Two Rights and Two Wrongs

Sunny, only temporarily clouded - Tel-Aviv's weather at the year's start is also typical of the people's mood. The economy is healthy, booming - even the cautious guild of state and private finance experts smiles. The entourage of the by now forty-man deep Government exudes discreet optimism on the question of recharging the batteries of serious peace negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Egypt's President Mubarak, who in the latest phase of Israeli thinking plays a leading part. There is hope that Mahmoud Abbas, with his Fatah faithful, will this time come to the conference table. Thanks to the special pressure from President Obama this time all thorny issues will be thoroughly discussed: frontiers, settlements, Jerusalem, Holy Places and Palestinian right of return.

Europe should also play a more important role. In my private talks with Netanyahu, Defence Minister Barak and especially President Shimon Peres there was the definite feeling that even if Europe still does not speak with one voice it does contain willing and reasonable interlocutors. An Israeli Government delegation due to meet soon with Angela Merkel's ministerial team is expected to lead to truly constructive and thorough discussions.

Therefore all the more so has the escalating anti-Semitism and anti-Israel feeling in European media in connection with Gaza caused Israeli bitterness and pain.

There is much talk about a news story claiming that Israeli soldiers harvest inner organs and blood of Palestinians for commercial purposes. In the Persian language programme of the BBC World Service these stories were prominently reported. An open letter to the Director General of the BBC Mark Thompson came from an unexpected source: world-famous 38 year old piano virtuoso Evgeny Kissin, who spent his youth under the yoke of Soviet dictatorship, some of whose friends and relations lived, suffered and died in the Gulag and who is proud of living as a British citizen in the homeland of freedom, wrote a fiery letter of protest which is causing a sensation. By last night he had not received an answer.

Here one tends to think about the efforts of another great personality, Maestro Daniel Barenboim, to demonstrate to the world that 'enemies' (Israelis and Arabs) can gather under the banner of music, work and live in an orchestra peacefully and, in the truest sense of the word, harmoniously. Barenboim's intentions are crystal clear: he works for peace. Yet there is a danger of one side exploiting a noble initiative from the other side. Thus the Israelis fear that the plight of the Palestinians tends to be more dramatised in the accounts of the orchestra's activities than the legitimate fear that Israel will never be recognised as a free people and State. In spite of all that the concept of the West-Eastern Divan orchestra must deeply impress all those in quest for peace. It leaves open for both sides to rethink their views on right and wrong.

For me at any rate there is no better judgment on this complex issue than a quote from a speech of Israel's first President, Chaim Weizmann: "The Jewish-Palestinian problem is not a conflict of right and wrong but one of two rights and two wrongs." And he concluded "Our wrong is the smaller one."