Rivlin: Israel must do more to improve Palestinians’ lives

Ahead of meeting with Obama, president says East Jerusalemites ‘abandoned,’ trust-building measures ‘should have started yesterday’

Israeli president Reuven Rivlin seen on the train from New York to Washington DC, on December 08, 2015.  (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Israeli president Reuven Rivlin seen on the train from New York to Washington DC, on December 08, 2015. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday urged Israel to take steps to improve Palestinians’ living conditions, which he said were lacking, while stressing that peace was still a distant prospect, ahead of a meeting with US President Barack Obama later in the day.

In an op-ed for the Washington Post, which coincided with the president’s first US first, Rivlin also criticized Israelis for neglecting the development of Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, saying they have been “abandoned.”

The president said Israel must “take effective action” to lay the groundwork for a future accord, though he warned that “there is no currently viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“There is no diplomatic process underway, and no indication of imminent negotiations,” he wrote.

“Israel must take steps to improve the situation independent of the geopolitical territorial debate — steps that every sensible person understands serve simultaneously Israel’s moral and practical interests,” he wrote, pointing to the development of Rawabi, the first new Palestinian city approved by Israeli authorities, as a positive development.

He also encouraged “cultivating channels of communication and cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian businessmen, educators and cultural figures” and increased Arabic studies in Israeli schools.

“When it comes to all these possibilities, we should have started yesterday,” he wrote.

Rivlin, a Likud hawk who has expressed more moderate positions since becoming president over a year ago, appeared last week to break with his long-held position against a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, indicating that a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel within the framework of a joint confederation was the only way toward peace.

“There would be a confederation,” he told Aude Marcovitch and Patrick Wajsman of the French quarterly Politique Internationale. “Decisions that concern the two states in the confederation — or the two states of the united… Israeli-Palestinian state — we will have to [make]… together.”

The president also charged that Israel’s right and left wings have long neglected the East Jerusalem neighborhoods, the former due to “reasons of internal political differences,” the latter ” as part of an ideology of political separation from the Palestinians.”

“Thus, in debating the future, we have neglected to deal with eastern parts of Jerusalem in the present — and thereby literally abandoned the security of Jewish inhabitants and the welfare of Arab ones,” he wrote. “Does anyone think that dealing with the sewage, roads, schools and medical centers of eastern Jerusalem can or should wait until the end of the conflict? Is there anyone who thinks the consequences of these economic disparities in the city will stop at genuine or fictitious political borders?”

Israel effectively annexed East Jerusalem over three decades ago, but Arab residents have alleged discrimination in doling out municipal and government services, such as schooling, garbage collection, building permits and post office operations.

City officials have admitted to problems and vowed to up services in East Jerusalem, though many Arab neighborhoods have been effectively cut off from the rest of city in recent months as police have attempted to clamp down on a wave of violence.

Rivlin in his op-ed called on Palestinians to end the incitement and violence against Israelis.

“None of us is exempt from the requirement to ask ourselves: What is the positive legacy we will bequeath to future generations in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? I regret to say it does not appear that we will be able to bequeath them peace — but we can leave them other breakthroughs,” he wrote.

Rivlin departed on a visit to the United States Tuesday morning, in a trip during which he will meet with Obama for the first time as well as other senior administration officials.

In addition to high-level meetings in Washington, DC, Rivlin plans to deliver an address at the Brookings Institution and participate in a Hanukkah candle lighting ceremony with UN ambassadors from around the world in New York.

The president said before taking off that topics of discussion in his meeting with Obama would include Middle Eastern security issues and common values of “freedom and democracy” shared by the two countries.

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