Washington, DC – The chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in the United States has praised the United Arab Emirates for its “tolerance” and “fight against terrorism”, and urged the pro-Israel lobbying group, AIPAC, to encourage and support Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states “pursuing a similar path”.
Stephen Greenberg told the annual conference, under way in Washington, DC, on Monday that he visited the UAE and Jordan.
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“In the UAE, I found a country that is tolerant, pluralistic, promoting women in government and the private sector, while committing to fight terrorism and extremism in every form,” Greenberg said.
He added that the visit gave him “hope for positive change in the region”.
He also urged the gathering to “encourage and support the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states pursuing a similar path”, adding that “real change must be encouraged constantly”.
In his trademark strident tones, Naftali Bennett, Israel’s minister for education and diaspora affairs, said: “Israel is strong and stronger than all of its enemies combined.”
Describing Iran as the head of the octopus that needs to be attacked, Bennett, an extreme right-wing member of Israel’s security cabinet, said: “We also must not allow other countries from going nuclear. We should prevent Saudi Arabia from having nuclear power.”
Danny Ayalon, former Israeli deputy foreign minister who also spoke at the conference, told Al Jazeera that he has “good relations with Saudi leaders” and that Israel has a lot in common with the Arab Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain, especially in countering Iran’s rising power in the region.
“Iran is our common enemy,” he said.
Using his main address, Avi Gabbay, the leader of Israel’s Labour Party, declared that Israel must separate itself from the Palestinians by establishing a demilitarised Palestinian state on parts of the occupied Palestinians territories in the West Bank and Gaza.
Gabbay, who is running for election to be the next prime minister of Israel, said Palestinians must first meet several conditions before Israel should consider agreeing to their demands of having their independent state.
Echoing one of AIPAC’s signature lobbying efforts this year, Gabbay said the Palestinian National Authority must first stop its economic support of families of Palestinians imprisoned and detained by Israel for their activism against the Israeli occupation.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there are more than 6,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.
Gabbay, who said his family emigrated to Israel from their ancestral home in Morocco in 1964, described all the Palestinians imprisoned by Israel as “terrorists”.
Emphasising separation from the Palestinians as key to Israeli maintenance of its Jewish majority, Gabbay said his parents “left a Muslim-majority country to be part of a Jewish-majority country”.
Avoiding acknowledgement that Palestinians have a right to be free in their independent country, Gabbay kept the focus on Palestinians confined to improving their economic situation, something he said would ultimately help Israel.
“We must have economic cooperation to improve the Palestinian economy to have a secure peace with Israel,” he said.
“We not only are part of the Middle East but we want to lead the Middle East.”
On the issue of the illegal settlements that Israel is building in the occupied territories, Gabbay’s views did not vary from the standard line of the current Likud-led government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Gabbay’s only objection on the Israeli settlement project inside the occupied territories was over “hill-top posts” that were built by enterprising Jewish settlers without government sanction.
“We must stop building on hill tops because they don’t provide any security value to Israel,” he said.
According to the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, about 600,000 illegal Israeli settlers live in the occupied West Bank, which Israel seized from Jordan during the 1967 war.
He also carefully avoided any mention of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories on which Palestinians hope to establish their independent state.
For his part, Ayalon, the former deputy foreign minister, echoed Gabbay’s sentiments and said the Palestinian leadership was to blame for not reaching a peace agreement with Israel.
He also refused to acknowledge that Israel is occupying Palestinian territories but said Israel would be willing to negotiate if Palestinian leaders recognise Israel as a “Jewish state” and end all of their claims inside Israel, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes in what is now Israel.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which signed the Oslo peace agreements with Israel in 1994, has recognised Israel’s existence along pre-1967 war lines.
Palestinians are demanding the establishment of an independent state encompassing the West Bank and Gaza with Arab East Jerusalem at its capital.
The PLO has renounced claims to the parts of historical Palestine that now make up Israel but insists on a solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees.
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