“This invaluable report suggests a practical course of action for governments and civil society. While every conflict has different causes and solutions, we know from Northern Ireland that long-term grassroots peacebuilding between the contending parties is always essential to achieving peace.” (Jonathan Powell, the chief British negotiator during the Northern Ireland Peace Process )
The British think-tank BICOM, has released its new report on Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding projects in Israel and the West Bank.
The report, titled A future of Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding, has been written by Ned Lazarus, visiting Professor at George Washington University. It also has a preface by Jonathan Powell, the chief British negotiator during the Northern Ireland Peace Process. The report is the first of its kind to attempt a comprehensive review of peacebuilding projects in this area, looking at over 20 years of evaluation data, and based on extensive field work. The report’s author, Ned Lazarus, has called for successful models of Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding “to be scaled up and to receive significant long-term investment” if conditions conducive to peace are to be achieved in the Israeli-Palestinian arena.
The report finds that grassroots Israeli-Palestinian peace building projects work and are a vital missing ingredient in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It was written by Ned Lazarus, a Professor at George Washington University and expert on peacebuilding in Israel and the West Bank.
The report refers polling by the Israeli Democracy Institute and Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research last summer which concluded that:
- While 59 per cent of Israelis and 51 per cent of Palestinians still support a two-state solution, these already slim majorities are fragile and threatened by growing fear and distrust between the two peoples.
- Eighty-nine per cent of Palestinians believe Israeli Jews are untrustworthy; a feeling reciprocated by 68 per cent of the latter. At the same time, 65 per cent of Israeli Jews fear Palestinians and 45 per cent of Palestinians fear Israeli Jews.
Peacebuilding remains controversial and far from achieving its potential reach in both societies. Sure there is at least 164 organisations currently engaged in peace, conflict resolution, or cross-conflict civil and human rights work in Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as at least nine degree-granting academic programmes in Conflict Resolution, multiple research centres and a host of less formal, local initiatives. The spectrum ranges from globally connected organisations annually raising several million dollars and implementing dozens of projects, to informal collectives of a handful of activists. However 164 active organisations are but a fraction of more than 20,000 active registered NGOs in Israeli civil society; the proportion is smaller yet in Palestinian civil society, in which any cooperation with Israeli civic initiatives is inevitably branded as “normalisation of the occupation”.
Initiatives most commonly employ classic approaches such as advocacy, dialogue, education, protest and “Track Two” diplomacy – yet growing numbers of projects integrate peacebuilding into practical fields such as economic development, environmental protection, health/medicine and technology, among others.
The report finds that in recent years a number of veteran organisations have closed doors, downscaled or reset strategy, even as new initiatives like Women Wage Peace have risen to prominence. Alongside at least 164 active organisations, the present research finds at least 77 initiatives that have either ceased to exist or whose status is unclear at present, some closing after a decade or more of activity.
Veteran organisations have adapted strategies in response to the volatile context, and a number have evolved into multidimensional peacebuilding “platforms” using diverse methods to address multiple issues. Youth are the most common target population, but growing numbers of projects focus on women and religiously or politically conservative constituencies not typically identified with the “peace camp.”
It is beyond doubt that two decades of failed negotiations and violent escalations have damaged the electoral prospects of the Israeli Left, often referred to as the “peace camp.
Research identifies a number of “best practices” for programme design cited as enhancing the depth and sustainability of positive outcomes, including the combination of uni-national and bi-national dialogue, opportunities to build cross-conflict relationships, a “mixed” approach combining trust-building, interpersonal interaction with explicit focus on conflict content and/or social change in discussions, and substantial follow-up activity after completion of the initial encounter programme.
The report gives some examples about successful models for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding:
A pair of programmes designed to integrate Arab teachers in Israeli Jewish schools, led by The Abraham Fund Initiatives and the Merchavim organisation, have documented consistent positive effects in terms of prejudice reduction among students. Both programmes have been officially adopted by Israel’s Ministry of Education as part of plans to reach hundreds of schools across the country (Schneider, 2016).
A growing number of practical interventions are designed to tangibly address areas of shared interest or common problems – especially in the “cross-border” realm involving Israeli Jews and Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The Near East Foundation (NEF) Olive Oil Without Borders project has worked with 3,400 Palestinian and Israeli olive producers since 2013, facilitating the export of 4500 tonnes of olive oil from the West Bank to Israel and producing 25 million dollars in income for Palestinian farmers. The project has also documented positive results in terms of attitudinal change: 90 per cent of participants reported increased trust in “the other” and 77 per cent indicated intention to continue cross-border cooperation.
Summative evaluation of the “History through the Human Eye” dialogue project, led by the Parents Circle Families Forum, found 80 per cent reported greater willingness to work for peace; 77 per cent reported increased belief in the possibility of reconciliation; 71 per cent improved trust and empathy for the other; and 68 per cent increased levels of acknowledgment and knowledge about the other narrative.
Racism and violence – particularly hate crimes targeting Palestinians and Israeli peace activists – have generated many examples of countermobilisation, for example Israeli and international activists now organise annually to join Palestinian farmers for the West Bank olive harvest, to oppose violent harassment by militant “hilltop youth” settlers.
EcoPeace – a trilateral Israeli/Palestinian/ Jordanian environmental NGO – led the Israeli government to show unprecedented flexibility in water diplomacy, by more than doubling Israel’s water supply to Palestinians in the territories (Edelstein, 2016). In recent years, EcoPeace has played a leading role in reshaping transboundary water policy, advancing wastewater treatment infrastructure in the West Bank, and focusing attention on the degradation of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea. In 2013 EcoPeace convinced the Israeli government to release fresh water from the Sea of Galilee into the Jordan for the first time in 50 years (Lidman, 2015). More controversially, EcoPeace has campaigned for water to be resolved independently from final status negotiations, advocating for an increase in Israel’s allocation of water to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The latter, according to a 2016 UN report, may be “uninhabitable” by 2020 due to the lack of clean water, among other conditions.
The report gives an analysis of the situation of today’s peacebuilding and here some highlights:
Peacebuilding efforts are inherently complicated by stark asymmetries of power and cultural differences between Israelis and Palestinians and between Jews and Arabs in Israel, and peace advocates struggle with chronic legitimacy deficits in both societies. While positive results for peacebuilding interventions are frequently documented at the individual and local/communal levels, the hostile socio-political context limits the broader impact of most, though not all, interventions to those individuals, institutions or communities directly involved.
Successful models for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding have been established through a generation of work, under extremely challenging conditions. To achieve broader, longer-term societal impact, it will be necessary to bring such efforts to scale – to significantly expand the scope of programming and make targeted efforts to reach more diverse participant populations. Given the political climate in the region, scaling effective models to achieve broader societal impact will require sustained international funding.
It is beyond doubt that two decades of failed negotiations and violent escalations have damaged the electoral prospects of the Israeli Left, often referred to as the “peace camp. Episodes of racism in Israel have motivated moderate religious and centre-right figures, not associated with the “peace camp” demographic, to become outspoken advocates of dialogue, humanisation of the other and liberal democracy. On the secular Right, a host of former Likud stalwarts have publicly denounced the tide of racism in their party. Israel’s President Reuven (“Ruvi”) Rivlin is most prominent among these territorial maximalists who champion civic equality, the rule of law, and respectful dialogue between Israel’s “tribes” – a thoroughly liberal-democratic, multi-cultural paradigm (Hecht, 2016). Rivlin’s outspoken advocacy, including his public visits to Arab victims of attacks and his social media condemnations of racism, have turned him into a target of the trolls – yet he is apparently undaunted.
Asymmetry is a genuine and profound challenge, inherent to any cross-conflict endeavour – joint peacebuilding initiatives cannot miraculously “transcend” the social contexts in which they are embedded.
Conclusions & recommendations
- To mobilize the “silent majority” in Israel, peace must not be the trademark of a demographically identifiable “peace camp,” but a crosscutting agenda championed by a coalition of “peace camps,” rooted in multiple constituencies.
- There is growing recognition among veteran leaders in the Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding community, exemplified by the Peace NGOs Forum, that building broader societal legitimacy is an urgent strategic priority . Effective models of peacebuilding exist – yet they have not been implemented in any significant scope in much of society.
- Within Israeli society, advocacy campaigns should effectively address the security risks of withdrawing from the West Bank . Peacebuilding advocates must answer the genuine and legitimate security concerns triggered by the Lebanon and Gaza precedents, in which territories became strongholds of Hezbollah and Hamas, leading to increased insecurity and multiple wars.
- In both societies, but particularly in Palestinian society, advocates should emphasise the growing body of peacebuilding work that is producing concrete practical benefits on issues of shared interest or common concern – economic development, environment, health, medicine, technology – including advocacy for practical policy changes. These modes of peacebuilding are a complement to (and do not come at the expense of) the crucial work of dialogue, education, and advocacy for human rights.
- As recommendations the report proposes using the research record, share successful strategies and best practices. Civil society and governmental forums relevant to the field, should study the existing empirical research record and disseminate key findings regarding successful strategies, best practices and approaches to the inherent dilemmas of “intergroup encounters” and joint ArabJewish or Israeli-Palestinian initiatives.
For further development the report proposes that policy makers should learn the lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process. Well-funded peace building projects that brought the two communities together were in place 12 years before the Good Friday Agreement and helped make it possible; and what’s the best of it all – the peace continues today. They remain in place today, to protect the agreement and show that long-term investment in peace building can bring lasting change to intergroup relations in a conflict environment. The International Fund for Ireland (IFI) invested more than 900 million Euros in more than 6,000 civil society peacebuilding programmes in Northern Ireland over 32 years.
The full paper is available as a PDF below: