They passed like planes in the night. In one direction, heading from the United States, was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fresh from signing a new peace accord with the Palestinian Authority's President Yasser Arafat, bound for Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Leaving the same terminal, en route to the State of the World Forum in San Francisco this week, were Jamal Nusseibah, who is Palestinian, and his unlikely traveling companion, Noam Amit, a Jewish resident of Tel Aviv.
The two are participants in a section of the Forum dedicated to "emerging" young leaders from around the world. During a week when their respective leaders back home will be hashing out the implications of the recent Wye Memorandum, both Mr. Nusseibah, who is 21, and Ms. Amit, 21, said in an interview yesterday that they welcomed the opportunity to learn from each other on the subject in the somewhat more tranquil surroundings of San Francisco.
Under the terms of the new peace deal, Israel has agreed to re-deploy troops from 13 percent of the West Bank in exchange for a series of undertakings given by the Palestine Authority concerning security arrangements. In addition to acquiring more land, the Palestinians stand to win gains that could add up to large-scale relief from the economic and social pressures of being under Israeli control, as well as the phased release of 750 Palestinian prisoners, and the opening in Gaza of an industrial zone and an airport.
Just as importantly, at least for Mr. Nusseibah, the deal promises "safe passage" routes, one leading from Gaza to Hebron and one to Ramallah, just outside of Bir Zeit. For him, and for thousands of other Palestinians, this detail should translate into an easier time getting to work, school, and family members.
"It's another step on the way to peace," he said. "Hopefully it will facilitate … the road towards a final status settlement in which the Palestinians will be able to realize their national aspirations to be a state, and their personal aspirations to enjoy freedom and all the civic rights and liberties to which every human being is entitled. And for the Israelis too - it's a step on the way to realizing their aspirations also to live in peace and security in the region."
Asked whether he remained optimistic about the Mideast peace process, Mr. Nusseibah paused briefly before replying.
"I must be, because otherwise I would throw myself off this roof," he said, pointing at a high-rise ledge near where he spoke. "And I have to be because I live in a situation in which I have no voice, I have no rights, and I'm constantly humiliated every day… It's essential for me to hope and to believe that there will be peace.
"I also have great faith in what young people can do if they put their minds to it," he continued. "I think that young people can forgive and agree to live together, as I'm willing to live with Israelis in the same country if they are willing to recognize me as a human being and live with me in the same country."
Ms. Amit agreed. "It's amazing to think of what will happen in Israel when young people start to use their power politically in the next century," she said. She said she believed that a Palestinian state will, and should, be established next to her nation, with both states sharing a Jerusalem capital. Such an arrangement could ultimately lead to the two peoples drawing closer together culturally, she said.
Such as had been the case with her and Mr. Nusseibah in San Francisco? "Yes, why not? You know, I'm not the Israeli government, and he's not the one committing terrorist acts, so no, I don't have any problems. I've already discovered that we are people with much in common - our age, our interests.
"These are exciting times."