Skepticism, rancor scuttle half of twin Mideast peace concerts

JERUSALEM — It might sound like an inspirational convergence along the lines of John Lennon's antiwar ballad "Give Peace a Chance": twin concerts in which thousands of Israelis join thousands of Palestinians to call for an end to a demoralizing conflict that often looks as if it will go on forever.

Except that this is the Middle East, where even a peace concert can become a raucous political battleground.

After an eleventh-hour protest by Palestinian activists, the Oct. 18 "people's summit" was effectively scuttled Friday when organizers canceled the West Bank half of the OneVoice concert and decided to go forward only with the Tel Aviv event, featuring Canadian rock star Bryan Adams.

Citing security concerns, Daniel Lubetzky, a founder of the OneVoice peace organization, accused "extremists" of sabotaging the event by threatening Arab musicians who were planning to take part in the Jericho concert.

Lubetzky and OneVoice offered no evidence to support the contention, and the event already had been in the process of unraveling after one of the headline artists in Jericho — Palestinian rap group DAM — decided to pull out to support the last-minute boycott.

Lubetzky came up with the concert as a way to demonstrate to the world that realistic moderates on both sides of the conflict could come together and drown out the voices of extremism.

But instead it's become a metaphor for the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations.

"Ours is not a message of peace and love and coexistence," Lubetzky said before he canceled the Jericho part of the event.

"It's a message of let's not let this get worse," he said. "We are fed up. We don't love each other. You leave us alone and we leave you alone and let's just have a state and get that done before it gets ugly."

After decades of war and occupation, Palestinian suicide bombings and Israeli military invasions, even calls for peace sound cynical and tired.

"What we are looking for is not poetic peace, not bleeding-heart liberal type of peace," said Mohammed Darawshe, a veteran peace activist who helped found the OneVoice organization with Lubetzky in 2002. "What we need right now is a peace arrangement. It's more, I would say, a kind of divorce agreement between Israel and the Palestinians."

As with many a divorce, the two sides are bickering over who gets what. In this case, it's land, security and lives.

Next week's concert was meant to be a unique initiative designed to mobilize tens of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians to support a two-state solution and call for immediate, marathon negotiations to make it happen.

The event has high-profile support from Queen Noor of Jordan and Hollywood stars such as Brad Pitt, Jason Alexander and Natalie Portman. Boxing legend Mohammed Ali is on the advisory board. The group is backed by a cross-section of Middle East politicians, activists and leaders.

Lubetzky, the son of a Holocaust survivor who calls himself a "determined pessimist," originally cast the event not as a Middle East Woodstock or Live 8 but an opportunity to mobilize moderates and marginalize extremists.

So far, according to OneVoice, nearly 600,000 people have signed on to the group's 10-point agenda for peace talks. The goal is to present a million signatures to politicians.

But OneVoice's plans sparked a protest by activists who viewed the concert as a devious attempt to dilute Palestinian demands.

"OneVoice is a wolf in sheep's clothing," said Haithem El-Zabri, a 42-year-old Palestinian-American who's organizing a protest called Another Voice. He said the OneVoice plan for a two-state solution didn't do enough to protect the rights of Palestinian refugees and gave up too much to Israel, which wants to keep its largest West Bank settlements. El-Zabri is among a minority who support the idea of Jews and Arabs living in one nation as an alternative to Israeli and Palestinian states side by side.

Lubetzky dismissed the activists as "a group of fringe extremists and false messiahs" who've led the region into a dead end.

"If you want this absolutist vision, keep it in your mind, but shut up and let us move on so those that want to end this conflict can move forward," said Lubetzky, who was born in Mexico and educated in the United States, where he has a "not-only-for profit" business venture called PeaceWorks. Lubetzky launched PeaceWorks in 1994 — after the Oslo Peace Accords gave hope to the Middle East — to promote economic cooperation between warring parties.

A PeaceWorks cornerstone product back then was a sun-dried tomato pasta sauce and spread packaged under the label "Moshe and Ali's." The spread is produced in an Israeli factory with basil from the West Bank and sun-dried tomatoes from Turkey before being put in glass containers from Egypt. Packages bear the slogan: "Cooperation never tasted so good." But the boutique brand never developed much more than a niche following.


Another Voice:

PeaceWorks' Moshe and Ali video: