'Israel missing a window of opportunity in Middle East’



Israel’s expropriation of 1,000 acres of West Bank land to extend the Etzion settlement bloc was a “huge mistake”, according to the incoming president of the New Israel Fund, Talia Sasson.

The current situation in the Middle East gave Israel the chance to restart peace talks with Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, she argued.

“I believe we should have opened negotiations with Abu Mazen [President Abbas] on how to remove our settlements from the West Bank and give the land to the Palestinians for their state and not to do the opposite, to take more and more land and widen the occupation in the West Bank.

“There is a window of opportunity for Israel because of Isis [Islamic State]. There are Arab states who oppose Isis and are threatened by it such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Arab League. We could take advantage of the situation to have negotiations with Abu Mazen with the support of all those states, giving him the legitimacy to sign a peace agreement.”

Ms Sasson, the current co-chairman of NIF’s international council and a lawyer who formerly worked in the State Attorney’s office, was visiting London last week to speak to supporters. The author of a report in 2005 on illegal West Bank settlement outposts, next year she will become president of the organisation, which supports social justice, human rights and religious pluralism.

“Two systems of law apply in the West Bank — one for Israelis, one for Palestinians. Israelis there have all the rights that citizens in a democratic state have and Palestinians have none,” she said.

Inside Israel, she said that racism was growing and the recent war with Hamas had made it worse.

Demonstrators against the war were “attacked by some right-wing extremists in Israel”, she said. “There are not so many but there are enough that are looking for trouble.”

Some of her friends felt that “the next Emil Grunzweig is walking between us” — a reference to the peace activist killed by a grenade thrown at a demonstration in 1983.

“I don’t know if it will have happen, I am not a prophet. Freedom of expression is somehow restrained by people afraid to demonstrate — this is not good for democracy.”

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