On August 5, 2005, the Palestine-Israel Journal (PIJ)
, together with the literary journal NOAJ, organized a roundtable discussion at the Pontifical Institute Notre Dame of Jerusalem on the peace process and civil society. The participants were Prof. Naomi Chazan, Meretz/Yachad; Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz; Ziad Abu-Zayyad, co-editor PIJ and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council; Dr. Walid Salem, director Panorama Center, Jerusalem; Dr. Leonardo Senkman, editor NOAJ; Prof. Saul Sosnowski, director International Studies, University of Maryland; Noga Tarnopolsky, Israeli correspondent The Forward; and Dr. Tullo Vigevani, Department of Political Science, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Greetings were presented by Father Salvador Fernandez, representative of the Holy See; Arie Fainstein, director of the Israel Center for Ibero-American Communities; and Alistair Walbaum from the Representative Office of Canada. The dialogue took place in conjunction with the publication of the special issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal
devoted to Civil Society, supported by the Canadian International Development. The moderators were Florinda Goldberg, deputy editor NOAJ and Hillel Schenker, co-editor PIJ.
: When I arrived in Ramallah three years ago to take up my post there, people told me then that it was troubled times. Despite brief moments of optimism in the past three years, we remain in troubled times.
Dialogue is easy to support. Everybody is in favor of dialogue. But after five years of intifada, after thousands of Palestinians and thousands of Israelis being killed, it takes real courage to continue to dialogue with the other side, to continue to try to enhance understanding — of Palestinians understanding Israeli society, of Israelis understanding Palestinian society. It takes a lot of courage for the Palestine-Israel Journal
to continue these efforts — not just the dialogues, but trying to enhance the understanding in your own societies. We applaud the Journal
Canada is proud to support the Palestine-Israel Journal.
While there is a lot of focus on the governments, we also believe that peace and understanding is too important to be left to governments alone, and we’re proud to support this project.
: We are a group of Jewish intellectuals from Latin American countries, France and the U.S., concerned about the peace process. Our literary journal, NOAJ, is concerned that the current process rests primarily on questions of security, and the people were left behind. We think the cultural and intellectual aspects which are essential for the success of such a process have been neglected.
We believe the time has come for civil society to try to make every effort to ensure that cultural and educational processes will be an integral part of the political security arrangements. One of the main things that civil society abroad can do is in the sphere of perception — how the results of the peace process are perceived and understood among the intellectual camps of both sides. As intellectuals, we are convinced of the importance of an understanding of the expectations of both sides, because it is only a merging of the expectations of both sides that will bring peace.
Together, we have to bring about a situation in which good and talented people choose to enter into an intellectual dialogue for salaam, for shalom. I am very grateful to the Palestine-Israel Journal
and to the Notre Dame Center of Jerusalem for bringing us together.
Ziad and I are veterans of the Palestine-Israel Journal
, one of the few joint institutions that have managed to survive our conflict over the years. We didn’t stop functioning even during the most difficult times. Our basic approach has been based on dialogue and cooperation. And all of a sudden, we see that Israel has decided to disengage from Gaza unilaterally. What does this mean? First of all, arrogance — it means we don’t have neighbors, ignore and deny the existence of our neighbors. We don’t have partners. We don’t want to and can’t negotiate with them.
I cover the Palestinian side for my newspaper, Haaretz. The Palestinians really want negotiations about this disengagement. Their goal is Israeli withdrawal, and they are ready to negotiate with us about this. So why does the Israeli government — Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — not want a partner and negotiations? Because he doesn’t want to negotiate about the real aspects of our conflict: Jerusalem, refugees and settlements.
When you take a unilateral step and say that there is no partner, it means that you want to do as you want. You do not take into consideration and do not care about the other partner in the process. This is how we understand Sharon’s initiative to disengage unilaterally from the Gaza Strip.
This is very dangerous because it will enable Palestinian extremist groups to claim that the Gaza disengagement was achieved by means of al-Qassam rockets and suicide attacks, to claim it as their own victory. Is this Sharon’s aim? Is he willing to discredit the Palestinian leadership, the Palestinian Authority, and give all the credit to Hamas and Jihad?
From the very outset, this step should have been bilateral and coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. It should not be seen only as a military step, but also as a political step in a negotiating process within the framework of the Road Map, and only as a first step to be followed by many others.
We insist that the disengagement from Gaza be part of a process, a first step to be followed by similar steps in the West Bank. We don’t want anyone to be misled and to think that he will be able to give Gaza to the Palestinians and take over the West Bank. Therefore, we say Gaza first, but not last.
In addition, Gaza should not become a prison. Israel should give up control of the border with Egypt and allow free movement of goods and individuals between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. At the same time, it should respect the integrity of the Gaza Strip with the West Bank, and allow free movement of goods and individuals between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It should allow the resumption of work on the Gaza seaport and the Gaza airport.
If Israel withdraws from all of the Gaza Strip, accepts Egyptian guarantees to guard its border with the Gaza Strip and allows free movement of people and goods with Egypt, and similar steps are taken with regard to the West Bank, this will enable us to say, Yes, we are heading in the right direction. Now we have hope.
If this process is stopped or disrupted, it will be a catastrophe. People in the West Bank will then believe that it is true that Gaza was liberated by suicide attacks and rockets, and that those who have adopted the methods of Hizbullah in South Lebanon have succeeded in the Gaza Strip.
This means that there will be a lot of bloodshed, suffering and killings, and none of us wants that. Therefore, we insist that this should be a bilateral step, and that everything that is done in Gaza should be in parallel with similar steps in the West Bank, and that this process should be considered as being within the framework of the Road Map.
There should be an effort to re-energize the Road Map. Maybe we need an international conference or a new plan to enhance and speed up the steps to end the conflict and come to the point where a Palestinian state will be established alongside Israel.
A Palestinian state, from our point of view, is in all the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine; and there must be a solution for all aspects of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including the problem of the Palestinian refugees.
I think the Palestine-Israel Journal
has been outdone only by the women’s movement in terms of continuing cooperation during periods of trouble. It’s good to know that some men follow us.
The Gaza disengagement essentially puts an end, in mainstream Israeli society, to the argument over a two-state solution. But it also opens a series of problems because there are two definitions now of a two-state solution.
The first is Sharon’s definition. The objective is a mini -Palestinian state without territorial contiguity, determined by Israel, carried out in a unilateral manner, with the intention not of resolving but of managing the conflict. Therefore, in many respects, this dynamic, which is beginning with the Gaza disengagement, is an exercise also in the perpetuation of the conflict.
The second definition of the two-state solution is that which we just heard from Ziad — a viable Palestinian state along the 1967 boundaries, including negotiations with the purpose of resolving or ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
That second definition of the two-state solution is going to be very difficult to achieve given the present dynamics on the ground.
I would have liked to see the disengagement process linked to the negotiating table. But I do not see that happening, and I think that is a major challenge for the peace camp in Israel and all those opposed to occupation.
What I see happening is an extension of the Gaza disengagement formula to the West Bank. That means a unilateral, partial withdrawal demarcated by the walls on the one hand, and the Jordan Valley on the other, and not including Jerusalem. I see further use of the unilateral option, no negotiations, and again, no intention of conflict resolution. This will be done under the cover of what will be known as a Palestinian state with provisional boundaries within the framework of phase two of the Road Map. Therefore, we will also be witness to partial annexation by Israel of major settlement blocs and metropolitan Jerusalem.
The Palestinian Authority and leadership will be faced with a decision of accepting a lame sovereignty, or rejecting it because it does not begin to address the minimum demands of real sovereignty.
Agreeing with what my three colleagues have just said about the analysis of the disengagement plan, the question I want to raise is as follows: Can the peace movement use the disengagement plan as a gift and transform it into something else?
I think the Israeli-Palestinian problem has been over-negotiated. We already negotiated everything at Taba in January 200l. The parameters for the final- status solution are well known on both sides.
If we want to use the disengagement plan not to resolve or manage the conflict but to transform it, the way to do that should not be through returning to negotiations, but through returning to coordination of activities between the two sides, the kind of activities that will lead to a two-state solution. This means that the Gaza disengagement will not be the first and last step, but will be followed by other steps of disengagement. There is no doubt that the two peoples want to disengage from each other. What is needed now is not negotiations, but disengagement.
The Palestinians need a plan for security, for the development of democracy, for economic development, and for solving the problems of poverty and unemployment in Palestinian society. The Israelis also need to do a lot of work inside their own society, and these activities should be coordinated between the two sides. And we should focus not on each other, but more on working within our own societies, and coordinating this work with each other. In this way, we can create a transformation of the conflict, leading to something other than where we’re heading right now.
This day is based upon two poles: one is the disengagement and the peace process, and the other is the role of civil society. We are doing this in conjunction with a special issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal
on Civil Society. What should be the role of civil society in trying to move the process forward?
: In Palestinian civil society, the main issue is to develop a vision. We need new thinking on how to transform the conflict and what vision is needed for the transformation of the conflict, on the basis of taking into consideration the issue of human security for both sides. The issue of security has been dealt with by our leaders in very traditional ways. But there is also a new issue, human security, which includes freedom from fear, freedom from want, freedom of expression, and freedom of worship for all people, Israelis and Palestinians.
Secondly, demography without democracy cannot bring peace. Building democracy is one of the tools for building peace. The third point is development. And the fourth point is internal Palestinian peace and security. Some people think that internal Palestinian disorder will be good for Israel. But if the Palestinians do not have internal peace, it will not be good for either Israelis or Palestinians, or for the entire area.
The joint strategy of the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement should include continuing to dialogue and to meet together in groups such as this one. This is very important. We should concentrate on developing strategies within both societies, because our problems now are within each society more than they are with each other. We have been working together for a long time. We have gained a lot of understanding about each other’s positions. We should exploit this to develop the same understanding between the two peoples within each society.
In addition, international civil society needs to help us by bringing us together to develop these strategies of addressing the people — the mainstream — within each society.
As a Palestinian peace activist, I should promote peace activism within my society. It is vitally important that each of us remain in touch with our respective society’s concerns and anxieties, while continuing to participate in peace actions. It is also important that we promote non-violent strategies, to help achieve a resolution to the conflict.
: I am very happy to speak after Walid because I agree with his analysis. The first role of civil society in advancing understanding and a just peace is to provide a vision. But the first element of a vision is to clearly state the political objective. If it is not clear what the political objective is, it will not be possible to get there. Therefore I cannot adopt a political vision based on coordinated unilateralism — which is what has been proposed, not only at this table today, but also in the international community. Coordinated unilateralism is an oxymoron, an inherent contradiction. A political vision for civil society today must focus on a just two-state solution. Anything else would be a mistake.
I couldn’t agree more with the immediate and long-term objectives of placing human security as the tangible goal of these efforts. I think only civil society can expand the notion of security to include all aspects of human security.
Civil society in Israel must clarify its goals. It must mobilize very strongly, not only in its traditional sectors but also in new sectors. At the same time Israeli peace-oriented civil society must not be tempted into spending all its time on internal dialogue with the right-wing extremists. That leads nowhere politically.
I think that both Israeli civil society and joint Palestinian-Israeli civil-society action must continue to work horizontally, but its real test is its vertical capacity to affect decision-makers. Civil society is meaningless politically unless it has access to and influence on decision-makers. Palestinians and Israelis shouldn’t just dialogue among themselves. They should influence the international decision-making community as well as their own leaders.
: We should accept that peace is a joint interest of the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples. This is our starting point. I think that the role of civil society organizations is to mobilize the masses and get them involved, each on its own side, in decision-making, to influence the processes of their own governments, and not to allow small groups of extreme ideologists to determine the future of their people.
To mobilize the masses we need to deepen and strengthen the awareness of democratic values and a commitment to a respect for human rights. If we mobilize the masses, get them more involved in decision-making and, at the same time, get them committed to democratic values and human rights, this will help us to understand the other and to accept the principle of listening to the other. This will make it much easier to influence decisions of compromise in order to reach a solution to the conflict.
: Now we would like to hear the global perspective on the role of civil society.
: It’s like coming from another planet, hearing some of the issues that have been mentioned here. But the last comment by Walid Salem is very helpful to me when exploring whether people from the outside can also make a contribution.
I would like to mention some concrete examples of the work we have been carrying out together with someone who is very well known and dear to many of you — Dr. Edy Kaufman, a colleague at the University of Maryland. As “outsiders” who are not direct parties to the conflict, we have contributed in very concrete terms to finding peace in some areas. Our basic premise is that there is no possible solution to any conflict unless cultural cognates and cultural dialogue are established along the way. The problem is that that is a long-term process, and people are impatient.
I am now dealing with the Chinese, who are extremely impatient, knowing they have 2,000 extra years — and here we are not that far from that mark either — but we do have to have patience in order to achieve cultural changes.
We worked on a conflict in Latin America between Ecuador and Peru over a border issue after the war of 1995. While the first track was still struggling — we decided to work with leaders of civil society of both countries. We identified ten leaders of civil society from both sides. They included the presidents of Chambers of Congress of Quito and Lima, journalists, human-rights specialists, environmentalists and experts in human rights and civic education. We brought these people to the University of Maryland and started out meeting in a room with historical significance because it was the same room where negotiations had been held between the Argentines and the British. This group coalesced in such a way that we continued to hold meetings for an additional three years. What was important there was that, as Naomi Chazan said, we did have access to the decision-makers.
One concrete example of that was that, by invoking the power of that group, the President of the Lima Chamber of Commerce was able to go to former President Fujimori and managed to stop the beginning of new hostilities against Ecuador at a very particular time. It was also important because of some other accommodations that came out of that civil society group, particularly the joint work of Peruvian and Ecuadorian environmentalists who taught us to look at the map differently, not stone by stone where the markers of the border were sealed and created.
What was particularly gratifying in that example was that, when I saw the ambassador of the U.S. in charge of negotiations in Brazil at a reception, he said to me, Without our group, we would not have been able to succeed. It was civil society that was able to break the impasse, which then allowed peace to finally be attained there. The key was access to the decision-makers and the fact that civil society did not wait for the capitals to reach peace, but actually worked for it from below.
We are currently working on a similar project now connected to the conflict between Costa Rica and Nicaragua over the border. In Venezuela, we are launching the publication of a series of brochures under the title of To Live Democracy — not to live in democracy, but to teach people how to live democracy. We have prepared ten brochures, each one focusing on a specific democratic value (beginning with freedom) that will be inserts within a large Venezuelan daily. We will also be producing material for teachers about how to use that in the schools. I have heard some very concrete recommendations today, and we, at the University of Maryland, are definitely ready to act in conjunction with other institutions here and elsewhere.
: Sometimes we have the idea that civil society can provide magic solutions for the issues of the conflict. On some occasions, civil society might not be on the side of the peace process, but on the side of continuing the conflict. In Yugoslavia for instance, civil society stimulates the continuation of the conflict. This is a problem.
One idea is that the Israelis and the Palestinians could suggest to Palestinian and Arab communities and Jewish communities in other countries to participate in the conflict not by supporting only their own side, but rather by discussing the conflict, as objectively as possible in each country, to contribute towards solutions. Thus Palestinian communities in Latin America and other areas could contribute not only by supporting the Palestinian side, but also by discussing the peace process in each country in other areas of the world. The same is true for the Jewish communities.
In addition, I believe that, since the end of the Cold War, it has become more and more necessary to encourage and accept the intervention of international organizations. I believe this is particularly true of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The current participation of the international community is not sufficient. What I don’t see discussed in the disengagement process, in the peace process — although it was an important issue in Oslo and in the Madrid conference — is the subject of justice.
It’s clear that there are great economic and social differences between the Israeli and the Palestinian peoples. How can the international community and Israel help support the possibility of economic, social and political justice on the Palestinian side?
Jerusalem is a very difficult subject to discuss. The Palestinians always argue that the subject of Jerusalem must be, at some point, included in the discussions. The Israeli state and the Jewish people, in general, recognize Jerusalem as a unified city. I believe that some political solution must be found to maintain the reunification of Jerusalem, and yet to recognize the Palestinian rights on the Arab side of Jerusalem.
: What specifically should be the role of intellectuals and of religious figures in trying to move things forward?
: I was recently involved in a meeting between heads of churches, synagogues, etc. They claimed that, in order to find a solution for the Holy Land, it’s the religious leaders who must negotiate. The Holy Land to them is not just a political issue: it’s a religious issue as well.
I’m sorry to say that in our conflict religion has played a very negative role on both sides. But it’s not religion per se. It’s the interpretation of religion. For many years, Jews and Muslims lived side by side in the Muslim world. For 600 years, Arabic was the major language of Jews in the world, from Babylonian scholar/philosopher Saadia Gaon in the ninth century until the end of the Golden Age in Spain when Christians deported most of the Jews and Muslims. But in our time, the interpretation of religion opposes any reconciliation between the two parties. On both sides we see that religion is a major weapon being used to beat and to confront the other side.
: I agree with Danny. There are also some very positive things in religion and in religious books. The problem is in the interpretation. In the Qur’an, for example, when God spoke to Moses and asked him to go speak with Pharaoh, He said to him, “Go and speak to him softly.” There are many other provisions in the Qur’an that talk of tolerance and respecting of the other.
The problem is when people focus on other things and not on these positive concepts that bring us closer to each other. So the role of religious leaders should be to focus on these positive values which can bring us closer together and make us more able to understand each other. Religious leaders are also part of society and play a leading role. Their efforts must be directed towards what civil society organizations are doing — increasing our awareness of human rights, democratic values, coexistence, and tolerance.
: It’s very important to recognize that Israeli society is heavily divided, and that voluntary organizations abound that are committed to the perpetuation of the Israeli occupation and, therefore, contribute to the perpetuation of the conflict.
I also think that the role of the international community is not just to support peace. It must also be active participation and involvement — maybe even intervention on the ground. Although I have spent thousands of hours on the cultural aspects of peace and on long-term reconciliation, I think we must keep our eyes focused on political solutions which are a pre-condition for cultural peace.
Religious leaders have played a destructive role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by and large. For religious leaders and figures to play a constructive role in the conflict, they must connect religion with democracy and justice. They did it very effectively in Latin America. I think they must start playing that role here. That means not just progressive religious figures dialoguing, but progressive religious figures telling believers that there is an inextricable connection between religion in the 21st century and personal and collective freedoms. I would expect the role of religious leaders to be much more emphatic than it has been in the search for peace today.
As for intellectuals, I can talk only about Israeli intellectuals. Many of them are really my best friends. That’s my milieu. Israeli intellectuals have not spoken in a clear voice about human rights and justice, or about a just peace, a just and viable peace. But the real problem is not in the voice. It has been the unwillingness to deal intellectually with the critical strategic question of how to move from here to where we know we want to go. Strategic thinking does not give one professorships in universities, but strategic thinking can probably be done best by intellectuals. And they have not engaged enough in that question.
I just wish that some of my colleagues would spend as much time applying their minds to action-oriented research and thinking and less to other things.
: Let me combine the issues identified by my colleagues with the questions that were posed here by speaking about two projects in which I am involved with Edy Kaufman. One of them is about intellectuals. Through that project, we developed something like academics working together to bridge the divide. The main conclusions were as follows:
Academics and intellectuals should first be good citizens. In order to be a good citizen, one should not be only a professional having nothing to do with social responsibilities and actions in society. We should be active, responsible citizens taking part in society. This means being active in civil society and in political parties — including developing strategies and policies that would help more people to move forward — and also being active in helping to bring the peace movement together.
At the same time, an intellectual or academic, when joining a civil society organization or a particular political party, should not turn a blind eye to actions of that faction or party or organization that are in opposition to his or her convictions. We should be intellectually independent and ready to freely criticize certain actions taken even by groups with which we are affiliated. Intellectuals need to be active responsible citizens.
In another project we discussed the role of Israeli and Palestinian civil society in peace-building. We found that Palestinian civil society is problematic because many of its organizations are structured around clientalism or sectarianism. They are not based on the idea of free access of all citizens on an equal basis to civil society organizations. Also, to help promote the work of civil society in peace-building, we need to work within civil society itself; to try to bring the different civil society organizations together under a joint vision, a joint agenda, a joint strategy for peace. This is a lot of work. It includes working even with extremist civil society organizations that don’t believe in peace and trying to bring them in as well.
Regarding the work of international civil society — there are groups of civil society organizations that come to show support for Israel, while others come to show support for the Palestinians. Rarely do I see organizations coming from abroad to show support for both peoples. The beginning of a change might be what was mentioned earlier — in the Palestinian and Jewish communities in other countries in the world.
I would propose that civil society organizations try to bring the Jewish and the Arab communities together to develop an agenda to work on together, as well as an agenda for working here with Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). Try to bring them together in their countries, and promote their work to influence our decision-makers.
Finally, the role of religion, perhaps civil society can work to promote tolerance, nonviolence, and the peaceful interpretation of religions. As Ziad Abu-Zayyad said, there is lot in the Qur’an — and also in the New Testament and in the Torah — which can be put together, even in manuals to be used to educate the younger generations. Over 80 percent of Palestinians here are below the age of 35. When we speak about Palestinians, we are speaking about the younger generations, and they need a lot of education. This education should sometimes utilize the tolerant, nonviolent and peaceful interpretations of Islam for Muslims and of the other religions for others.
: We, in the press so often get caught up in the day-to-day rhythm of events that occur to us that we don’t focus sufficiently on those things that we can make occur. The idea of the creation of one’s self from within, as a profound exercise in nation-building, strikes a deep chord in me.
Many people here have discussed the input — or potential input on many different levels — of what we are calling international civil society. I belong to an international civil society called the press. In Israel and Palestine there have been, and continue to be, very deep problems. We are absolutely flooded by foreign press, probably more than in any other place now, except perhaps Iraq. It’s interesting to realize how bad the coverage is. Injustice gets done to both sides.
In part, this has to do with the very bad period we’re experiencing in general in terms of what journalism has come to mean. Here, we have a situation of a massive influx of foreign media and tremendous ignorance. Basically, journalists come here as a plum posting and respond to the needs of their editors back home much more than to the truth taking place on the ground here.
This is a very truncated way of bringing up this issue, but one observation I would have is that the problem also comes from within us in the sense that Israelis try to sell their story to the media and Palestinians try to sell their story. This is the mirror image of what Walid Salem talked about earlier, stressing the hope that international organizations might be able to come here to support both Israelis and Palestinians. It is incumbent upon all us who live here to find ways of honestly representing both the Israeli and the Palestinian story.