'If you don't see the other side, how are you going to bring about peace?'

View from Neve Ilan, Israel

Catrina Stewart
Saturday 24 September 2011 00:00
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Sitting down to a light supper of lentil soup and buttered bread, the Bakovic family gather round to watch Mahmoud Abbas address the United Nations. "He must have butterflies in his stomach," laughs Davor Bakovic, who moved from Yugoslavia to Israel in the 1970s.

Davor and Grania Bakovic – like some 60 percent of Israelis – believe that Palestinians should have their own state, but they are not convinced by Mr Abbas's decision to demand one at the UN. "Of course you need negotiations. You can't force somebody [to give you a state]," Davor says.

But as Mr Abbas turns to the issue of the Jewish settlements, there is a chorus of agreement in the room. "That's a very big problem, the settlements," says Smadar, the Bakovics' daughter, who works for an Israeli advocacy group. "Terrible," agrees Grania, who grew up in England. Later, she says she has Jewish friends on the West Bank settlements – Israelis lured there by cheap housing and tax breaks – and she won't set foot there, on principle.

As Mr Abbas starts to talk about the occupation, lambasting Israel for assassinations, military incursions and other trespasses against Palestinians, Grania laments the lack of context, clearly unhappy.

"He makes us sound like the worst people in the world," she says, arguing that Israel's behaviour is often a reaction to a Palestinian wrong. "If you don't see the other side, how are you going to bring peace?"

Meanwhile, Mr Abbas is talking about the separation barrier, which cuts the West Bank off from Israel, put in place eight years ago ostensibly to deter suicide bombers. "What do you think of that? Smadar asks her father. "He called it the racist annexation wall."

"I hate to see that wall, but I understand why it's up," he replies. "I don't complain about them calling us names. There is nothing else that they can do."

But he is gloomy about prospects for peace. "They are not leaders. [Menachem] Begin was a leader, [Ariel] Sharon was a leader," he says. "Netanyahu is not made of that material. Because he does not believe in [peace]."

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