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JewishJournal.com

November 6, 2003

Project Re’ut Melds Optimism, Realism

http://www.jewishjournal.com/world/article/project_reut_melds_optimism_realism_20031107

For many observers the "road map," which envisions creating a Palestinian state adjacent to Israel, looks increasingly like a dead end. With Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists blowing up innocent Israelis in bloody attacks and Israel building a security fence around itself that slices through Palestinian lands, rarely has peace seemed so elusive.

For Gidi Grinstein, though, the current deadlock should be but a detour on the way to a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians. The 33-year-old director of Project Re'ut, a new Tel Aviv-based think tank that envisions creating a comprehensive approach for Israel to move toward a beneficial two-state solution, said he is cautiously optimistic, although a realist.

"The purpose of Project Re'ut is to prepare a toolkit of national security and foreign policy strategies for the government of Israel to go for the vision of a Jewish and democratic state across a range of possible scenarios," said Grinstein, a former secretary of the negotiating team for the Barak government who is in town trying to drum up support for his fledgling think tank.

Grinstein said he understands the difficulties and uncertainties of hammering out an agreement with the Palestinian Authority. The graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University also is aware of the toll repeated suicide bombings have had on the Israeli psyche.

Where others might see darkness, Grinstein sees light, if only a ray. To move Israel from here to there, his Project Re'ut hopes to assemble 100 of Israel's leading thinkers to grapple with several major issues. Among the topics Re'ut will address: how best to establish a Palestinian state; how to resolve the question of right of return; how to foster stronger Israeli-Palestinian economic relations and trade; how to resolve disputes over water and infrastructure; and what to do about Jerusalem and access to holy sites.

Launched in April by the Economic Cooperation Foundation in Israel, Re'ut has already attracted some of Israel's biggest foreign policy and national security players. Maj. Gen. Amnon Lipkin Shahak, former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff; David Kimchi and Avi Gil, former director generals of the Israeli Foreign Office; Gen. Ze'ev Livneh, former IDF defense attaché to the United States and Canada; and Avi Ben-Bassat, David Brodet and Ezra Sadan, all former director generals of the Ministry of Finance, are among Re'ut participants.

Re'ut joins a growing list of think tanks dedicated to finding a solution to Israel's growing security problems. Although well-meaning, it is unclear to what degree, if any, those groups influence policy. Grinstein, who made his first fundraising swing through Southern California in mid-September, said he hopes to achieve much through his efforts.

Grinstein admits, though, that much needs to happen before there can be peace with the Palestinians.

"The Palestinians have to get their act together and establish a unitary structure of command over all armed forces and control over all use of force. Without this, there may be agreements but no peace," he said.

And, contrary to the wishes of many Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, peace might mean dealing with Yasser Arafat, provided agreements can be monitored and enforced.

"Yasser Arafat is definitely relevant, the only real Palestinian leader," Grinstein said.

Grinstein thinks the lessons of the past can help Israel navigate a smoother future in its quest for peace. However, Grinstein warns that Palestinians must change their attitudes in order for peace to prevail.

"The Palestinian leadership hasn't established transparent and accountable government structures in the fields of security and economics," he said. "This has led to a failing governmental performance and an inability and unwillingness to enforce law and order and prevent terrorism. That, in turn, has led to worsening conditions of living for Palestinians.

Israel has had its share of problems as well, including political instability. Since 1993, the country has had five prime ministers. The rapid expansion of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza hasn't helped either.

Against this dispiriting backdrop, some Jews have supported the construction of a security fence around Israel proper and some of the disputed areas. Such a security barrier, they argue, would keep terrorists out and Israelis safe. However, Grinstein said peace cannot be imposed. A security fence fails to grapple with such important issues as internationally recognized borders and the status of Jerusalem.

Still, Grinstein said Israelis are a resilient people. Although trust in the Palestinians has plummeted, citizens of the Jewish State are hungry for peace and have finally recognized the need for a two-state solution, no matter how painful.

"I believe Israel has a legacy of eventually seizing the moment and making things happen. I am seeing many signs that such a historic moment is getting closer," he said.

Grinstein will be in Los Angeles from Tuesday. Nov. 11-Friday, Nov. 14. To find out more information about Project Re'ut, please write to gidi@ecf.org.il .

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