Palestinian Foreign Minister speaks in Tel Aviv

It may be the first time it has ever happened.

Certainly, it’s the first time in a very, very long time.  A Palestinian Minister addressed a predominantly Israeli audience in Tel Aviv last night.

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki addressed an overflow audience at a Tel Aviv conference on Thursday evening.

The conference in Tel Aviv was convened to discuss the “Annapolis Middle East Peace Conference – a Diverse Range of Perspectives”, and was co-organized by the Peres Peace Center and by the Herzliya office of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. The discussion was moderated by the Peres Center’s Dr. Ron Pundak, who was one of the chief Israeli participants, together with Palestinian representatives Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qurei, in secret talks that were sponsored by Norway and that opened the way to Israeli-PLO recognition in September 1993 and the Oslo process of direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.  As a result, the Palestinian Authority was established in the West Bank and Gaza – which the Olso Accords say are a single territorial unit.

As it happened, while the public conference was taking place at Tel Aviv University on Thursday evening, the heads of the Palestinian and Israeli negotiating teams — Ahmed Qurei and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, respectively — were also meeting elsewhere in Tel Aviv, in private session.

Apparently, in the wake of the struggle that left Hamas in charge of Gaza but kicked out of a Palestinian National Unity government, the charm offensive toward Mahmoud Abbas’ Ramallah-based administration, some things have eased for some Palestinians: all ministers in Hamas-free emergency government now have permits to enter Israel anytime. These permits, initially issued for a three-month period, have since been extended another three months, until the end of the year. The Ramallah-based Ministers can enter Israel freely, but must just inform the Israeli soldiers of their passage at the “border crossing” checkpoint they use.

Maliki told his audience that: “I do represent the government that it is clear about its own obligations – then it will demand of Israel to do the same” . Al-Maliki, who spoke in English, said that “We are a government that comes to cooperate and not to compete – I am referring to security here. Our success in security will be an Israeli success, too.”

Earlier in the day, in an interview in Ramallah, the Palestinian Minister for Detainees and ex-Detainee Affairs, Ashraf al-Ajrami, complained that just the launch of a campaign by a re-built Palestinian security services to impose security and collect unauthorized weaponry in Nablus and in the neighboring Balata refugee camp earlier in the week, the Israeli Defense forces had then also entered Balata and “did everything to confuse our effort”.
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