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Report no. 1; Syracuse, USA; November 2011

Impressions from the Region is a series of publications by Mitvim - The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, which present the Israeli public and decision makers with perceptions and questions by Arabs and Muslims, as these are reflected in international policy conferences where representatives from Israel and the region take part. At times when channels for communication between Israel and its neighbors are limited, we find it crucial to distribute this information as a tool for promoting an Israeli foreign policy that encourages peace and regional belonging.

Israelis rarely have opportunities to engage in policy dialogues with counterparts from the broader Arab and Muslim world. On November 14th 2011 such an opportunity took place.

Dr. Nimrod Goren, Chair of Mitvim – the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, visited the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University (New York, USA), and led a discussion regarding Israel's regional foreign policies with a group of visiting fellows from various Arab and Muslim countries.

The discussion exemplified that in parallel to the widespread criticism against Israel and its policies that exists in those countries, there is also curiosity to learn more about Israel and some willingness to engage in constructive dialogue with moderate Israelis.

Below are the key questions raised in the meeting by the Arab and Muslim participants:

1) Why are Israelis so preoccupied with their lack of security and with the threats they are facing, while Israel is actually the strongest regional power and is the one posing the major threats to the welfare of the region and its peoples?

2) Is the Israeli government serious about reaching an agreement according to the 1967 lines? If so, why is it building so much in the settlements, allows human rights violations, and does not act against confiscation of Palestinian lands?

3) Is the two-state solution at all still possible? Is there support in Israel for the one-state option? Does Israel have plans of making Jordan more Palestinian?

4) If Israeli public opinion polls show that a majority supports peace and the concept of the two-state solution, why do most Israelis vote for right-wing parties that oppose peace? How strong is Israel's civil society and does it put pressure on the government to promote peace?

5) Why is Israel playing for time? Doesn't it understand that it has to make progress towards peace or it will remain internationally isolated? Its standing in the world is already deteriorating. The UN is constantly voting against it, and even Israel's Western allies do not believe Netanyahu anymore.

6) What is the role of the Jewish lobby in the US in shaping Israeli and American policies? Why is this lobby so supportive of hawkish Israeli policies? Was this always the case?

7) Why is Israel so concerned with the Arab Spring? Why doesn't it support democratization in the Middle East? How does it plan to deal with the new regimes that will emerge in the Arab world?

8) Ahmadinejad claims that Iran can destroy Israel with three missiles. Does Israel take these threats seriously and does it regard Iran as an existential threat?

9) Why aren't moderate and pro-peace Israeli voices brought to the attention of the Arab public, via Al-Jazeera and other media outlets? People in the Arab world don't know that there are many people in Israel that think this way.

These questions are a limited sample of issues of interest and concern that exist in the Arab and Muslim world regarding Israel and the peace process. Mitvim believes that acknowledging them, in addition to exploring further such issues, can assist in setting agendas for regional interactions between Israelis and their neighbors, whether these are conducted face-to-face, through the mass media, or via social networks.

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