This article attempts to evaluate People-to-People Program (P2PP) projects and activities and to explain how they have been implemented. It also sets out to identify the hindrances faced by the projects and the obstacles for the stakeholders. A first-hand experience both as participant in and coordinator of P2P projects led to the perception that Palestinian-Israeli meetings varied in terms of definition, motivation and implementation.1
In general terms, the P2P Program anticipated that contact between Palestinians and Israelis would "enhance dialogue and relations," in order to "gain wider exposure of the public to the peace process" and to "remove barriers to interaction." Whether these anticipated gains had indeed been achieved depended on the criteria used for their assessment, and it was found that, in practice, different parties employed different criteria for judging the success of a joint project. Irrespective of the criteria, hundreds of projects were initiated; putting them into practice, on the other hand, proved neither straightforward nor simple. These difficulties impacted on the Palestinian side affecting their motivation for participating in joint projects.

General Hindrances in Implementing People-to-People Projects

These constraints on dialogue are examined on the basis of issues presented by the Palestinian and Israeli coordinators, as well as facilitators and donors.2 Among the major hindrances confronting the contact experience were the following:

* The asymmetry between the capability of Palestinian and Israeli NGOs

A major difference was found in capability between Palestinian and Israeli non-governmental organizations (NGOs). The Israeli NGOs were more competent than the Palestinian for reasons related to the internal constitution of the NGOs, and to external factors, such as freedom of movement, which placed the Israeli NGOs in a privileged position. The Israeli organizations were also more capable based on the nature of their office equipment and qualification of their staff. This reflected an overall pattern - the Israeli infrastructure was generally well-established, while the Palestinian had deteriorated as a result of the prolonged occupation.3
The Israeli side in P2P projects was more experienced in proposal-writing and fund-seeking than its Palestinian counterpart and this gave the Israelis a privileged position with the funding agencies. In many cases, the Israeli coordinators had access to information related to funds before any official response from the funding agencies was available. As a consequence, Palestinian participants viewed their Palestinian coordinators as having failed to carry out their full responsibility and considered that the Israeli side was in control of the project.
People-to-People programs, for their part, paid special attention to the parity between the two sides, and gave the partners equal responsibility for project administration. The managing director of the Institute for Applied International Studies (Fafo) stated:
However, one of the institutional structures of the P2P Program accentuated the imbalance between the Palestinian and the Israeli NGOs. The Palestinian Planning Group, represented by the Palestinian Center for Peace (PCP), was established with Fafo funding to serve the purpose of P2P. On the other hand, the Israeli Planning Group constituted by the CRB4 was already established as a funding foundation. Moreover, the CRB was a co-funding partner that provided fifty percent to the Israeli NGOs on any joint project. Such an arrangement gave the Israeli side a privileged position, which allowed Israelis to act paternalistically toward the Palestinians.

Peres Center holds a Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGOs Conference in Spain

The Israelis thus tended to be better prepared for meetings than the Palestinians. Most of the time, the Israeli side took the responsibility for producing proposals, paperwork, programs and evaluations. This was also reflected in the process of selection of project participants which, on the Israeli side was conducted in a professional way whereby participants were recruited through advertisement in local newspapers and, in most cases, they were interviewed. The Palestinians, on the other hand, relied in their recruiting on social connections and acquaintances.
The asymmetry between both sides was also felt in the external situation where Palestinians were suffering from disadvantageous conditions, especially restrictions on freedom of movement. In fact, such restrictions - the result of the closure of Jerusalem and all entry points into Israel - had a negative impact on the Palestinian attempt to attain parity, especially when several Palestinian participants were denied permission to get into Israel to fulfil project requirements.5 Paradoxically, many of these Palestinians denied entry into Israel were given permits by the Israeli authorities to travel abroad from Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. This situation encouraged the holding of many meetings abroad, mainly in Europe.
Palestinians were affected by the difficulty of movement, not only to Israeli locations but also between Palestinian areas when internal closures were imposed. The planning of joint activities was thus greatly influenced by a "geo-aspect" (Endersen, 2001:20). The inability to travel between Gaza and the West Bank, for example, divided Palestinian efforts and impeded any form of coordination between Palestinian NGOs. Therefore, all the efforts made by funding agencies and/or coordinators to implement projects on a balanced and equal basis were unsuccessful and remained subject to the project's logistical boundary.

* The discrepancy between the objectives of Palestinian and Israeli NGOs

The difference in objectives between the Palestinian and Israeli NGOs was not formally stated but was evident - as observed from practical experience - and was more obvious on the Palestinian side. Although most proposals suggested cooperation and mutual understanding as the underlying aims, Palestinian coordinators nominated people to participate in joint projects for political reasons. Despite the fact that the Palestinian NGOs were dependent on funding and, therefore, had to fit their announced agenda with that of the donors, they still insisted their prime goal was to raise awareness among Israelis about the suffering of the Palestinians. It should be noted, however, that the attitudes of the Israeli side also reflected a political agenda, which was to promote the idea that the Oslo process constituted the solution to the Palestinian problem.
Furthermore, there was no NGO coordination, among the Palestinian or Israeli NGOs either uni-nationally or jointly. Dan Bar-On and Sami Adwan, the co-directors of Peace Research Institute in the Middle East" (PRIME), found that most NGOs had neither a speciality nor a defined agenda. "While some are committed to a specific area (for example, environmental issues), others are more comprehensive in their approach, trying to cover as many issues as they can" (Bar-On & Adwan, 2000:68). Since the NGOs were more preoccupied with the allocation of funds, their agendas were therefore amorphous so as to fit the guidelines of the different donors. As a consequence, the relationship between NGOs was competitive and lacked cohesion.

* Differences between funding agency agendas and those of Palestinian and Israeli NGOs

Many international donors started to fund Palestinian-Israeli projects under the People-to People Program created through Oslo II. However, many of the participants involved in P2P complained that donors' agendas were not always appropriate and that they did not respond to political changes. In addition, the lack of coordination between the different funding agencies meant that funds remained restricted to certain NGOs. This translated into the same NGOs receiving funds from many donors and, probably, for similar types of projects, which led to the duplication of projects and the denial of funding for many. According to Janet Aviad, the director of Karen Karev (the CRB Foundation), from her experience as funder, "there was neither a clear transparent strategy nor a vision for funders, nor was there a division of labor."6
Another problem with the donors, observed by both Palestinians and Israelis, pertained more specifically to the Palestinian side. Some donors decided either to give the funding for a joint-project to the Israeli side or to pay more money to the Israeli partner. The argument was that Palestinians might misuse the money - a clear indication that some donors were biased and did not trust the Palestinian side. Indeed, the asymmetry in funding was emphasised later when it was decided in the Wye River Memorandum to deduct the money allocated for P2P from the Palestinian budget and not the Israeli. A letter of protest was sent out regarding the issue and decrying the inequality in funding:
Many of the Palestinians and Israelis involved in dialogue regarded funding conditions as one of the limitations on the implementation of joint projects. Palestinian and Israeli partners seemed to be trying to meet the funding conditions rather than addressing the core reality of the political problem. However, apart from minimal Palestinian objections concerning the equality of funding - most of which took place in internal Palestinian meetings - neither side made any serious moves towards changing the approaches and the agendas of the donors.
Another limitation to an effective functioning of joint projects was the donors' unrealistic agendas, as they ignored the political situation and facts on ground. Donors assumed that Palestinians and Israelis should be able through contact to establish cooperation based on personal and professional relations, but these were not tackled thoroughly by the participants who instead urged donors to: "…develop a quick-track small project fund to be made available to the NGOs so that they can rapidly respond to real-time developments and needs with regard to the formal peace process."8 Thus, the funding aspect had a considerable impact on the initiating and implementing of joint projects as obtaining funds became the priority for Palestinians and Israelis.

* The influence of macro-level changes on the process of dialogue

Political changes on the macro level had an impact on Palestinian-Israeli contact in the post-Oslo period in general. After the Oslo agreement, the reality of the conditions and unsolved issues prevailing in the Palestinian territories affected the content and form of dialogue throughout the period 1993-2000. While Palestinians considered dialogue as one form of their struggle against the Israeli occupation and its practices (which they saw continuing around them), Israelis came to meet Palestinians for cooperative purposes and to establish relations in an era of peace.
However, some Palestinians, especially coordinators and veterans, expressed unease about the way these projects were being implemented. Their main concern was whether the projects would serve Palestinian national objectives, represented by the achievement of a comprehensive and just peace. Palestinians were therefore reluctant to take part in P2P projects and it became so difficult to recruit participants that some schemes had to pay Palestinians to join certain projects. The pervading feeling was that P2P activities would do little to change the political situation, especially that Israel had no commitment to implementing most of the Oslo agreement and most official negotiations had collapsed.

Palestinian Attitudes towards the P2P Program

Most Palestinians involved in joint projects were critical of those encounters and cynical about the probability of any positive outcomes. In general, those who had supported contact with Israelis since the outset and early stages of dialogue defined their goal as the attempt to influence Israeli public opinion and convince Israelis of the legitimacy of the Palestinian national struggle against occupation. Therefore, the Palestinian objective was no different in the post-Oslo period than it was in pre-Oslo, despite the fact that the objective of P2P was cooperation and coexistence. While the donors aimed to bring about change in the negative perceptions of Palestinians and Israelis and to bridge the gap between them, the Palestinian participants accepted the framework simply to be able to pursue their own aims and objectives. Both Palestinians and Israelis agreed to meet under the heading of peace, even though each party interpreted and perceived peace in different ways.
The positions adopted by Palestinian organizations were expressed either in unpublished papers or in articles published in local newspapers that made their views clear. The organizations fell into two groups: one group rejected any contacts with Israelis; the other included organizations that, though involved in contact, were dissatisfied with the nature and the process of such encounters. The latter too, believed that the Israeli occupation had not ended, but considered that meeting Israelis was one aspect of the Palestinian struggle. They also saw in these meetings a means to acquiring an understanding of Israeli society which would help them define the goals and strategies for their struggle.
The Palestinians were critical of Israel's interest in presenting joint projects in the media. According to the Palestinians, advertising of joint projects was simply propagandist, benefiting the Israelis who wanted to show the international community that peace had been achieved and that the occupation had ended. As Minister of Labor, Ghassan al-Khatib, put it: "The Israelis' objective was to eliminate the psychological barriers and to show the human side of Israel; Palestinians, on the other hand, wanted the Israelis to know about the Palestinian suffering."9

Palestinian Evaluation of Post-Oslo Joint Projects

The main difficulty lay in establishing how each side interpreted the peace process, on the one hand, and how each perceived the aim of contact, on the other.
The Palestinians attempted to define the terms of contact in internal meetings and a political platform for contact was always demanded by the Palestinian side, whereas the Israelis came to contact motivated by social and cultural considerations. Palestinian eagerness to define the terms for post-Oslo contact started to be developed since its inception and intensified until the eruption of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000.
Generally speaking, discontent was voiced among the Palestinians who started to call for meetings to evaluate joint projects as early as 1995. The number, the intensity and the strength of meetings increased over the years as the readiness of the Palestinians to take action towards changing the pattern of joint projects continued to build up. In June 1995, Al-Jiser, a Palestinian NGO, invited Palestinians involved in the P2P Program to evaluate their experiences at an internal meeting.10 It was attended by thirty-five Palestinians representing twenty different NGOs and included directors as well as staff from different organizational levels. The participants emphasized the fact that dialogue with the Israelis was part of their struggle against occupation and that contact was a means to an end and not an end in itself.11
All Palestinian participants agreed on the fundamental need to train Palestinians who would meet Israelis, the idea being to enhance Palestinian skills and enrich information about Palestine as a way of competing with Israeli capabilities. This brought into play the element of equality which forms part of the theories of contact and is considered as one of the conditions for successful contact.
During 1999, a new stage in Palestinian-Israeli relations started to emerge in the framework of the People-to-People Program. Towards the end of 1999, the Palestinian evaluation of P2P took a more official direction. The Finnish Citizens' Security Council (KATU), along with the Palestinian Centre for Peace (PCP) and the Israeli Economic Cooperation Foundation (ECF) organized an evaluative workshop on November 27-28, 1999,12 in Helsinki, with the aim of bringing together representatives of Palestinian, Israeli and European NGOs and the donors who supported P2P activities.
The conference was organized in response to Palestinian complaints about the biased position of the donors who, as a result, wished to re-evaluate their policies towards joint activities in light of Palestinian and Israeli views and recommendations. Recommendations of the workshop urged that more funds be provided by donors to increase P2P activities for both Palestinians and Israelis:
It did not prove useful that the whole discussion was dominated by the funding issue as the NGOs failed to address some of the deficiencies in existing practices. For example, the issue of neutrality had not been documented in the letter of recommendation presented to donors, although the donors' objectivity had been discussed at many of the conference sessions.
A couple of months later, Palestinian representatives of NGOs involved in P2P activities were invited to a meeting by the Palestinian Ministry of NGO Affairs.13 The meeting, which took place on January 20, 2000, aimed (a) to delineate a clear basis for dealing with Israeli NGOs, and (b) to develop a clear vision for the Palestinian NGOs.14 It was attended by twenty Palestinian NGO representatives and five representatives from the Ministry of NGO Affairs. The main issues discussed included the difficulties faced by Palestinian NGOs in joint activities and it was also agreed that a follow-up committee (to include a ministry representative) would be formed and would meet regularly.15 With the eruption of the second intifada in 2000, the committee was cancelled. In 2002, the NGO Ministry itself ceased to exist in the wake of the changes that took place in the Palestinian government as a result of the Israeli incursions into Palestinian areas. The decision was taken in the Prime Minister's office to transform the Ministry into a commission -the Commission of Human Rights and NGOs Affairs.
Thus, the macro level had a significant impact on the P2P process, which was especially felt on the Palestinian side. The political changes motivated many Palestinians involved in joint projects to re-evaluate P2P activities throughout 1995-2000; their assessment led to the view that joint projects conducted and processed in the post-Oslo period were negative and a failure. However, most Palestinians involved in meetings still believed that dialogue, based on a clear vision and foundation, should continue to serve a just and comprehensive peace and not a one-sided benefit.

Israeli Attitudes and Perceptions of the P2P Program

The Israeli NGOs, explicitly and implicitly, preferred to stick to the P2P agenda, and generally NGOs and participants both had a social agenda and tried to avoid any political topics. Most Israelis thought that joint encounters should focus on professional and/or personal and cultural issues in order to achieve optimal results. Generally speaking, the Israeli side tried to talk about peace rather than about conflict, and considered therefore that talking about the past (i.e., the 1948 war) was pointless and would result in contact being sidetracked. Israelis involved in projects thought that the Oslo agreement had achieved peace for the Palestinian people and that a different relationship with Palestinians was now possible. As a result they were dissatisfied with the way the Palestinians accentuated political issues over social and cultural ones.
A study conducted among twelve Israeli organizations that were involved in joint projects with Palestinians found that: "… without exception, all of the organizations studied embody a personal and/or social orientation to their programming" (Perlman and Schwartz, 1999: 22).
As a result, Israeli participants came to meet Palestinians in the belief that their (Israeli) government had made great concessions to the Palestinians who were expected therefore to be grateful and not to complain. Other Israeli participants thought that Palestinians were inflexible: "I discovered that it was hard to find a solution to the conflict, since most Palestinians are not willing to compromise." According to another Israeli participant: "Palestinians are so busy showing us their misery and expecting us to be one-sided - on their side. They want us to condemn everything that is Jewish or Israeli and to deny the Holocaust; it won't work."
Significantly, most Israeli participants thought that the Palestinian side expected Israelis to compromise so as to guarantee better understanding, although most admitted that they had learnt more about the daily suffering of Palestinians while not necessarily accepting that the occupation was the underlying cause. Additionally, those Israelis who expressed sympathy with the Palestinian suffering still blamed Palestinians for the difficult situation they were experiencing in the Palestinian Authority (PA) areas: "I feel angry for what we, the Israelis, did to Palestinians, but as I told the Palestinians, it is because of the Palestinian terror that [Binyamin] Netanyahu was elected. I blame the Palestinians for the political situation here." One of the Israeli founders of the Peace Now movement, Mordechai Bar-On, explained that the Israeli position was the result of the Israeli media, which exaggerated the Palestinian suicide attacks and portrayed the Palestinians as "a dishonest enemy."16
Thus, Israelis were more concerned about future relations between Palestinians and Israelis and did not want to hear about the conflict and the political aspects because all this was painful and already in the past. But what was history for Israelis was the future for Palestinians.
So it was not really surprising to hear critical comments from the Israeli side on the passivity of Palestinians in initiating personal contacts with any Israelis they met.


The obstacles mentioned above show that most of the conditions postulated by theories of contact, and especially of positive contact, were not observed. The practical experience of P2P was difficult and the implementation of projects was influenced by the disparity between Palestinian and Israeli organizations in terms of professional qualifications. Moreover, the different perceptions and expectations of the Palestinians, Israelis, and donors towards joint activities hindered a positive outcome. In general, the structured contact represented in P2P remained debatable and lacked consensus among the Palestinians. This was especially true given the fact that the Oslo agreements did not fulfil Palestinian national objectives and that the struggle against Israeli occupation remained one of the main goals of the Palestinians.
Furthermore, according to the Social Identity Theory (SIT), the motivational difference between higher- and lower-status groups should be taken into consideration and it applies to the Palestinian- Israeli case (Tajfel & Turner, 1985). The Israeli side was more enthusiastic about participating in contact to preserve their status. Palestinians, on the other hand, were eager to change social reality.


Bar-On, Dan and Sami Adwan (2000). "PRIME's Role in Supporting the Collaboration of Palestinian and Israeli NGOs," in Adwan, Sami and Dan Bar-On, eds., The Role of Non-Governmental Organizations in Peace-Building between Palestinians and Israelis, Beit Jala, PRIME Publications, pp.68-72.

Endersen, Lena (2001). Contact and Cooperation: The Israeli-Palestinian People-to-People Program. Oslo: Institute for Applied Social Science.

Hanssen-Bauer, Jon (2000). "The Israeli-Palestinian People-to-People Program: The Fafo Model of People-to-People," paper presented to the Helsinki Workshop on Evaluating Israeli-Palestinian Civil Society Cooperative Activities, 27-28 November 1999, KATU: 2000, pp. 35-40.

KATU (2000). Declaration of Recommendations to Donors Supporting Israeli-Palestinian Civil Society Cooperative Activities. Report of the Workshop on the Israeli-Palestinian Civil Society Cooperative Activities, 27-28 November 1999. Helsinki, Finland: KATU, p. 71.

Perlman, Lee, and Raviv Schwartz (2000). "A Preliminary Stocktaking of Israeli Organizations Engaged in Palestinian-Israeli People-to-People Activity," paper presented to the Helsinki Workshop on Evaluating Israeli-Palestinian Civil Society Cooperative Activities, 27-28 November 1999, in Report of the Workshop on the Israeli-Palestinian Civil Society Cooperative Activities, KATU: 2000,
pp. 8-18.

Tajfel, H, and J. C. Turner (1985). "The Social Identity Theory of Inter-Group Behavior." in S. Worschel and W. G. Austin, eds., Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, pp. 7-24.

1 This article is based on the writer's PhD dissertation "Palestinian-Israeli People-to-People Contact Experience, 1993-2004," The University of Exeter, UK, June 2004.
2 Based on the publications of various groups involved in these activities, on interviews conducted by the writer, and the writer's own observations.
3 Writer's observation through direct involvement in joint projects.
4 CRB: the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropic Foundation (Karen Karev) (also referred to as CRB)
5 Palestinians were denied access to Jerusalem and Israel in 1994 by the Israeli government. Palestinians who needed to enter Jerusalem or Israel had to get permissions from the Israeli administrators. Permits were given on the basis of one's record and classification according to the criteria of the Israeli authorities.
6 Interview by the writer, January 26, 2004, Jerusalem.
7 Letter to President George W. Bush: "Peace Education Now!" from the Palestinian and the Israeli co-directors of IPCRI, June 8, 2003; see
8 KATU-Helsinki, 2000, "Declaration of Recommendations to Donors Supporting Israeli-Palestinian Civil Society Cooperative Actvities,"Report of the Workshop on the Israeli-Palestinian Civil Society Cooperative Activities, November 27-28, 1999, Helsinki, Finland, p. 71.
9 Ghassan Al-Khatib, Interview 10 August 2001; 9 March 2004, Ramallah.
10 Workshop coordinated and final draft of recommendations edited by the writer.
11 Unpublished paper from the Palestinian Meeting for People Concerned with Joint Activities with Israelis, Al-Jiser, Jerusalem, June 1995. Copies were distributed to all the participants in the workshop.
12 Workshop on the Israeli-Palestinian Civil Society Cooperative Activities, Helsinki, Finland, 1999.
13 The Ministry of NGO Affairs was established in October 1999. A major issue on its agenda was the progress of Palestinian-Israeli joint projects and the P2P Program.
14 Palestinian Ministry of NGOs, "Meeting with Palestinian NGOs that have relations with Israeli NGOs, 20 January 2000," unpublished paper.
15 The writer was one of the members of the follow-up committee.
16 Mordechair Bar-On, Interview, August 27, 2001, Jerusalem.
17 Janet Aviad, Interview, January 26, 2004, Jerusalem.