“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” remarked Charles Caleb Colton in 1824.
Congress should pay itself this compliment by establishing an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace that mirrors the bipartisan path blazed in 1986 by then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA) and President Ronald Reagan in their successful efforts creating the same institution to address the violence in Northern Ireland.
Fortunately, with the courageous leadership of two members of Congress, the first step has already been taken.
In the 113th Congress, Reps. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) introduced a bipartisan proposal that would, like Congress did for Ireland, establish and contribute to an International Fund “to promote and support contact, cooperation, dialogue, shared community building, peaceful coexistence, joint economic development, and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians.”
H.R. 5795, the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Authorization Act of 2014, recognizes that, despite political efforts, official negotiations, and significant investment in a political solution to peace, longstanding peace requires support from citizens. H.R. 5795 promotes the efforts of those working every day to demystify the “other side” and encourages interactions to break down the metaphorical walls between citizens.
The International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace is a component of, not an alternative to, a negotiated peace between the two sides. However, the grassroots component of any long-lasting resolution has not received the political or financial support it deserves.
Currently, through the USAID Conflict Management and Mitigation Program, Congress provides $10 million a year for grants to “people-to-people” reconciliation programs in the region. This figure pales in comparison to the resources dedicated to the “top-down” approach to peace.
The International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Authorization Act of 2014 would increase U.S. investment in these initiatives by providing $50 million in seed money, to be matched (as was done with the International Fund for Ireland) by other participating nations, private sector donations, and philanthropic contributions.
Nearly 30 years ago, President Reagan urged that “our efforts, together with those of the Governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland, will help to promote economic and social development in Ireland, thereby constructing a durable framework that would provide a promise of peace.”
These same words could be spoken today about the conflict in the Middle East.
Now that the 114th Congress has convened, it should quickly imitate the work done by its legislative counterparts nearly 30 years earlier. The lessons learned in Northern Ireland should guide our actions in the Middle East. The proposal from Crowley and Fortenberry should be reintroduced, and the legislation should move quickly through the U.S. Congress.
President Reagan and Speaker O’Neill would be flattered to see the legislature replicating their bipartisan success.
When Naftali Bennett first entered the coalition, I wrote of his plan to create a de facto one-state solution. Now that the current government is in its final days, it is worth taking stock of his progress and looking at what his plans are for round two.
Strengthening the belief in the supremacy of claims to the Jewish homeland and the justness of measures to maintain control of it.
The last straw of this current government was the Jewish Nation-State Bill. As he stated in his much-watched performance at the Brookings Institute, Bennett’s next target is the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, the constitutional basis in Israel for civil and human rights. He believes the “balance” was tipped by the Supreme Court and that Israel has become too democratic and not Jewish enough.
It is therefore no surprise that Bennett’s Jewish Home party has indicated it will demand the Justice Ministry in the next government.
Uniting the nation and its leadership
Though it was clear that Jewish Home’s Uri Ariel was Housing Minister only for the West Bank settlements, Bennett’s personal popularity has only grown. His latest campaign video shows him trying to break out of the ‘settlement party’ box.
Military strength and controlling of the territory through the security establishment.
Bennett scored big political points during the last war in Gaza by arguing in favor of a ground invasion to shut down the tunnels early on in the operation. The fact that he was ahead of the curve has been important for his profile. Based on this performance (and his previous military service), he now regularly dismisses security officials who disagree with him.
The elimination of terror and cessation of incitement in Palestinian schools.
Bennett has maintained that there is no partner in the PA, pointing to incitement. He continues to do so at every available opportunity.
Making clear to the international community that a second state west of the Jordan River is not viable.
Many folks were surprised by the strength of Bennett’s performance during the Saban Conference in Washington earlier this month. Bennett’s main calling card is that he fully rejects the two-state solution and wants to shift the conversation in a different direction. The cornerstone of his plan is the annexation of Area C and some sort of self-rule in Areas A and B. Gaza isn’t worthy of inclusion in his plan. The more he can get people to agree that the two-state solution is dead, the more he can claim that he is the only person with a path forward.
Advancing the immigration of one million Jews to Israel to secure a permanent Jewish majority in Israel.
Bennett rather enjoyed his position as Minister for Diaspora Affairs. He was Chairman of Birthright and champion of the World Jewry Joint Initiative, a program designed to scale up the concept of Birthright and have Israeli tax-payers responsible for ensuring a strong Jewish identity within the diaspora. As I’ve written previously, the idea of having struggling middle-class Israelis subsidize the humongous costs of Jewish day school education in the States is a losing concept. More importantly, being a third-party funder will give the Diaspora Minster a say over Jewish educational content in the U.S. and will give Bennett a whole new platform — targeting a new generation — to continue advocating and advancing his one-state vision.
One million Jews in Judea and Samaria, tripling its Jewish population.
As Labor MK and Knesset Finance Committee member Stav Shaffir consistently showed, under Bennett’s priorities, the Finance Committee would give larger and more subsidies to West Bank settlements than to the socioeconomically weak towns and cities in the south of Israel. Between the Housing Ministry and the Knesset Finance Committee chairmanship, Bennett’s party has ensured that cash continues to flow across the Green Line in disproportionately larger and larger sums in order to make this his vision a reality.
The creation of large residential areas surrounding the current West Bank settlements.
Though there was no formal settlement building freeze during this government, there were constant rumblings about an informal freeze outside the major settlement blocs. Bennett hopes to continue advancing his one-state vision through his annexation of Area C, which he will be in a greater position to do if he takes becomes Israel’s next Defense Minister.
Executing a construction, development and economic plan for the million Jewish Israeli residents of the West Bank.
The Defense Minister is the de-facto sovereign of the West Bank. Not due to any lack of effort, many of Housing Minister Uri Ariel’s initiatives never got approval from the Defense Minister under this government. It is no wonder that one of Bennett’s main anticipated demands from Netanyahu in the next coalition is being given the reigns to the Defense Ministry.
Over all, Bennett has done remarkably well. What has stood in his way has been the Supreme Court and his inability to get final approval for settlement projects in the West Bank. It is little wonder that he wants to push through the Jewish Nation-State bill, while insisting on the Justice and Defense portfolios as his price for ensuring Bibi’s return to Balfour Street in Jerusalem.
Whether or not Bibi gives him everything he wants, Bennett is riding high.
What of the anyone but Bibi coalition (AOBB)?
For the math to work for AOBB, either the ultra-Orthodox need to sit with Lapid (not a chance in hell) or Meretz needs to sit with Avigdor Liberman. With the role of the Arab parties still unknown (as they struggle with the Left to work out how, if at all, they should work together) they have been left on the outside, at best in a supporting role.
Thus the savior of the two-state camp (Avigdor Liberman) is a man who wants to transfer Arab citizens out of Israel, the implementation of which would mark the formal departure of the concept of coexistence from the two-state paradigm.
If Bennett has accomplished anything it is this: he has forced the two-state camp to rely on a party whose main plank is the transfer and disenfranchisement of Arab citizens of Israel.
Until the Left finds a way to include the Arab parties in their potential coalition, the result will be depressing and the coalition-building formula will mean that the two-state solution may no longer be worth the price.
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.
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.
In the coalition agreement Bennett was given minister for Diaspora Affairs – you can see it in multiple accounts:
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
Thing is on the Knesset Website – Bibi is the minister for Diaspora affairs and Public Diplomacy.
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.
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