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Israel’s Settlers’ New Face

Israel’s Settlers’ New Face

With the recently launched French peace initiative, and possibly a regional peace push, looming, the Yesha Council, the umbrella group for Israeli settlements, last month appointed a new chief foreign envoy to make the settlers’ case to the world. Lt. Col. (res.) Oded Revivi, 47, former mayor of the West Bank settlement of Efrat, sat down with JTA last week to discuss his plans for the job.

What will you tell the world about the settlers?

For the last 50 years, Yesha was mainly busy trying to build up the community and increase the numbers, and not so much telling and spreading the story. And all of a sudden we wake up almost 50 years later finding ourselves with all sorts of initiatives not understanding our message, not really understanding the reality in which we are living here, and that needs to be conveyed.

The message is, at the end of the day: There are hundreds of thousands of Jews living here, there are a lot of Palestinians living here. There is an ecosystem that is working. It can be improved. There are things that need to be amended.

But it’s definitely not a conflict zone. Most of the terrorist attacks occur outside of Judea and Samaria. Yet the myth is that once there won’t be any Jews in Judea and Samaria, there will be peace and quiet in this region.

What will you take from Dani Dayan [the former Yesha Council leader], and what will you change?

Dani basically set the foundations for the understanding that we can’t just focus locally. He definitely invested a lot of time with the official diplomats, with the international media. I think it’s not enough. … I think we need to find efficient ways to spread messages and relatively cheaply, which is what this whole new media is about, something that during Dani’s time wasn’t developed.

Having said that, we also need partners, and one of the potential partners that is out there but needs to be pampered, developed and hugged, is the international Jewish community, which, because of some religious disagreements sometimes, feel out of the picture. Maybe by creating alliances with them, we’ll be able to multiply the message through the Jewish organizations throughout the world.

That might be hard in the U.S. A growing number of American Jews are giving up on Israel, in part over frustration with the occupation. Does that worry you?

I think some of the Israeli politicians don’t realize the importance of the alliance with the different sectors of Judaism around the world. When you are saying, ‘I have nothing to do with Conservative Jews anymore,’ you’re basically saying that within a few years, you’re going to close down the strongest lobby that Israel has around the world, which is called AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee]. That is something that Israel cannot allow itself.

The current wave of Palestinian violence, which is centered in the West Bank, seems like a challenge to the message that Jews and Arabs can live together there under Israeli rule. Do you see it that way?

That’s an excellent example of how people don’t know the facts and jump to conclusions. Most of the stabbing attacks, the last time I looked at statistics, over 60 percent of them, happened in what we call “Little Israel” [within the 1967 borders]. Only 40 percent happened in Judea and Samaria.

The majority of the developed world today is dealing with that same challenge. If we understand that it’s a global challenge … maybe the leadership of the world will put the focus on those small, violent, strong minorities, instead of rejecting the majority by collective punishment.

When you refer to “collective punishment,” is that a criticism of how Israel responds to Palestinian violence?

Building fences is not the answer. You have all the time to build security, which as far as I’m concerned means to find a shared interest, or an interest that the result will be the same that both parties can benefit.

For example, in Efrat, where the security fence is not built, it’s not a motorway for suicide bombers because — and not a lot of Israelis are willing to admit this — the Palestinian Authority realized that the pictures of suicide bombers don’t serve their interests, and they’re doing quite a lot to stop those extremists from coming and blowing themselves up.

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