Last night I attended the reception and first gala dinner of the Israeli-Palesinian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Speeches were made by the Vice-Prime Minister, Silvan Shalom, Tony Blair and Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon.
The event started and finished with the choir of the Jewish-Arab Centre in Jaffa, who had just performed for the Pope. In 2007 I had taught music to members of the choir at the Church of Scotland School in Jaffa, and it was great meeting up again. The CEO of the IPC was amused to hear from them that they had learned such gems as 'Yellow Submarine' from me, as well as a potted history of Liverpool.
Mrs. Blair was photographed with the girls later.
The main speeches of the evening started with Mr. Shalom . He spoke about the importance of finding peace with the Palestinians, as well as with the rest of the Arab world. Economics and politics should work hand-in-hand, he stated. Moderate Arabs must be supported. He pledged that the Israeli government would work towards this goal, and asked for Tony Blair's assistance. 'Today' Mr. Shalom said, 'We are making history'.
After the hors d'oeuvres of salmon, aioli and roquette, Tony Blair took the stand. He spoke of a three-part project of economics, politics and security working hand-in-hand for bothy Israelis and Palestinians. The economic dimension, he feels, is critically important. The aim is 'transformative change', especially on the West Bank, where growth, jobs and higher living standards would be of enormous benefit. He also advocated a new approach to access and movement for Palestinians, which would especially help business people.
He said that it would be good if this approach could be extend to Gaza as well. However, he recognized the security issues which would be involved in such a move. He reiterated that economics and politics depend on each other.
From his vast experience of different religions, cultures and ethnic groups all over the world, he had found that the great desire of all was to be awarded dignity and self-respect and to be dependant on no-one but oneself.
This did not entail only an absence of violence, but also the dignity to shape one's own destiny. Economic growth and enterprise could play their part in the realisation of these aspirations. Business can transcend the divide.
Mr. Blair had observed from the example of the Jewish-Arab Choir, as also at the Tel Aviv Award Ceremony the previous night, the importance of self-interest. One of the other award recipients had said that his prize money would go partially to pay off his mortgage. Self-interest is important. The majority of people would like peace and a better life for themselves and their families. Construction should triumph over destruction.
The final speech was by Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon. He said: 'We shall never agree on narratives of history. We are now building a new narrative of the future - of peace, and the economic track will start without pre-conditions.' He pointed out the presence in the room of the Governor of the Bank of Israel.
And the next day, the American tourist using the neighbouring computer told me how lovely Cherie Blair had been to her when they had met in passing in the foyer.