Only ‘building trust’ – not a piece of paper – will bring peace, Rivlin says

Addressing US-Jewish leaders, president says relations between Washington and Jerusalem ‘must remain above any political disagreements or election campaigns’

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin addressing American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, February 17. (2020 Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin addressing American Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, February 17. (2020 Mark Neyman/GPO)

A genuine peace treaty between Israelis and Palestinians must be preceded by the building of mutual trust, President Reuven Rivlin said Monday.

“Israelis and Palestinians are not doomed to live together. It is our destiny to live together — all of us. And we must build trust between us. Because without building trust we cannot bring to an end the tragedy that we are living in the last 120 years,” he told American Jewish leaders at a conference in Jerusalem, speaking in English.

“Not any agreement, or any kind of understanding on a paper, will really bring us a solution… Only building trust will bring us to an understanding” that can tackle the challenges of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the president added.

Rivlin appeared to be alluding to the US administration’s peace proposal, issued in late January, although he did not specifically mention it.

“We must build a common future based on cooperation and mutual respect. Boycotts do not help this end. Boycotts do not advance peace,” he added. In that context, he criticized the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights for publishing last week a “blacklist” of companies doing business in the settlements.

“When Israeli and international businesses appear on a blacklist just because they serve Israelis living in the settlements, we will stand with them,” he said, to great applause from the audience at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’ 46th Annual National Leadership Mission, which is currently taking place in the capital.

Last month, in the immediate aftermath of the ceremonious unveiling of the so-called deal of the century at the White House, Rivlin said that both sides need to study it.

The proposal “could allow the two peoples to renew the channels of dialogue and make progress towards a shared future,” Rivlin said a speech to the German parliament in Berlin on January 29. “It is no simple matter and both sides need to study the plan in depth. It is a plan that demands deep, difficult and complex concessions from both sides but we must not give up.”

US President Donald Trump, left, listens as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, January 28, 2020, to announce the Trump administration’s much-anticipated plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

By contrast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has hailed the plan, highlighting that it allows Israel to annex large parts of the West Bank in the near future and guarantees a united Jerusalem, while the Palestinians are promised a future state only if they fulfill a long list of demands.

“By the way, this is a historic change. In all previous plans submitted by previous American administrations, it was Israel, Israel that had to make concrete concessions in order to enter the negotiations, and the Palestinians were required to do nothing,” Netanyahu told the Conference of Presidents on Sunday evening.

“We were asked time and time again to freeze construction in the settlements or to release Palestinian prisoners. This time, it’s reversed,” he said.

Speaking to the conference Monday, Rivlin also addressed the fight against increasing anti-Semitism in the US as well as the need for “deepening the bonds between Israel and the American Jewish community and ensuring bipartisan support for Israel.”

“Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the US and around the world. After Pittsburgh and Poway, Jersey City and Monsey, the American Jewish community is more concerned than ever,” he said, listing cities where anti-Semitic attacks were carried out recently.

The scene inside the home of Chaim Leibish Rottenberg in Monsey after a man wielding a machete attacked people attending a Hanukkah celebration (Courtesy)

“The responsibility for the security of Jewish communities around the world lies, first and foremost, with the local authorities. However, the State of Israel is committed to working with governments around the world to take all possible actions to combat these threats,” Rivlin said.

“We are all one family,” continued the president. “Like all families, we have disagreements. But our starting point must always be the unbreakable bonds between us. A safe and secure Israel is essential for the survival of the Jewish people, and a strong sense of connection among world Jewry is vital to the survival of Israel. We must find ways to celebrate our diversity, and to write, together, our future.”

The alliance between Jerusalem and Washington “must remain above any political disagreements or election campaigns,” the president went on, apparently referring to the perception that the Jewish state is increasingly becoming a partisan issue in the United States.

“Our partnership must remain above party politics. I know that maintaining bipartisan support is not an easy task, but it is one that is vitally important to Israel’s national security,” Rivlin concluded.

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