While rockets were being fired from Gaza into Israel and aerial bombing by Israel into Gaza, a meaningful dialogue was taking place in Sydney.

On Sunday 5 May, the Head of the General Delegation of Palestine, Izzat Abdulhadi, and the Israeli Ambassador to Australia, Mark Sofer, were being interviewed at a public forum in the Emanuel Synagogue in Woollahra in Sydney.

Senior Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins (OAM) was the moderator in a full house of more than 300 enthusiastic people, most of whom were Jewish.

The event was held under Chatham House Rules, meaning that no press or recordings were allowed. However the Australian on-line publication Plus61J was granted special permission to interview the Ambassadors prior and post the event and on which this report is based.

In this rare opportunity to hear Israel’s senior diplomat in Australia together with his equivalent representing Palestine, it was heartening to hear them both trying to look ahead and not engage in historical dialogue. However, events of the past kept emerging, leading to robust exchanges despite the respect both men had for each other.

In this forum, Izzat Abdulhadi was given the respect and time to talk and present his views, but there was always the risk that a similar meeting with the Palestinians may give rise to anti-Israel rhetoric. “The current attitude of demonising Israel is not helpful,” Sofer said. And, if similar respect were given to Sofer at a similar meeting: “I’d be happy to attend a forum of Palestinians to discuss how to move forward,” he said.

Continuing with the dialogue, Abdulhadi emphasised: “We agreed to establish Palestine on 22 per cent of the original mandate, and we recognise Israel’s right to exist in 78 per cent of the land, as per the Oslo agreement, so we can’t compromise the compromise. Because of the settlements, we are left with only 9 per cent.”

While showing admiration for the large turnout of observers, Abdulhadi also wanted to recognise the role of Rabbi Kamins. “Because he first came to Canberra where we talked about the issue, I have a lot of admiration for his even-handed approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Also, he has been to Palestine and he saw the settlements with his own eyes. He was very neutral. It was very important for this discussion. I was very glad because I felt comfortable saying what I wanted to.”

Abdulhadi further added: “My message to the Jewish community is to support the international law covering human rights for the Palestinian people. The Jewish community here should play a role. It is very influential and has influence on the Australian government and on the Israeli government. I’d like to engage more with the Jewish community because I think it’s very important for understanding, and I’d like to encourage the Palestinian community also to engage with the Jewish community to try to change stereotypes about each other and know more about each other.”

Sofer pointed out: “Israel is doing well – not the same can be said for the Palestinians which I think is sad. So a better path for them might well be to stop rejection of proposals, to cease violence and together help build up their own economy and institutions, a civil approach. There has been a breakdown of trust.”

It is to be hoped that this meeting, like others in the past, can start to gain traction.