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Leading Palestinians & Israelis want Minister to restore PLO dialogue leader’s permit

Adam Rasgon
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Al- Madani

Solidarity visit to al-Madani by Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova after withdrawal of his entry permit

Published: 25 June 2016

Last updated: 4 March 2024

Adam Rasgon obtains comments from leading Palestinians and Israelis, exclusively for The Jewish Independent, on Defence Minister Liberman’s decision to cancel the entry permit of PLO leader of Palestinian-Israeli dialogue.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Liberman revoked Mohammed al-Madani’s entry permit into Israel earlier this month, claiming that al-Madani had undertaken subversive activity and was trying to establish a political party in Israel. Speaking to a group of military journalists, Liberman said: “He (al-Madani) attempted to work with Bedouin and Jews and had a dream to establish a political party here.” The newly appointed Defence Minister stated further: “We are talking about a man who is investigating how to undermine Israel’s political stability and there is no reason for us to help him do that. Thus, his permits have been cancelled.”

Al-Madani is chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Interaction Committee with Israeli Society and a member of the Fatah Central Committee. In the former role, al-Madani has been appointed to reach out to Israeli society on the political and grassroots levels by the PLO and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He assumed this role in December 2012, after the Palestinian leadership attained non-member observer state status at the United Nations, to make better known the PLO’s position on negotiations and peace.

Despite initial obstacles and a limited budget, al-Madani and many other members of the committee, which includes top Palestinian officials such as Mahmoud al-Habash and Saeb Erakat, have met with hundreds of Israelis, including members of the government and opposition, a group of mayors, Mizrahi Jews, journalists, various Kibbutz members, and many others.

Al-Madani has also reached out to a few members of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). For example, in March 2016, the then head of the IDF Civil Administration, IDF Brig. Gen. Munir Amar, died when his plane crashed near Mount Kamon in northern Israel. Amar had served as one of the main points of contact in coordinating civil and security affairs between Palestinians and the IDF. On receiving news of Amar’s passing, al-Madani and PLO Executive Committee Member Ghassan Shakaa travelled to Amar’s village of Julis in northern Israel and offered the general’s family their condolences. The incident caused a stir in the Palestinian press with many Palestinian leaders condemning the visit, but al-Madani remained steadfast about his decision to visit, telling * the Palestinian press that Amar had worked with Palestinian officials “in a humane and positive (manner).”

Israeli and Palestinian responses

The morning after the Defence Ministry revoked his permit, al-Madani rejected the allegation that he tried to establish a political party in Israel. He told The Jewish Independent in a telephone interview: “I did not try to establish a party in Israel. There is no basis to such claims.” Al-Madani added that in his opinion the cancellation of his permit reflects the political positions of the Israeli Defence Minister and government: “Liberman thinks dialogue with Israelis about peace and the future of Palestinians and Israelis undermines Israel’s self interest.” Al-Madani continued: “ We are seeking peace with Israel and believe in creating a culture of peace but the Israeli government considers that threatening.”

Ashraf al-Ajrami, another member of the PLO Interaction Committee with Israeli Society and former Palestinian Authority (PA) Prisoner Affairs minister, said the decision will not prevent the PLO committee from continuing its work and meeting with Israelis: “This decision impedes communication, but it will not nix communication (altogether). Even though Liberman revoked Mr al-Madani’s entry permit, I believe this decision will actually increase insistence on continuing greater communication.” Al-Ajrami, a fluent speaker of Hebrew, has served as one of the most active members of the PLO committee and has often been interviewed by Israeli journalists.

Israeli officials and civil society members who have met with al-Madani previously, expressed their disappointment to The Jewish Independent about Minister Liberman’s decision and called on him to reconsider it.

Labor Secretary General Hilik Bar, who has met with al-Madani many times, rejected Liberman’s claim that al-Madani wants to intervene in the Israeli political scene. Bar said: “I don’t know which party the Defence Minister fears al-Madani will establish. I would like to remind the Defence Minister that al-Madani is a Palestinian citizen and not an Israeli citizen. Palestinians do not establish political parties in Israel.” Bar continued: “I think it is appropriate that this decision be overturned and he be allowed to enter Israel.”

Shlomo Buchbut, the mayor of Ma’alot-Tarshiha, who met with al-Madani and Abbas in Ramallah on 31 May this year, said: “In our meeting, we only discussed the issue of a peace agreement and the need to talk to the people. And in absolutely no way did (our meetings) have to do with the establishment of a political party.” Buchbut added, “The decision to take away his right to enter (Israel) is a mistake.”

Sam Ben Chetrit, the chairman of the World Federation of Moroccan Jews, who met with al-Madani four times in the past year including a meeting in Ramallah with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in early April, sent a letter to Minister Liberman, calling on him to “overturn any restrictions on Mr al-Madani’s entry into Israel.”

Ben Chetrit also told The Jewish Independent in a telephone interview that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office sent him a letter on 31 December 2015, urging him to continue to meet with al-Madani and President Abbas, and that he had forwarded a copy of that letter to Liberman. In the letter, which Ben Cherit showed to The Jewish Independent, a senior aide to Netanyahu, Jonathan Schachter, wrote: “We are convinced that you should continue your efforts and deepen cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Gershon Baskin, founder of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, who has met with al-Madani many times, said to The Jewish Independent that Liberman wants Israelis to believe that they do not have a partner for peace: “The bottom line is the right wing will stay in power as long as the (Israeli) public believes there is no partner. Al-Madani’s position is to engage Israeli society so Israelis will find that they do have a partner. This a direct threat to Liberman’s power base.”

The Defence Ministry has thus far not responded to The Jewish Independent’s inquiries as to whether it has any specific evidence that al-Madani planned to establish a political party in Israel.

Without an entry permit, al-Madani can continue to host Israelis in Ramallah at his office and the Muqata, the Palestinian Authority government headquarters. Such visits would require coordination with the IDF, which will reveal how far the Defence Minister plans to go to prevent al-Madani from undertaking his work. The Defence Ministry has not cancelled the entry permits of the other members of the committee and a number of them told The Jewish Independent that they plan to continue to come to Israel and to continue dialogue with Israelis.

* The Arabic is from Paltimes, 30.03.16, saying Israel radio had reported al-Madani saying that.

This The Jewish Independent article may be republished if acknowledged thus: ‘This article first appeared on www.thejewishindependent.com.au and is reprinted with permission.’

And see:

For Israel's new Defense Minister, a bad Arab is one who seeks reconciliation – Odeh Bisharat – Haaretz 27.06.16
The world according to Avigdor Lieberman: when a PLO official holds a discourse with Israelis he must be silenced.

Israeli defense minister moves to muzzle Palestinian voices for peace – Shlomi Eldar – Al-Monitor 17.06.16

Finding partners for peace April 9, 2016
‘We want everyone in Israel to realise that there is a partner for peace among the Palestinians.’ The message the Palestinians bring to each meeting is that a two-state solution and an end to the occupation are joint strategic interests for Palestinians and Israelis.

Rivlin and Abbas support trust building September 27, 2015
President Rivlin and President Abbas endorse people-to-people efforts to build trust between Israelis and Palestinians.

About the author

Adam Rasgon

Adam Rasgon is an independent journalist based in Tel Aviv, who focuses on Palestinian politics and culture. Adam has also written for Foreign Affairs, the Forward, and Al-Monitor. Follow him on Twitter @adamrasgon1


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