by Ziad AbuZayyad
Israel declared since 2002 that it will adopt a unilateral steps policy in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, alleging that “there is no one to talk to.” This approach has failed in the Gaza Strip, proving that unilateral actions cannot be conducive to peace. Real peace can only come through negotiations and bilateral steps.
Recent political developments in Palestine and Israel proved that people-to-people activities between Palestinian and Israeli civil societies have become more important than ever. Efforts to rebuild trust and open channels of communication between the two peoples on the road to peace must be continued.
Peace agreements between two governments can be reached, but further steps are needed for peace to filter down to the population. Progress on the political track contributes to the success of people-to-people activities and the reverse is also true.
The failure of the peace talks and the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000 caused a setback to people-to-people activities .At a later stage, activists of people-to-people were even accused of being used to normalize relations with the Occupation without achieving any peace. The main target of people-to-people remains the deepening of awareness of the benefits of peace and the creation of shared interests, so that people are made to realize that they stand to lose if the opportunity to make peace is missed.
On the margin of the political process, many efforts were made by local, regional, and international organizations to contribute to the process of peacemaking between the people. Huge amounts of resources were used, yet the target remains a long way off. The root cause of the conflict is still there. The Palestinian problem with all its aspects has yet to be solved. And the Israeli occupation is becoming increasingly uglier and more repressive than ever. This, of course, should not deter us from persevering in our efforts to build peace. Since this goal and its continued pursuit are of vital importance, the Palestine-Israel Journal is devoting this issue to the evaluation of the whole people-to-people initiative, its history, its achievements, and its shortcomings. The aim is to learn how best to proceed, but with more efficiency than we did so far.