President Reuven Rivlin was a guest at Washington, DC’s Brookings Institution on Thursday, where he spoke of the need to foster coexistence and trust between Israel’s Jewish and Arab populations, as a first step towards regional peace.
“It is almost impossible to impose something upon someone; whenever it is possible, they will rebel,” Rivlin said. “So we have to find the understanding that we are living in communities, but the communities need to cooperate because we are living also as one country, as one people… as one people that have different approaches to life, and believe in different approaches to the way of life and even values, but we have to have common values and the understanding that every one of us can live together with the other side. The melting pot has to be something which is found by every one of us.”
Rivlin said there was a precedent for vastly disparate tribes coming together and finding common ground — during the early years of the Jewish state, when Jews of many origins and viewpoints found ways to put aside their differences and built a nation together because “we knew one thing, that we are one community.
“Peace will come when we will be able to understand that we are living actually in the same space of earth with two states, one state, three states, confederation, whatever,” he said. “We are not doomed to live together. It is really our destiny to do so.”
Israel needs “to let [Arabs and Palestinians] understand that they have the same hope of every Israeli,” he said.
Rivlin also met Thursday with Speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill, thanking him for his support of Israel. He later met with AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr, and Director of Policy and Government Affairs Dr. Marvin Feuer. He thanked the two for their work for the sake of the Jewish state.
Rivlin met with President Barack Obama in the White House on Wednesday, where they also took part in a Hanukkah party. During a private meeting before the ceremony, Rivlin said Obama expressed concern to him over the future of Israel and of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Obama was worried that a lack of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians could lead to a long-term stalemate, Rivlin said. “He expressed his concern over the future to come, as well as the future of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.”
Rivlin said he had told Obama that, while he believes in a need for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, steps towards a long-term agreement must be taken incrementally.
“I told him that maybe it should be done in stages, and perhaps we should discuss some sort of interim period,” he said.
Before Wednesday’s candle lighting, Rivlin compared Obama to the shamash — the “helper” candle in a Hanukkah menorah, which is used to light all the other candles.
“We know, Mr. President, that you have lit the candle for the last seven years to show the right way for your people, and for the entire world, and we are very sure that the eighth candle that you will light in the next year will be the same, and show the whole world how to fight what we should not accept,” he said.
Raoul Wootliff and Rebecca Shimoni Stoil contributed to this report.