On August 5, 2005, thePalestine-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,
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,
Alistair Walbaum: 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 for that.
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.
Leo Senkman: 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
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
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.
Danny Rubinstein: 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.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: 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.
Naomi Chazan: 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
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
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
Walid Salem: 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
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
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.
Hillel Schenker: 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?
Walid Salem: 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
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.
Naomi Chazan: 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.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: 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.
Lucinda Goldberg: Now we would like to hear the global
perspective on the role of civil society.
Saul Sosnowski: 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.
Tullo Vigevani: 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
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
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.
Hillel Schenker: What specifically should be the role of
intellectuals and of religious figures in trying to move things
Danny Rubinstein: 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.
Ziad Abu-Zayyad: 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 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
Naomi Chazan: 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
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
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.
Walid Salem: 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
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.
Noga Tarnopolsky: 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.