Israeli, Palestinian mayors cooperate on municipal life

Ra’anana Mayor Ze’ev Bielski: It is our duty to keep open the channels of communication even during these days when the fight against terror continues.Despite the tense atmosphere between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, municipal leaders from both sides are …

Ra’anana Mayor Ze’ev Bielski: It is our duty to keep open the channels of communication even during these days when the fight against terror continues.Despite the tense atmosphere between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, municipal leaders from both sides are continuing to participate in a series of quiet, ongoing meetings in order to keep the lines of communication open between them.

Most recently, two days of meetings took place this month in Rome between the mayors of Ra’anana, Rishon Lezion and Ashdod and the mayors of Nablus and Kalkilya.

The meetings took place at the invitation of the mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, and under the auspices of the Peres Peace Center. The meetings were one in a series of meetings between mayors from Israel and their counterparts in the Palestinian Authority, designed to foster dialogue and create a basis for cooperation in various areas of municipal life.

“We believe that the difficult situation in which citizens from both sides find themselves is insufferable and cannot continue,” said Ra’anana Mayor Ze’ev Bielski. “Therefore, it is our duty to keep open the channels of communication even during these days when the fight against terror continues.”

The latest meeting in Rome dealt with various aspects of municipal life, education and specifically the problem of sewage that emanates from the Palestinian cities of Nablus and Kalkilya and flows into Israel. Various solutions to the problem were explored, and a joint effort to secure international funding to deal with the problem is underway.

Contact between Bielski and Kalkilya Mayor Ghassan Shaka’a, under the auspices of the Peres Peace Center, dates back to 1999, when the Shaka’a visited Raanana in April and Bielski visited Nablus in November.

During his visit, Shaka’a also met with Ra’anana residents Zahava and Zvi Rozen whose daughter Anat Rozen-Winter was murdered in a terrorist attack at the Apropo restaurant in 1996. During the current intifada, some contact has continued between the mayors, most notably, after the destruction of Joseph’s Cave, when Shaka’a agreed to Bielski’s telephone request to renovate the holy shrine.

A further meeting took place in Athens in September 2002, prior to the Second Summit of Mayors of the World, when the Peres Peace Center arranged a meeting between the mayors of Ra’anana, Rishon Lezion (Meir Nitzan) and Nablus (Ma’rouf Zahran), as well as other officials from the Palestinian Authority. A follow up meeting in Rome is being planned for February/March 2003.

“The good will and faith expressed by the mayors who attended the meetings generates hope that there is the potential on both sides for good neighborliness, based on the right of both peoples to live in peace, security and prosperity. It gives us hope for a better future for us and our children,” Bielski said, adding, “I see it as my duty as a citizen and a public figure to do all I can to strengthen mutual cooperation. I am encouraged by the fact that there are people on the other side who see eye to eye with us on the importance of this process, for the future of the children of both peoples in the region.”