Interview with Children of Peace

Children of Peace 4/9/14

Sarah Brown: How did you first get involved in OneVoice?

Joel Braunold: During University I was a member of the National Union of Students National Executive Committee. While an office holder the war in Gaza (Operation Cast Lead) broke out and I saw the effect of the conflict spill over into UK campuses and made me wonder what people in the region thought of their advocates abroad.

It was during this time that I met Jake and Sayeeda from OneVoice Europe who were attempting to hold the advocates of Israelis and Palestinians accountable to what people on the ground actually thought. I had spent two years studying Talmud in Jerusalem and thought that I knew the region well, but meeting OneVoice allowed me to actually speak to people living under occupation and within the conflict.

When I graduated I won a fellowship with the Legacy Heritage Foundation (out of the US) and convinced them to allow me to work for OneVoice Europe as a fellow. Now almost five years later (with a little break for some grad school and private sector work) I am still with the movement.

SB: Could you tell our readers about any experiences that you found particularly striking or surprising during your involvement with OneVoice?

JB: Despite the asymmetry with the conflict the populations, Israelis and Palestinians, are mirror images of each other. Before starting at OneVoice I had spent a significant amount of time in Israel and knew the Israeli psyche very well. My first time travelling to the West Bank, to work with our Ramallah office, I encountered Palestinians who spoke about Israelis the same way that Israelis spoke about Palestinians. The populations are so similar in their outlook of the other, both positive and negative, that it is a tragedy that they cannot recognize themselves in the other.

SB: I recently heard Moshe Amirav give a talk in which he suggested that the Arab League and the European Union should replace the United States as the key intermediary in negotiations between Israel and Palestine. What is your view of that proposal?

JB: It’s interesting. While I was at grad school I wrote a paper about the challenge of the mediator being perceived as impartial. After twenty years of attempts, the US is seen as flawed as an honest broker. Yet there are two very important points when considering this view point.

1) It is the US’s relationship to Israel that makes them a valid broker at all. The Palestinians’ main complaint is not that the US has a unique relationship with Israel, but is that they don’t use it to motivate the Israelis to achieve a two-state solution. Seeing that any solution would require the Israelis to make the main amount of sacrifice at this point (the Palestinians made their compromise with their acceptance of two-states), the Israelis are the ones who need to move from the comfort of the status-quo. If the US could use its influence to affect that, then I think that their relationship with Israel would be seen as an asset rather than a liability.

2) There is a tendency to blame the mediator when the talks fail. The US is not involved enough, or they are obsessed by it. They need to want the deal more than the parties or they cannot want it more than the players involved. Whatever happens, the US is the easy party to blame, as by blaming the party in the middle, the Israelis and Palestinians avoid the responsibilities for their own failures. The biggest issue is not the US but the belief gap that exists within each population. As long as the populations are willing to accept two-states but do not believe it will happen in the medium term, then the conflict will never be solved as those opposing a deal enter into that incredulity gap and will build ‘negative facts on the ground’. Those opposing a two-state outcome are therefore empowered by this belief gap while those wanting the outcome are left advocating over a diminishing reality.

Could a different format work? Well as long as the US was present at the Israeli side and the Arab League there at the Palestinian side I think it could. One creative idea would be to subject any agreement to a vote in the UN both in the general assembly and at the security council where each side is ensured support therefore leveling the playing field. Yet all the talk of different mediation is for nothing unless the parties start trying to prepare their populations for the reality of two-states today. If we do not start building it today then we allow the reality on the ground to be changed by those looking for maximalist positions rather than mutually acceptable ones.

SB: Support for the BDS movement seems to be growing. What is your own view of boycotts?

JB: I think that the first thing to say is that anything that supports non-violent activism to show one’s opposition to the occupation should not be dismissed. The move from violence to non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation is something that should be encouraged and supported. Having said that, there is a difference between the tactic of boycott and the principles of the BDS movement itself.

The BDS movement is principally a rights focused movement that is supposedly agnostic on solutions to the conflict. The rights they endorse they see as inalienable and concern equality, right of return and end of occupation. The rights approach maintains that nothing can mitigate these rights, they can never be balanced or negotiated with.

The implementation of these rights removes the ability to achieve a mutually acceptable two-state solution. The reality of conflict resolution is that it is a balance of rights. The right to self-determination versus the right to security. The right of return versus the right of sovereignty over one’s own population. [This should not be interpreted that I support the current trajectory of laws in Israel around minority rights. I do believe that you can create a state with a stable majority and equal rights that might one day reflect changes in its demographic makeup. It is to say however that no country can be expected to offer a population that is equivalent to 85% of its current population the right to return and naturalize, if they so choose.

In many cases, these rights balance individual rights versus national rights. Now if you reject the concept of a national right then there is no balance to be sought and therefore you can be an absolutist about the rights of the individuals in this case. But this conflict has been about two national movements and two peoples. By reducing it to a contest of individual rights, you remove the concept of the nation state, something that is at the heart of the conflict for the Israelis.

In addition for many proponents of BDS Israel, as a nation, is not a rights holder. Their positions in the negotiations are merely impositions on Palestinian rights born out of colonialism. Reality dictates that you cannot remove the Israelis, but you should not think of their demands in terms of rights as all of them flow from a place of injustice.

I do not subscribe to the view that Israel has no rights. I also do not subscribe to the view that individual rights automatically trump the collective rights of the nation state. I think for a successful resolution that ends the occupation and achieves a mutually acceptable two-state solution, rights have to be balanced against each other. No side will ‘win’. This is not to say that I think that the current series of actors are negotiating in good faith.

I am a solutionist and weigh the various tactics to achieve the outcome that I think is most realistic, in this case the two-state solution. Do I think that boycotts make this solution more likely? Well I think demonstrating the unacceptability of building settlements is essential. My main goal is to get the state of Israel to stop funding them. Is the best way to get there to boycott the settlements? – I think that in many cases the answer is yes. Is it true in all cases? No. There is no hard and fast rule, and it is another reason I don’t subscribe to an absolutist set of principles. I’m a pragmatist looking to achieve a vision of peace that I think both populations can accept.

SB: Which journalists/analysts on Israel/Palestine do you find most insightful?

JB: I have a rich diet of various perspectives. I think it’s essential that everyone read people that they disagree with if they want a broad view.

I generally read Haaretz, Jpost, Ynet, Times of Israel, Maan, Al-Monitor, BBC, NYTimes Aretz 7, PNN, 972 Mag every day. In terms of most insightful, Yossi Verter’s political sketch on Friday’s in Haaretz is a must read and Daoud Kuttab for Al-Monitor is great on PA issues.

 

All Joel Braunolds answers are made in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of the OneVoice Movement. All Children of Peace interviews cover a wide range of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and do not necessarily reflect those of Children of Peace. 

 

150 words on Sharon

The Evening Standard asked me for between 100-200 words on Sharon in a personal capacity (like the vast majority of things that I write). This is what I came up with. As a reminder everything on this blog is my personal opinion.

Ariel Sharon like the biblical King David was a Jewish wartime leader who galvanized the people behind him but did deeply immoral things in the process. Many of his deeds stand as examples to be learnt from rather than acts to be aspired to. Like King David his hands were bloody enough to win the war but too bloody to win the peace. His evacuation of eight thousand settlers from Gaza was necessary but the unilateral manner in which it was done guaranteed that it would not help the peace process. A founding father of Israel his life was one dedicated to the service of establishing and safeguarding the Jewish State. The mass of mourners reflect the deepfelt respect for this sacrifice but should not be misinterpreted by outside observers as approval of all his policies and actions.

Who is the Minister for Diaspora Affairs and Public Diplomacy?

In the coalition agreement Bennett was given minister for Diaspora Affairs – you can see it in multiple accounts:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/15/world/middleeast/netanyahu-israel-coalition.html?pagewanted=all

http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/Flash.aspx/264442#.UWcRLaLvtqU

http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/in-last-minute-hitch-habayit-hayehudi-refuses-to-sign-coalition-agreement.premium-1.509362

Bennett gave an interview to Aretz 7 on the 18th of March about his appointment as Diaspora Affairs minister:

“Referring to his appointment as Diaspora Affairs Minister, Bennett told Arutz Sheva, “I think that the reality of Jews around the world is a fact, and it’s not only about bringing them to Israel but about connecting to them wherever they live. It’s our responsibility to be not only the state of the Israeli citizens but of all the Jewish people around the world, and I intend to stand up to that challenge.””

If you look at the MFA listing – Bennett is listed as Minister for Diaspora Affairs

http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Government/Personalities/From+A-Z/Naftali_Bennett.htm?DisplayMode=print

Thing is on the Knesset Website – Bibi is the minister for Diaspora affairs and Public Diplomacy.

http://www.knesset.gov.il/mk/eng/mk_eng.asp?mk_individual_id_t=90

When did the switch occur? Why did it happen and why was it not reported?

The Ministry is important as it controls Birthright and the foreign face of Israel to the Jewish communities through the Public Diplomacy aspect.

 

UPDATE:

According to Lahav Harkov Bibi is Minister for Public Diplomacy and Bennett for the Diaspora – Bennett wanted public diplomacy but did not get it in the coalition agreement

5 Paragraphs I hope the President says in his public speech in Israel

During the upcoming Presidential visit to Israel and the West Bank, the Administration has decided it wants to speak to the people of Israel and the region rather than the government.

I think is is a good move. While his speech will touch on many other themes,  he will obviously mention the peace process. Obama has a very hard job in this regard- needing to reassure the Israelis he gets them while making sure that the Palestinians don’t lose hope in him. Add to this the traditional political back-and-forth of DC and Obama has a lot on his plate.

With that in mind, if I was his speech writer (a dream gig if ever there was one), this is what I would suggest he say:

“Despair is not a Jewish value; you are a people of hope and your message of freedom has been an inspiration to countless millions throughout history. In your quest for peace, know that you are not alone. Peace takes risks, it takes courage, it takes conviction. Know that whenever you extend your hand in peace, the United States stands with you.

Self-reliance is a lesson that the Jewish People have had to learn in the hardest way imaginable. The trials and tribulations that history has taught you has engraved the message of ‘never again’ into your hearts and into your souls. We as a nation, as a people, stand in locked step with you as a message to the world that the Jewish People will never find themselves alone in their hour of need, that they always have a reliable ally in the people of America.

It is not just America who stands with you in your quest for peace. Yesterday, I was visiting Palestinians in the West Bank. The conflict has forced these two great peoples to build walls between each other, to cut out the every day human interactions so necessary to build the trust needed to sustain peace. So today I carry a message to you from the West Bank that the people there are ready for peace. They want to live side by side, free from a occupation that robs them of their dignity and prevents Israel from achieving the security it so desperately deserves.

Time, however, is not unlimited. As the winds of change sweep through the Middle East, Israelis and Palestinians must be clear-eyed about the new realities that surround them. While you cannot control the direction of the countries around you, you can control your own. Extremism grows in the vacuum of hope and we have all failed to provide real hope to Israelis and Palestinians that they will see the security and sovereignty that is their right. From Gaza City to Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem to Jericho, we must continue to support those who have never given up the quest for peace, despite the challenges they face. We must support those who wish to live in peace and security and marginalize those who would sacrifice their people on the altar of violence.

I have met brave pioneers of peace this week. True peace is one that is owned by the people, not just their leaders. In the face of overwhelming odds and a political reality that they cannot control, they have carried their message and cause on despite the cynicism they are greeted with. Today I pledge to you that whatever challenges at the negotiating table we might face, we will redouble our efforts to work within each society to support those who support peace and marginalize those who oppose it. As we move forward towards a two-state solution, we will make sure that progress on the political level is matched by that on the civic level – taking the momentum from the negotiating table to the streets, towns, and villages of the people most affected by the conflict. “

Initial thoughts on the Israeli election #israelvotes

So I am happy to say I was wrong, like most other people – Yair Lapid was the major winner of the elections.

Of course the important factors are who will make up the coalition. In that regards I see a Bibi,Bennett,Lapid,(Mofaz if he makes it) being the core and the option for the religious parties to join if they want, but with few if any sweeteners.

There are three burning issues, the budget, religious /secular and the Palestinians, this coalition can go some way in answering the first two, and hopefully due to the size of Lapid’s bloc, can at least attempt to do no harm to the third. Though I work for the two state solution day and night, the fact is that Lapid is in the mainstream of the Israeli public discourse, sure on Two States, just uncertain how to get there. He will block any annexation attempt so it seems for now that worry is gone.

Additionally Bibi will not be able to dump him without going into the arms of the ultra-orthodox and in doing so destroying more of his base vote.

Interestingly it will be the Likud party that will be the hardest for Bibi to wrangle with and the least practice on a whole range of issues.

Despite the dictatorial nature of Yesh Atid (Lapid cannot be removed as party chair for 8 years) he seems to have genuinely brought in some great talent to the Knesset. I am very excited about Rabbi Piron and Rabbi Lipman going a long way to help heal the religious secular divides. Added to this Bennett who shares a lot of the same concerns on this issue.

What you will see is a far more moderate modern orthodox approach to both the office of the Chief Rabbi in Israel and other issues in education et al then we have seen before. I don’t believe that the progressive streams, Reform, Conservative, will get anything from this (their hope still is with Meretz and Labor) but the ultra-othodox hold over every aspect of state and religion seems to be crumbling.

The 6 for Livini and the 6 for Meretz shows that there are 10% of Zionist voters who put the Palestinain issues ahead of all others. There are of course people who value it who voted for Labor and others but those who put it front and center represent 10% of the country for sure. I worry about the lack of urgency but am happy that the anti-democratic far right vision that could of happened.

Additionally the healing of society on religious secular issues can go a long way to paving the way to have real discussions on other issues such as Two States among other things not from a tribal political standpoint but as a nation that is more united then divided.

With the final polls done – my analysis of the #israeli election

With the final polls my final analysis of the Israeli Election :

15% of sample polls still unsure who to vote for that means 15-17 seats up for grabs – seeing as that there is a 10 seat swing needed to go from right to left to change PM it is unlikely but could dramatically change the coalition.

Bibi might end up as PM but he has lost this election campaign – he ran under the slogan a strong leader and he comes in to the next government as a far weaker man. His coalition (Likud-Beytanu) looks to lose 10 seats, his favorite figures in his own party did not enter high enough on his list and he is shackled by those who have fought against him within.

Biggest winner hands down is Bennett – taking the NRP and settler right and making it fashionable – 50% of his votes are coming from under 30 year olds and by getting so many seats he is an essential coalition partner if the center left would want to block Bibi and not relay on Arab party votes. His biggest challenge if he gets the housing ministry (one of his top priorities and puts him in direct competition with Shas) is to please both the settler right (Tekuma is in his list) and the under 30’s who want more affordable housing within 67 Israel.

Smaller parties are doing better with no obvious challenger to Bibi – Meretz is looking to double in strength and Eretz Hadasha and Am Shalem look to be picking up a seat or two as well. Kadima might survive, but at this point who cares.

The destruction of the center left has been awful to watch as they eat each other. Livni has done worst followed by shelly with Lapid holding his own at 10-12 seats. His big competition is Shas as he has made his campaign about sharing the burden, if he finishes ahead then he will be happy.

Shelly has run a campaign that has allowed even the left to forget about security. This leaving of the diplomatic realm by all parties bar Livni and Meretz has allowed Bennett to go branded as the new face of Israel without dealing with the reality of his positions. Rather then own the failures of Oslo she has ignored them, been silent on the settlers (who will never vote for her anyway) and as a result has lost at least three seats to Meretz and possibly a bunch more to Livni. With Mitzna leaving her, she has no credible defense minister and this makes her not look like a serious challenger.

Lastly we have Shas that has had an awful campaign coupled with the illness of Ovadia Yosef. Though they wanted to do a compassionate campaign to appeal to all of the poor, their racism against Russians and migrant workers was on full show and they will finish having attacked every possible coalition partner. They know they are a fundamental part of the right blocks calculations but have managed to piss off the huge swaths of Israel with their campaign. Despite this they are going to end up between 10-12 seats.

Amongst the Arab sector the big question is will there by a 50% turn out (in 2009 53%) or will there be a democratic deficit that will allow those who boycott Israel to claim their are the real representatives of the Palestinian citizens of Israel.

Fun story of campaign has been Da’am the joint jewish-arab workers party that has captured the minds of many within the Left.

In terms of coalitions its always hard to say – those who think that Bibi will go with religious and right block think that the government will only last 2 years and then we are back to the polls. To others who can see a Livni, Lapid Bibi, Bennett and possible Shas, UJT coalition the figures on election night will matter and the degree that Bibi has flexibility to offer the ministries he wants to is going to be severely limited.