What Comes Next?

This appeared in the Jewish Journal January 18th 2018

There were many things that President Donald Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem was not. It was not the start of the apocalypse. It was not the start of a successful political peace strategy. Nor was it earth-shattering in terms of its actual practical effects.

So, what was it? It was an international humiliation for a Palestinian community that believed in negotiations. It was an abdication of the role of sole arbitration by the United States. And it was a reality check for everyone concerned.

The United States, at least for the next three years, will not be able to singlehandedly bring the parties back to the table. Of course, even before this, the reality was that even if negotiations had — by some miracle — restarted, few were confident that the societies or their respective leaders were ready for a credible process.

If the Jerusalem announcement has stopped the fake horizon of talks, what replaces it? What credibly fills the vacuum?

There are many who would like to use this moment to push a pressured or coercive approach — the idea that with more force the decision-making calculation will change and a different outcome will result. Given the extreme violence of the Second Intifada and the structural violence that the occupation brings daily, the evidence does not indicate that what we need is more force. If there were a coercive solution to this problem, it would have happened already.

Coercion is seductive, as it puts all the pressure on the party on the other side of the equation. Supporters of both Israel and Palestine can point to the pressure points they feel are most effective and motivate others to apply pressure there while ignoring the significant challenges within their own communities.

Ignoring the power of coercion within decision-making is a mistake, but so is fetishizing it. If this isn’t the moment for pressure, what is it the time for?

To confront the generational challenge, we need a long-term strategy.

Israeli and Palestinian young people truly mistrust one another. With limited or no interaction with one another, they rely on their media and leadership to inform them about their counterparts. The result has been anything but positive. Annual polls of Israelis and Palestinians show that large majorities believe that the opposing community harbors extreme exclusionist or genocidal views.

To confront the generational challenge that the conflict presents, we need a generational long-term strategy to re-engage the communities — something broader than traditional people-to-people programs. We need an agenda that considers how to create community resilience against violence and develop leaders to create constituencies for peace when a credible political process eventually occurs.

As the executive director of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, I have been pushing for the creation of a multilateral international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace that can help answer the question, “What are we doing to make sure that the next generation does not hate one another?” The need has never been higher.

Beyond the fund, however, we need to move beyond the politics of demographics. For the past few years, more and more voices in the center and left of both Israel and the Jewish Diaspora have been pushing the politics of separation to make their case for peace now. The American-Jewish community funds shared-society programing in Israel while also paying for billboards that bemoan the demographic threat posed by the Arab community. That needs to stop.

This is not a moment for coercion but for laying a solid foundation.

One could make the spurious argument that you can use racism to motivate voters if you believe that peace is just a vote away. It is not. If we are in a generational struggle, then we need to tackle the educational challenges created through ethnic conflict, not exacerbate the worst fears of the populations.

The uncertainty of the moment should lead all of us to return to the basic values and principles that motivate and guide us. There are hundreds of opportunities to invest in values we can all stand behind, whether by investing in the bilingual communities of the Hand in Hand school network, working with youth across Jerusalem’s faith communities with Kids4Peace or supporting agricultural cooperatives with the Near East Foundation.

This is not a moment for coercion but for laying a solid foundation. We should support young people as they build communities that demonstrate that a different future is possible, one of collective humanity and mutual dependence. This is a generational struggle, but one that depends on people themselves rather than the geopolitical currents that are buffeting our global society.

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The Case for an International Fund for Israeli Palestinian Peace

This piece first appeared in The Hill 1/17/15

“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.