11/12/04: Israeli-Palestinian Town Meeting (1988)

Tonight's Nightline moment comes from 16 years ago, 1988. And what an extraordinary moment it was for us. We were planning to hold a town meeting in Israel, in which Palestinians and Israelis had agreed to participate together.

But just a few hours before we were scheduled to go on the air, the Palestinians decided that the only way they would come on was if we put a wall right down the center of the stage.

From Nightline April 26, 1988:

TED KOPPEL: You may have noticed this little fence that I'm sitting on here. It has been suggested to me -- and it is perhaps symbolic of the delicacy with which the negotiations proceeded just to bring this panel together and to bring this audience together -- but it has been suggested to me that we need a symbolic divider between our Israeli guests on the one hand and our Palestinian guests on the other. I must tell you that it has been so difficult to arrange this broadcast, that that was one small price that we were prepared to pay. So here it is. I will try and spend as much time on one side as on the other.

HANAN MIKHAIL-ASHRAWI, BIR ZEIT UNIVERSITY: Palestinians don't want to live in the Arab countries because they're not their own homeland. They have a homeland, which is Palestinian. And that's why they want to come back.

SAEB ERAKAT, AN-NAJAH UNIVERSITY: For God's sakes, the message is so clear. We want our independence. Occupation is the highest form of terrorism.

ELIAHU BEN-ELISSAR, KNESSET MEMBER, LIKUD PARTY: They want the Palestinian state, I know. They want a flag and a passport, I know. But they want me not to have any territory, any flag, no passport. Jews to become refugees again.

ERAKAT: You have lost the uniqueness of your history. You have a leadership that's politically blind. And anybody who comes and talk about the Jewish values now, where are they? Are they with deportation? The applicability of the Ottoman laws? The British mandatory laws? The Jordanian laws? Am I a human being or not?

PANEL MEMBER, MALE: The Palestinian people are decent and equal people. With them, we are ready to sit to the table and negotiate. But with the PLO, which calls for the liquidation of Israel, which perpetrates these killings and terrors in all these years, with the PLO, we will fight.

While some things have obviously changed for the worse in Israeli/Palestinian relations over the past 16 years, it's interesting to recall that back then, merely having Palestinians and Israelis on the same stage together took an enormous effort. It was the first time it had ever happened.