Largely because of my association with bitterlemons, my incoming email box receives daily messages from a wide variety of people and institutions that are involved, or purport to be involved, in advancing the cause of peace between Israelis and Arabs.
Some are noble, lofty and radically ambitious: "The recent Petra Conference, which brought together Nobel Laureates and leaders in politics, business and other specialized fields of industry... to promote peace and fight poverty, disease and other ills plaguing our world today. The goal set by the conference [was] 'to build a better world'."
Some reflect huge organizational and fund-raising efforts and a populist inclination: "Well over 2,000 young Palestinians and Israelis have gone through an intensive leadership immersion course and gone on to participate in monthly activities to organize and mobilize their communities. While the challenges to achieve our bold vision are very serious, OneVoice is growing stronger every day. OneVoice Youth Ambassadors of the International Education Program have inspired tens of thousands of college students across the US, Canada and the United Kingdom; student leaders are now starting to form chapters across 60 campuses, as they forge rare partnerships that transcend nationalities, religions and ethnicities."
Some seek to create virtual peace realities: "It seems that one of the first peaceful dialogues to follow the Second Lebanon War comes out of the music scene. Two heavy metal bands, one Israeli and the other Lebanese, met online and joined forces to perform a new song -- Everything We Are."
Some are really trite: "To celebrate the one year anniversary of our newsletter, we are giving away a free Abraham's Vision baseball cap to the person who sends us the 12th email in response to this newsletter with the words "free hat" written in the body of the email."
Most represent initiatives by third parties, i.e., persons or organizations that are neither Israeli nor Arab (though they may be Israeli or Arab expatriates). They all appear to be sincere in their dedication to the cause. And whatever else they may or may not accomplish, they appear to do no harm. They may not necessarily make matters better, but they don't make them worse.
Yet we are talking about a great deal of money and energy, and extremely little to show for it. I don't believe third party civil society resources of this scope were ever applied to the Indian-Pakistani tensions, the Northern Ireland troubles or the Cyprus dilemma--yet those conflict situations appear to be in considerably better shape than ours. For some of the Americans and Europeans involved in these initiatives, one senses between the lines of their frequent press releases that their activities are directed at the nagging consciences of spectators who are consumed by the drama and suffering in Israel/Palestine and desperately require an avenue through which to act out their anguish. Others may simply be seeking attention. Each new organization that mounts the stage of Israel-Arab peacemaking appears to have its own special gimmick, its own discovery of the missing ingredient that will bring peace. Almost all require a warm and fuzzy consensus on the part of Arabs and Jews in order to succeed. None have really made much peace lately.
There are of course other, constructive third party actors who bring Israelis and Palestinians together to talk about serious matters that could conceivably impact a peace process. And there are Israeli and Palestinian, and sometimes Israeli-Palestinian, non-governmental organizations that do genuinely important deeds at both the material and the humanitarian levels, often with vital support from the EU, US, Ford, Soros and other foundations. Those other third party initiatives that appear to operate in never-never land would do well to apply their energies and resources to supporting them.
Bitterlemons does something radically different. It does not seek consensus. It proffers no "bitterlemons peace plan". It conscientiously recruits all points of view, from the settlers to Hamas. It believes it can contribute two components of Arab-Israel understanding that must be in place well before peace and reconciliation can be achieved: better knowledge of the issues and of all parties' point of view, and a readiness to discuss our differences in a civilized manner.
With respect, we don't belong to any forums of Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations. We operate on a different, and for us a more significant level.- Published 28/5/2007 © bitterlemons.org
The launch of the peace process at the beginning of the 1990s also instigated a large number of peace initiatives, activities, organizations, etc., which at face value aimed at encouraging and promoting peacemaking between Israel, the Palestinians and Arab countries.
These initiatives sprung up for many different reasons. Some were fortified by honest intentions, at both government and non-government levels, and were characterized by a serious desire to facilitate relations between Israelis and Palestinians and encourage the two parties to move ahead toward achieving the objectives of the peace process.
Some were motivated by a desire to promote specific political agendas on either side or by third parties. Some were motivated by opportunism with individuals either interested in the money or the glory.
The peace process was certainly in need of encouragement and facilitation by third parties. The peace camps and political leaders driving the endeavor had to show their respective publics that the peace process paid dividends and could make practical changes in people's day-to-day lives.
But these organizations were only ever meant to be supporting actors to the headline cast. At some point, however, the importance of this aspect of peacemaking became exaggerated to a point where some parties, whether on either side or from third countries, thought that maybe these auxiliary efforts could compensate the parties for the absence of substantial achievement in the actual process.
Perhaps some of those involved in these activities on the Palestinian side were not aware of what should have been clear from the outset: for all the benefits of economic and development aid, job creation, democratization, gender equality and so on, none of these could ever substitute for real, substantive progress in reaching the conclusion of the peace process and the end, for Palestinians, of occupation.
That might be also correct for the other side. However there is no symmetry here, because one party is enjoying the basic rights of human beings in society while the other is being deprived, whether of citizenship or statehood or any of the other privileges that are consequences of such rights.
Unfortunately, donor countries, particularly in the West, knew they were caught in a dilemma: on the one hand, it was clear what peace required and what the land for peace formula stood for; on the other, whether for real political, narrow interest group pressure, historical or other reasons, most of these countries were unable to take the clear, principled and determined stand such an outcome required.
Thus, many of these governments started to compensate with all manner of generosity by establishing humanitarian, peace, dialogue, bridge-building and development organizations.
This led to the flourishing of a peace industry with hundreds of millions of dollars being brandished in order to encourage anything "joint", anything at all, as long as both Palestinians and Israelis were involved. That in turn created a space for people to try to make money out of this enterprise without necessarily having or intending any serious effect on the substantial relations between the two sides.
In fact, it was Ariel Sharon who brought to an end the real and serious interactions between the two sides with his separation strategy that culminated in the building of the wall. This strategy prevented any natural and healthy interaction between Palestinians and Israelis. What was left were artificial interactions, with people needing either permits from the Israeli army to meet or large sums of money to travel to third countries to do so.
Let me be clear: the organizations that aim to promote peace can be very useful, but only under specific conditions. First, their work has to function in support of a real political process rather than in the place of such a process. Second, the actual activities have to be genuine rather than artificial in the sense that they have to be based on the real needs of the two sides.
The period just before and on the eve of the peace process witnessed examples of such genuine activities, with Israeli peace activists coming to show solidarity with Palestinians under curfew or Palestinians threatened with the demolition of their houses, the uprooting of their trees or the confiscation of their land. At the same time, Palestinians benefited from training opportunities, medical treatment in Israel and the fulfillment of other genuine needs that could be met by the Israeli side.
Third, people should be motivated by actual and mutual benefits rather than by the money they might make out of these joint activities. Finally, the common denominator has to be equality rather than superiority, a civilized manner of interaction and the respect for international legality as the basis of civilized attitudes.- Published 28/5/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is vice-president of Birzeit University and a former Palestinian Authority minister of planning.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
The "peace merchants" have disappeared
by Ron Pundak
In the early 1990s something called the "peace industry" was in full bloom. It was hard to distinguish between those pursuing peace out of decent motives and those who abused the resources that suddenly became available. NGOs grew like mushrooms after rain.
Since then matters have become more complicated, and peace is no longer so popular. In parallel, all the "peace merchants" have disappeared--but so too did many good people who simply couldn't manage in a difficult reality. Those who remain, those still active, at times against all the odds, are the hard core that continues to believe that peace and reconciliation must emerge not only from agreements, handshakes and on occasion kisses between leaders, but also from the bottom up.
Two years ago two organizations, one Israeli (the Peres Center for Peace) and one Palestinian (Panorama) decided to establish "The Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGO Forum". Today, the forum counts more than 120 Israeli and Palestinian organizations that employ a variety of methods and approaches but share a single objective: advancing peace, dialogue and reconciliation between the two peoples. This is not a political organization or establishment that sponsors a single solution--although the large majority believes that a fair solution of two states for two peoples is the road to peace--but rather an umbrella forum that brings together the civil society organizations from both sides of the green line that believe in the need to create synergy, coordination and cooperation in order to help and be helped and to exercise greater influence. But these 120 organizations do not represent only themselves. They are in fact the tip of the iceberg that seeks to link the majority of the Israeli and Palestinian publics who repeatedly tell the pollsters: we want peace, we agree to the solutions on the table, but we don't believe the other side is really interested.
It is this seam between the two publics that the peace organizations inhabit. Our basic assumption is that eventually we'll reach a peace agreement. This is liable to take time and, sadly, to take an additional toll in human lives, but there is no alternative, or rather, the alternative is worse. Hence, at the end of the day an agreement will become preferable. While this is not the place to discuss the conditions of peace, it is clear that both populations will continue to live side by side, with the same ecology, economic and trade ties and interdependence. Hence we must begin today to lay the foundations and build the bridges--the relations that will stabilize our future.
The spectrum of relations is as wide as possible, beginning with humanitarian concern, via education for peace and a joint approach to resources and the environment and ending with economic cooperation and the creation of an infrastructure for the future state. There is no lack of examples elsewhere in the world. Peace in Northern Ireland is based on huge investments in money and recruitment of public support for a civil and economic dialogue between the sides. Relations between Germany and France were built on civil dialogue, economic cooperation and education and peace processes that today form the solid foundation of the European community. Had German-French political and security stability not been created by their leaders despite hatred, fear and mistrust, the European Steel & Coal Community would have become a footnote to history. In the European case, economic cooperation and dialogue nurtured one another.
At the Peres Center for Peace we concentrate on five areas of activity:
- The humanitarian program comprises mainly the medical project Saving Children through which every year some 800 Palestinian children are hospitalized and treated in Israel in branches of medicine not available to them in Palestine.
- Our capacity-building activities reflect the Israeli interest that the country next to us be a stable, strong and progressive state where people want to live. Hence we are involved in agriculture, water, science, IT, health and other pursuits. Training and the transfer of knowledge, in a spirit of cooperation and without patronizing, are ways to strengthen our neighboring society and create a relationship that lasts over time. Forty Palestinian doctors currently training at Israeli hospitals and hundreds of Gazan strawberry farmers who benefited over a period of years from Israeli know-how and instruction constitute a bridge to peace and reconciliation.
- Economy and trade: We hold dozens of business meetings and joint sector activities, host delegations from Gaza and the West Bank and sponsor shared operative research and brainstorming about the economic future, both under peace and at times of crisis.
- Our education for peace program recognizes that altering the mindset and creating a culture of peace values from a very early age are vital. Over the past three years, tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs have participated in these activities of the center.
- Finally, civil society cooperation and dialogue involve activities that bring together groups of "influentials", including psychologists, journalists, young politicians and students on the one hand, and thousands of children and teenagers who meet through sports, on the other.
We have described only a portion of the center's activities. In fact, there are dozens of projects that involve many thousands from both sides of the fence. The questions that quickly emerge nearly everywhere from those involved are, how is it that until today we didn't know about the other side, and if this is what they really think then how is it that until today the two sides haven't reached a solution?- Published 28/5/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Dr. Ron Pundak is the director general of the Peres Center for Peace. He was one of the architects and negotiators of the Oslo Agreement.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
More fraud than friend
by Akram Baker
My sister's hamster recently dropped another round of babies. Just when she thought life had returned to normal, a new batch of tiny creatures was born, sending the wheel fresh on its never-ending rotation. Looking at the litter, I couldn't help but think of the plethora of western-funded Palestinian (and Israeli) non-governmental organizations bent on supporting the non-existing "peace process". Just like the hamsters, they run around and around, creating an illusion of forward movement but willfully trading substance for process. Sure, it may be nice when it comes to assuaging the conscience of the West, but in the end the revolving hamster wheel produces about as much good as the "peace industry".
While there have always been (at least since the 1980s) a few well-meaning groups trying to promote dialogue and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, the explosion of such organizations really came after the signing of the ill-fated Oslo Accords and the creation of the Palestinian Authority. Throughout the 1990s, the easiest way of getting cash between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River was to get a Palestinian and an Israeli together (preferably someone with a degree in "peace studies", whatever that is) to establish a center/ institute/ organization/ group/ or committee for Palestinian/ Israeli/ religious/ Middle East or Arab dialogue/ democracy/ non-violence/ cooperation/ research/ peace/ or reconciliation and the money would roll in. It mattered not what these make-work programs produced for they often produced nothing but stale reports written for even staler donors sitting behind stale desks in western capitals (or in Tokyo). What mattered was that the governments of Europe and North America could croon on and on to their constituents about promoting peace in this god-forsaken region.
It should be said that a few honorable people on all sides of the divide really have tried to make a difference and some may even have succeeded in doing so. However, in total, the peace NGOs have been more fraud than friend. The reasons for this are plenty, ranging from warped donor policies to bad organizational administration. However, the main cause is that there is absolutely no basis for cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians as long as the Israeli military occupation continues.
As a young man, I led quite a few groups of Palestinian youth to summer camps in Europe where we met with Israeli youth from left-leaning groups in a neutral setting. Ostensibly the aim was to show the other how much in common each "side" had. It is true that in the forests of Sweden and the mountains of Austria, young Mohammad and young Shlomo found they had a common interest in girls and music. However, our generous European hosts could not fathom why we didn't remain friends once we all returned. They couldn't accept that the sad fact of the matter was that in Norkopping, Sweden, all of us were equally protected under the law, but back here, Shlomo had just begun his army service and was on his way to enforce a curfew in Mohammad's village. In the current situation with Israeli travel restrictions, it is even possible that Shlomo, nice as he may be, could conceivably be manning a checkpoint preventing Mohammad from visiting him.
Another reason for being highly suspicious is the way in which money is allocated. It is easy to get funding if you have personal connections with the West, write your proposals in excellent English with a focus on whatever is the flavor of the month, and keep your mouth shut. On paper it all looks good; in reality, as long as you keep your donors happy with a stream of endless and useless progress reports, the funds will keep coming regardless of the impact. Donors speak of sustainability yet at the same time, most refuse to fund the building of sustainable institutions, preferring the ubiquitous project, thereby keeping people on a short leash.
Another detrimental side effect of the NGO sector is the skewing of the Palestinian skilled labor market. By providing higher salaries, these organizations suck up a good proportion of young graduates, especially those who speak English fluently. With the economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territory so dire, local organizations have little chance of hiring young talent where they are needed. An engineering graduate would rather work for a non-violence and democracy organization than a local engineering firm because he can make double the cash.
This is so even taking into consideration the often shady manner in which many of these organizations handle their finances. A common practice is for an organization to send salary slips to a donor stating that Mr. X receives $2,000 a month where in reality he receives $1,200. Mr. X is given a choice of signing a paper saying he gets the $2000 or packing his bags. Guess what most people do? Or the director will bill Mr. X out at $2,000 a month for the same project to two or three different donors, pocketing the rest creating a ruthless form of Omerta. Some of the money may go back into the organization, but most is, in reality, unaccounted for. In the West, most people join NGOs out of a sense of altruism; in Palestine, most join because they want to become part of the local "elite", move to Ramallah, and get a paid trip or two to Europe a year. Instead of supporting fundamental institution-building in Palestine, the money goes to funding "projects" that as an effect drain our cities of talent and resources.
It has been said that the West bought out Fateh by creating and funding the PA. Equally it bought out the secular, leftist organizations by creating a parallel PA, the NGO world. It is obvious who has been left out: the Islamic-oriented groups. We can all see where that has led. This goes to show that foreign largesse is based on cool, calculating politics and not on real need or equality. This fraudulent and vicious circle of inter-dependence (because all bureaucracies need to spend their allocations), where the focus is on keeping people quiet instead of creating real value, where NGOs are busy enforcing the status quo instead of challenging it as watchdogs, is bound to collapse. Peace should never be an industry.- Published 28/5/2007 © bitterlemons.org
Akram Baker is a political analyst based in Ramallah. He has broad experience in the NGO world.
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Bitterlemons.org is an internet newsletter that presents Palestinian and Israeli viewpoints on prominent issues of concern. Each edition addresses a specific issue of controversy. Bitterlemons.org maintains complete organizational and institutional symmetry between its Palestinian and Israeli sides.