorney David Glass, a senior consultant and associate of Shas and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, stressed the great importance of the presence of both the Likud Central Committee and Shas activists, because as he understood it, peace needed the support of the two nations to strengthen their leaders.
Regardless of the politeness and mutual compliments, gaps between the sides were evident in the meeting. "Build a Palestinian state now," one participant said. "For now, it will have temporary borders and then we will continue to talk about the final borders." The Palestinians responded that a state with temporary borders was not an option for them.
Yasser Abd Rabbo laid out before the attendees the history of the negotiations and noted that the two sides had been close to an agreement at the end of the tenure of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
He explained the actions taken by the Palestinians in dealing with US Secretary of State John Kerry.
A Likud activist said that if the things were up to them, there would already be a signed agreement between the parties, a statement which prompted applause. One of the other attendees at the table yelled, "Luckily, it's not up to you." This brought on laughs from both sides.
The event concluded with a kosher dinner, and participants did not leave before taking more photographs, shaking hands and exchanging business cards.
The Geneva Initiative leaders expressed satisfaction with the meeting and said that among the attendees, there was an admirable openness for learning the political issues and engaging with the Palestinians, even as the leaders are engaged in renewal of negotiations through outside intermediaries.
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