On February 6, 2006, the Palestine-Israel Journal
organized a roundtable discussion at the American Colony Hotel in
East Jerusalem on the topic The Future of People-to-People (P2P).
The participants were Janet Aviad, who was involved in the official
P2P program as director of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman
Philanthropies (Keren Karev); Fadwa el-Sha'er, a P2P activist with
the Arab Studies Society and P2P researcher with an MA in
international relations; Shira Herzog, a P2P researcher and manager
of a Canadian foundation; Fadwa Khader, Palestinian Agricultural
Relief Committees (PARC) and women's P2P activities and joint
activism against the separation wall; Signe Gilen, the Norwegian
Representatives Office, Ramallah, on behalf of the donors/sponsors
of P2P; and Hillel Schenker, co-editor the Palestine-Israel
Journal. The moderators were Dr. Nadia Nasser-Najjab, a specialist
in social psychology with a PhD devoted to an evaluation of P2P;
and Lee Perlman, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University and a P2P
practitioner and researcher. Gayle Meyers, Search for Common Ground
was an observer.
Hillel Schenker: I'd like to welcome everyone on behalf of
the PalestineIsrael Journal to this roundtable which is
taking place just a week-and-a-half after the Palestinian
elections. This is an excellent time to talk about the future of
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: We would like to begin with the concept
and definition of peopletopeople. The original framework of
peopletopeople, as defined in the Oslo II agreement, was part of a
broad cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. The aim of the
politicians when they signed that agreement was to guarantee
cooperation between people - specifically on the grassroots level,
nongovernmental organizations, with an element of official
involvement. Peopletopeople was part of this whole operation, and
Palestinians and Israelis are still involved in certain areas of
the broader cooperation.
Originally, the concept of peopletopeople meant small projects,
U.S. $20,000 each. The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA)
was supposed to supervise those funds and projects. This program
was meant to involve officials from the Israeli Foreign Ministry
and from an office directed by Hassan Abu-Libdeh on the Palestinian
We want to raise questions related to problems with the concept of
peopletopeople, and how that concept, as laid out in Oslo, caused
obstacles in the implementation of peopletopeople.
Janet Aviad: I think the basic tension that the Oslo II
Annex introduced to peopletopeople was the government sponsorship.
When both of the governments were in favor of Oslo - i.e., the
Labor government in Israel and the PLO-led government in Palestine
- it meant you could achieve cooperation and peopletopeople could
actually move forward. When the government changed - and in Israel
it happened very fast after Oslo, with the election of the Likud
government under Binyamin Netanyahu - there was great suspicion of
peopletopeople, as well as a lack of coordination.
The Norwegiansponsored program insisted on the governments being
involved as part of the hub which made the decisions and this
conception is problematic. Processes could be determined by
politics, as indicated previously with the Israeli example and now
with a Palestinian case.
After the outbreak of the second intifada, the Palestinians issued
an antipeopletopeople statement from then-Minister Hassan Asfour's
office, which basically froze P2P activities.
Today there are activities, but not on the same level of
involvement that existed in the mid and late 1990s until 2000. If
peopletopeople activity ever picks up again to the level it had
reached in 1994 and 1995, it should remain an NGO activity -
without government sponsorship.
One of the pretensions of postOslo peopletopeople activity was that
the latter would provide civil society support for the peace
process defined by diplomacy. But this goal was not attained.
People-to-people activities led to the development of personal
relations and interesting projects. However, these were totally
dependent on positive political processes. When they did not
happen, the programs and peopletopeople NGO infrastructures were
Until the two peoples exist on a more symmetrical basis, where one
is not the occupier and the other not the occupied, a true
peopletopeople relationship - which implies equality - cannot
exist. I recall a discussion with the Norwegians when we first
discussed the value of people-to-people activities. They said it's
like Germany and France after World War II when dialogues between
high-school kids helped to destroy one-hundred-year-old
stereotypes. The difference is that there the war had ended, and
our war remains. What is required is a major rethinking of the
assumptions of peopletopeople activity.
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: I interviewed Hassan Abu-Libdeh, and he
told me that originally, before Oslo 2000, Palestinians were
talking about something of a more political nature.
Janet Aviad: As I recall the expectations - and I'm thinking
of Peace Now's peopletopeople activities with the Orient House or
with Palestinians in the Hands Around Jerusalem action in 1989,
those were political activities of two organizations whose goal was
to break down the barriers and to work together in order to advance
the peace process. There was a political goal based on the mutual
interests of people in the opposition in Israel - the peace
movement - and Palestinians opposed to Israeli government policy.
After Oslo, when we were supposed to be meeting as equals in
nonpolitical activities, it was different
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Don't you agree that peopletopeople,
the term itself, started to apply not only to this Norwegianrelated
program, but also to any meeting in a closed room with drinks and
food? Anything that was not in the street started to be called
Janet Aviad: Yes. There also arose an industry of
peopletopeople activities, where people started to make money. This
introduced another set of problems.
Lee Perlman: Are there any other comments on our search for
a definition and in terms of the goals that Janet was expressing,
the different types of goals, both postOslo and preOslo?
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: You started implementing such
activities at the Orient House. What was the definition of
peopletopeople that you had in mind as a Palestinian?
Fadwa el-Sha'er: First of all, to build a bridge between the
two peoples for the future, to decrease the violence of the
occupation for the Palestinian people, and to find the people from
both sides to build a new generation
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: To help the new Palestinian generation
become aware of their political rights, to draw them away from
violence and to develop relations with the Israelis. They wanted to
convince the young generation in Israel that, while they were not
responsible for the occupation, they have to end it. So the goal
Fadwa el-Sha'er: Yes. But thinking about the future, it was
also meant to affect the social and economic spheres. However the
first objective was political. Before we would start to work with
each other on any project, we would ask for an agreement - Israelis
to accept the rights of Palestinians relating to several issues,
and Palestinians to accept Oslo.
Signe Gilen: From the Norwegian perspective, we had a
facilitator role. The two sides decided in the Oslo II agreement to
ask Norway to facilitate their program.
Lee Perlman: Could you elaborate on the logic behind that
from the Norwegian point of view, the attempt to institutionalize
Signe Gilen: The political leaders from the two sides had
been negotiating both through open and secret channels. At the time
of Oslo II, my understanding is that they recognized that the wider
public had not been engaged, and that they depended on popular
support in order to go forward with final-status negotiations and
implement changes. The Israeli side wanted to take the issue to a
national referendum. One idea was to use the momentum of the peace
process to mobilize the consensus. The P2P was in all aspects an
official program. If you read the whole P2P Annex, it's a very
broadauthority for cooperation in all fields of society - the
economy, battling crime, the environment, culture and science. It
related more to public institutions than to civil society as such.
The first test was the Israeli election in 1996, and the change of
government. The whole scope shifted somehow - from participants
like the police and the public schools to a more NGOdriven
mechanism. But the official program was still guided by the
governments. It was not an independent or alternative grass-root
Janet Aviad: The Norwegiansponsored program was an official
program theoretically with both authorities, the State of Israel
and the Palestinian Authority (PA). The reasons for this are
understandable. But I believe that this approach suffers from a
basic weakness - it depends on the elections. As soon as the
Israeli election took place, we didn't have cooperation on the
Israeli side anymore. There were also specific events, like the
Goldstein massacre in Hebron, which led to tensions on the
decisionmaking level of the people-to-people hub. The governmental
representatives were not synchronized with the NGOs. Except for the
initial period of post-Oslo enthusiasm, the Israeli and Palestinian
governments did not maintain the same level of dedication and
commitment as the NGOs.
Hillel Schenker: Shira, since you studied this, could you
talk about the relationship between the official and nonofficial
concepts of peopletopeople?
Shira Herzog: From my perspective, peopletopeople generally
- but especially the Norwegian program - reflected the strengths
and the weaknesses of the Oslo political process. Because the
weaknesses of the Oslo process were greater than its strengths, P2P
ended up being held hostage to it. In terms of the
IsraeliPalestinian conflict, the fact that Annex VI in Oslo was
devoted to civil cooperation on all levels, including small
peopletopeople, was right. You couldn't have the kind of process
that Oslo aimed to be, at least on paper, without incorporating
that element of trying to build mid and bottomup level support for
a political process. By definition, the original process was very
elitist and narrow, because it started out with secret
negotiations, creating what the leadership wanted, without any
serious effort at consensusbuilding. Therefore, to include
bottom-up work in the governmenttogovernment negotiating process
was essential because conflicts of this type cannot be "resolved" -
and I use that word very carefully - simply by a negotiated
agreement. What Oslo did was actually to legitimize all the other
efforts because it was a document of mutual recognition, and this
was its strength. It even made it easier for those people who had a
clear political agenda in dialogue work. It's important to remember
that meetings with Israelis were always part of the Palestinians'
political strategy of dealing with the occupation.
The weakness was that the political process quickly ended up
existing in a completely different framework than that in which it
had originally been conceived. Implicit in Oslo were certain
expectations. On the Palestinian side it was for a fairly quick end
to the occupation (of 1967) and for the establishment of a
Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. On the Israeli side,
it wasn't so clear, but the basic expectation was no more violence,
no more terrorism. We all know that those expectations were not met
on either side. Everything in the political process started
foundering. People-to-people got caught up in that, especially the
My definition of P2P goes beyond the official program. It does not
include official negotiations, forprofit activities or strictly
humanitarianaid activities where it's one side giving to the other.
It's the encounters that I've been looking at. And all of those
ended up getting caught in that net where the weaknesses of the
political process became greater than its strengths.
Lee Perlman: You're also talking about the limitations of
the ethos of the Oslo agreement, which was constructive ambiguity.
That ambiguity was intentional.
From what's been written by diplomats on both sides, this was a
function of a desire to move the process along and to make a
dramatic change within and in the interface between both societies.
This wellintended ambiguity - an accepted term in diplomacy -
played a role, in concept and in implementation, of creating a
dissonance and seeming internal contradiction.
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: But in addition, at one point in Oslo I
believe that was the desire of the donors, and that appealed to the
Israelis. The Palestinians agreed to the ambiguity in order to get
the funding, but internally it was implicit that their aim would be
different when it came to implementation.
Shira Herzog: In what way?
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: I was one of those who applied to the
donors. I wrote a very nice proposal about bridging the gap and
coexistence. But once we implemented the projects, we wanted to
talk about occupation.
Lee Perlman: About refugees. About everything connected to
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Yes. And that is when the problems
arise. The point when we get the funds and begin implementing is
when the differences start to appear among the Palestinians and the
Fadwa el-Sha'er: This is the main obstacle, especially when
we write proposals to Europeans and others.
Shira Herzog: This relates to Janet's third point about
asymmetry. The question you posed was the relationship to Oslo and
what was in the agreement, the framework. Another way to talk about
it is what happened in the meetings, the process. For example, did
the donors create the correct process? And then there's the
question of the overall impact. What's left from all of these
different activities? These are different kinds of questions. It's
important to make the distinction.
In conflicts like the one we live in here, it is impossible to
create trust without a clear statement of where it is going
politically, because of this big asymmetry that Janet talked about.
And we just heard examples of how this political agenda was or was
not expressed in the language of proposals. But even with the
asymmetry and conflict in agendas, you can create professional
cooperation. There were some mutual interests, let's say in the
field of medicine.
Janet Aviad: That's the best example.
Shira Herzog: Looking at the last few years, even in the fields of
agriculture or the environment, there are sometimes mutual
interests. The Palestinians are investing in their future, which
they want to have without occupation. And when it comes to
professionals on the Israeli side, most of them don't have a
problem with cooperation. No one's asking them about their
political views about the future. You can do that kind of
cooperation, and it certainly helps to build trust because it
humanizes the other side. But you can't talk about building trust
without resolving the issue of the political agenda.
Fadwa Khader: You're right.
Shira Herzog: This means that the ambiguity in Oslo perhaps
made it a little easier to do things, like professional
cooperation, because it created a legitimate framework of mutual
recognition. That's the strength.
But, and this is important, what it couldn't do was allow for
trustbuilding - on the individual level, yes, but not on a wider
level - because of the political ambiguity. Therefore, it's not
black and white, it's gray. I have different conclusions about
different components of P2P.
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Absolutely, there were some projects -
such as health projects that were successful and built up some
trust. The problem is that this remained confined to those involved
in them. We have a problem with a lack of confidence in
peopletopeople, especially on the Palestinian side -I assume on the
Israeli side as well. Palestinians are very cynical about
peopletopeople; those who work in it try not to mention it.
Shira Herzog: Are you talking about now?
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Then and now. When I talk about
peopletopeople, I immediately go on the defensive. I start out by
saying that we need to raise awareness amongst the Israelis about
the occupation, that the occupation still exists. We start out with
Lee Perlman: Fadwa, looking back, what were some of the
perceptions of those involved in this very wide array of
peopletopeople activities by those who were not directly
How did Palestinians perceive their neighbors who were involved;
and how did the Israelis who were not involved but heard about it,
perceive those who were involved? I'm talking specifically about
the time range of 19931994 until 2000. What were the perceptions
within the two societies of people who were not involved?
Fadwa Khader: I have been involved in various activities in
the women's peace movement representing the Palestinian People's
Party, women activists in Jerusalem and elsewhere, and have been on
joint Palestinian and Israeli committees against the separation
wall. I live in ARam, and we were leading the whole issue side by
side with the Israeli peace movement. We are not separate from our
community, and you are not separate from your community
There are some really fundamental issues for the Palestinians -
ending the occupation, Jerusalem, the refugees. We shouldn't forget
that those are the principles. We are still under occupation; this
is very important and has to be taken into consideration. The
people will judge us. It is not as easy as you think.
Janet Aviad: I think what you are saying is a major point in
discussing the problems of peopletopeople from Oslo onward, in
contrast to preOslo peopletopeople which was highly political and
which worked very well.
Shira Herzog: This is exactly the point. On paper, the
effort was legitimized, but because of the way the process
developed, it ended up in some ways jeopardizing and limiting the
efforts. People faced more difficulties on the Palestinian side
within their society.
On the Israeli side, as the governments changed and there was
governmental instability, the NGOs, and even the peace movement,
were confused. Are we in opposition to a Labor government? Are we
in opposition to a Likud government? Where do we fit in? So the
community of P2P was weakened within their respective communities
because they weren't getting any backing from the top. There was
With regard to the different agendas, my observation of the
Palestinian side over the past ten years is that there has been a
clear and consistent political agenda. It has not changed to this
On the Israeli side there were ambiguous statements all the time,
even now. So where did a program that was meant to build trust
between the peoples fit into an ambiguous statement?
And even though Palestinians had a consistent political statement
about statehood, they had ambiguous interpretations of
implementation - of what it meant in terms of the expectation of no
violence by the Israeli side. The perception of the broader
community naturally flows from that. People asked: What difference
are you making? And those involved were quickly marginalized and,
in some cases, became very vulnerable.
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Money also played a part. Some became
involved because they needed the money.
Fadwa el-Sha'er: Since the outset, peopletopeople started
off in the wrong way. The people on both sides had different
agendas and, basically, they started to work individually. Some of
them were institutional, but most of them were individual. This
killed the peopletopeople project.
Individuals would have a proposal funded by the EU and the
Norwegians, and they would start to work. The key point is how to
convince Palestinians that we need peopletopeople projects. But
most of the people talked about the money. This also destroyed the
Most of the people involved in P2P on both sides, are relatively
weak. On the Palestinian side, the people did not follow me or work
with me. People came to the Palestinian leaders, and they said, I
forbid Fadwa to come to these meetings. Why? Because I am strong
and this is what I want to work in. You need the people from the
community. When there was a demonstration at the ARam checkpoint, I
convinced 1,000-2,000 people to come. The leaders did not convince
anyone. This is important.
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: You're talking about credibility.
Fadwa el-Sha'er: I remember one meeting in Jerusalem about
two years ago. The people from the Israeli side were asked how to
influence people on their side to do something about the
checkpoints. All the Israelis were afraid to come to the
checkpoints. This was the start of the Palestinians turning back,
not working in joint projects. If you want to evaluate what really
happened in these projects, you have to do it with transparency. If
you want to work for the future, it is important to understand the
specifics of these projects. People started forbidding their own
side from participating in these activities, because of the many
problems and the negative results.
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: People have told me the same thing;
that some individuals were getting money and actually doing nothing
with it. They just brought three or four Palestinians and Israelis
together and claimed there was a peopletopeople meeting.
Whether this is documented or not doesn't matter. The problem is
that this is how Palestinians perceive peopletopeople. There was no
coordination among donors. The same person might get funded from
two or three sources for the same program, until the Norwegians
began examining whether there was any duplication.
Lee Perlman: When we discuss the peopletopeople industry, we are
not only talking about the financial dimension. From my experience
and research, there certainly was a standard - or an awareness, at
least - that we're also talking about a professional type of
intervention in the different types of projects.
Probably, this agenda of professionalization was set primarily by
the Israelis and the donors. It was based on a lot of different
kinds of academic assumptions about conflict resolution. But my
sense of what you're saying, Fadwa, is that, even with
professionalization, there was something stronger than that, which
was a pretense that peopletopeople was being practiced by people
with legitimacy within their societies.
If I understood you, you were saying that there really wasn't that
support and legitimacy. What is the importance of more evaluation
or more professionalization if the people involved do not have the
social or political legitimacy of their society?
How does that jibe with what you're talking about, Janet, that
there was authentic peopletopeople up to the first intifada?
What do you make of the impulse to have more credibility, more
accountability, towards ourselves, towards academic and
professional and intellectual standards, while the grassroots
players on both sides tended not to have that legitimacy?
Fadwa el-Sha'er: There were professional people involved
from the universities. But the people who wrote the proposals,
applied for the funding and were working and meeting with you and
me and others did not have a relationship with the students or with
the teachers in high schools and the lower grades.
In addition, some of the Palestinian NGOs that were working with
these projects were not registered, were not legal. When an NGO is
registered, it is supervised by a special PA ministry, but when it
is not registered, it is very damaging. This is the worst thing
because the people get disillusioned very quickly. When I tried to
convince people of the importance of these projects, nobody would
listen. If you do one project wrong, it damages the whole concept.
Our society is a conservative one, so the people are easily
influenced. They elected Hamas because of what took place within
the various factions - corruption and so on.
Janet Aviad: Professionalization, transparency and even the
financial problems are always issues, but not the basic issue. This
whole discussion has led to one conclusion, which is that there
were different agendas built into the peopletopeople program. With
regard to the Palestinian political agenda - which is completely
legitimate - there was a continuation for the Palestinians from
preOslo to postOslo in terms of the expectation of cooperation with
Israelis. Those are still the Palestinian demands with regard to
the occupation. But that has not been the Israeli demand from Oslo
on. It was the preOslo Israeli understanding.
Once P2P became institutionalized, Israelis became engaged in kinds
of benevolent activity they thought would expand into rightwing
circles. The basic goal was not peopletopeople among peaceniks, but
to expand to the right. But the right would never agree to this
political agenda. Therefore, it couldn't work.
Fadwa el-Sha'er: This is important.
Janet Aviad: It's not that the intentions weren't good,
especially of the donors and of those who participated. But P2P
activities were flawed because of the fundamental problem of
different agendas. It couldn't go right because of the different
goals of the two sides and the different goals of the donors.
Whenever we had a meeting and gave out the grants, they first went
to those who were active in the preOslo period, and had
institutionalized themselves as people- to-people NGOs. The
Norwegians felt that the range was too narrow. We should reach out
to Shas, to the National Religious Party, to the Russians. But
those are people who did not agree with the Palestinians' goals in
any way. So it was driven to fail because of that.
There are peopletopeople activities that have succeeded. The key to
the success of the professionals - like the doctors-to-doctors or
the Peres Center programs - is that the work is purely professional
and nationbuilding activities. In other words, the Palestinians
understand that, if they have good hospitals, it's better for them.
So they send doctors to work with doctors. That's politically
neutral and is a nation-building activity. That can go on today,
but on a small scale.
Hillel Schenker: Throughout this whole period we also had
Israeli nonofficial NGOs that were active, such as Peace Now,
Ta'ayyush, Rabbis for Human Rights or Physicians for Human
Hillel Schenker: All of them agreed with the Palestinian
goal of ending the occupation.
Janet Aviad: You can't have that sponsored by Foreign
Minister Silvan Shalom.
Lee Perlman: Many of those political and humanitarian
organizations felt that the attempt to do outreach in both
societies came at their expense
Are we back in a preOslo situation right now? Have we come full
circle in terms of peopletopeople?
We should devote some time to the lessons learned from the shared
experience. Can they help us in understanding where we are now with
the recent election of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC),
the disengagement and other developments?
Signe Gilen: When we talk about the donors, we should recall
that it was basically the Norwegians, the Canadians, the EU and the
U.S. who have been involved. I want to comment on the questions of
money and the notion of P2P as a business. The official program
gave up to U.S. $10,000 to each organization. Not big money to
mismanage, and my impression is that P2P activities did not exploit
the funds for personal benefit.
One of the basic problems, when you think about the criticism by
different academics, is that maybe they expected too much of
individuals and small organizations in terms of what impact they
could have on the overall peace process. Those who hoped that
peopletopeople activities would produce political change
overestimated the potential of those initiatives. I think many of
the people who were engaged in these kinds of activities really
tried to affect their society in a positive way. But how can you
succeed if you have limited access to the political level and to
Maybe the peace camp on both sides didn't have enough resources for
mobilizing against those who wanted to destroy the process. That's
also an issue. So when we talk about money, it could also be that
there was too little money for the needs.
Shira Herzog: Something else that is very important to
understand is the political changes that happened in Palestinian
society with the advent of Oslo, which created a Palestinian
Authority. One of the issues that arose is the relationship between
the Authority, as a governing body, and civil-society
organizations, the NGOs. How did Palestinian civil society - which
before Oslo had essentially been autonomous, representative of the
people and connected to different political factions in the PLO -
sort out its relationship with the PA? And how did P2P also become
a casualty of this process? Were NGOs doing P2P, or was it the PA?
There was the whole controversy about the PA Ministry for
So, this was multi-leveled. There were questions about where
civil-society organizations fit into the new internal Palestinian
political reality, while at the same time there was no progress on
the ground towards ending the occupation. P2P, which was primarily
outreach to the Israelis, was never disconnected from what was
going on internally.
A comment about today: If we talk about preOslo, it's very easy to
use slogans. But we're not preOslo. We're in 2006. We can learn
from the past, but to suggest that we have come full circle to the
contacts in the 1980s is not true. We are in a totally different
In the absence of a clearly defined Palestinian government, we
don't even know where we are. This is going to take some time. We
also don't know yet what the face of the Israeli government is
going to be.
If we want to talk about the value of people meeting and continued
professional cooperation, or the value of joint resistance
activities, I'm absolutely in favor. No one can say that it's not a
good thing for people to meet. But if we want to talk about a
framework where donors are going to figure out their strategy, it
has to wait for a few months because, at least on the political
level, we don't have the faces yet.
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: I think what Fadwa said about the
legitimacy of the people who are leading the contacts is important.
In some way this is similar to preOslo because the activities now
are directed towards changing the status quo.
Shira Herzog: You mean joint protests that are continuously
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Of course there are differences. But we
can see similarities. There are refuseniks now similar to those in
the 1980s. I believe that the difference now is that the political
leaders who led the joint activities before might have become
institutionalized- the campaign against the wall is now
Fadwa Khader: Partly institutionalized.
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: What Shira and Janet said is absolutely
right, about the problem of civil society when the PA arrived. The
Palestinian Ministry of NGOs tried to organize peopletopeople
activities and started to call for meetings to supervise the work
of NGOs and coordinate among them, but it didn't work. So in some
ways we are back to preOslo in terms of activities, with some
differences. But these are the contacts that are accepted now among
Palestinians, though perhaps not among Israelis.
Hillel Schenker: We just had the Palestinian election and
Hamas made its achievements. In the past there has been hardly any
peopletopeople activity between Hamas and Israelis, except for
maybe a few rabbis.
Do the Palestinians and Israelis think it's at all possible to have
any form of peopletopeople activities between Israelis and people
associated with Hamas? I realize that maybe it's too early to
answer this question.
Janet Aviad: If you go back to the 1980s, when the PLO was
illegitimate in the general Israeli society, Peace Now initiated
contacts with PLO officials. That was in order to legitimize them
in the eyes of the Israeli public, because it was known that those
officials accepted the existence of the State of Israel and wanted
to reach an agreement. During all of the 1980s activities, the
leadership was in Tunis and very few meetings were held with them
In the meantime, in the territories, peopletopeople advanced the
local Palestinian leadership. That was the function of
people-topeople from the point of view of the Palestinians.
Many local leaders got headlines in the Israeli press, in the New
York Times, and then it came back to the Palestinian press. And
there were joint political protest activities aimed, from the
Palestinian point of view, at proving that the Palestinian partner
existed. That is not the situation today. In my opinion, there will
be no echo of peopletopeople activity until it's clear that the
Hamas leadership accepts the same conditions that were accepted
then by the PLO leadership.
Personally, I had some meetings with Hamas people. But that was a
long time ago. Today, no Israeli peace movement of any size can
initiate peopletopeople activities until they know Hamas accepts
Israel's right to exist and are ready to reach an agreement. This
is because such P2P activities would become part of the
legitimization process of Hamas within Israeli society. Otherwise,
we will delegitimize ourselves. The situation has to be parallel
and there is no indication of that yet. Shira is right; it's too
Shira Herzog: We talked about different agendas - how the
Palestinian side had a clear political agenda, the establishment of
There were Israelis who, in the late 1970s and 1980s, met with
people involved in the PLO, trying to get the PLO to the point to
which it arrived at in its 1988 decision. Once that was the
political agenda of the Palestinians, it was easier for those
contacts to come to the surface.
For Palestinians, meeting with Israelis was part of an agenda to
end the occupation. But this is not part of a Hamas political
strategy. At the moment, the Hamas political strategy is internal.
As they struggle with the impact of their win in the elections,
they have to sort out what their statement is going to be to Israel
Today we don't have that shared position, that political agenda
which made it possible for both sides to meet. However, just as
before the PLO made its decision in 1988 there were contacts, so
there probably are - and there certainly should be and probably
will be - international contacts and IsraeliPalestinian contacts
with Hamas to try to bridge the gap.
When what we now call Track II started, it was very clandestine.
It's the same in any conflict. The people involved have to deal
with huge issues of legitimacy in their own community. The
difference now is that, whereas in the past on the Palestinian
side-in the 1980s and even the 1990s - the opposition was against
any negotiation and a twostate solution, now you have an opposition
on the Palestinian side that is actually committed to such a
political platform. Now, that's the minority in the parliament. And
I think there is also a role in strengthening these voices,
certainly through joint protest. In that sense, it's also
Hillel Schenker: It's not only the opposition. It's also the
PA President, Mahmoud Abbas. So it's even more complicated.
Shira Herzog: Exactly. What I am saying - again comparing it
to preOslo - is that it's much more complicated than that. But I
think one conclusion is clear. From my observations - certainly on
the Palestinian side - that the imperative of having a joint
political agenda on which there is agreement on the basics is
necessary to make any P2P activities valid on the Palestinian
Sure, professional cooperation can continue. And I think there are
some efforts at interfaith dialogue. But in the mainstream, unless
there is an understanding on two states, it's going to be very
difficult to create legitimacy for this kind of activity. And from
the Israeli side, this becomes a lot more complicated - because
there is the continuing problem of violence and the resistance.
Israelis are simply not convinced that even Palestinians committed
to two states are prepared to renounce violence altogether.
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Fadwa, what do think? Do you see major
changes in terms of contacts with Israelis in light of the new
Fadwa el-Sha'er: Do you mean whether Hamas will allow or
not? It's too early to answer.
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: So you are not sure. If Hamas says no
contact with Israelis, do you think people will stop all contacts
Fadwa el-Sha'er: It depends on the strength of the
opposition. The problem is that, from the beginning, Oslo, or
peopletopeople plus Oslo, did not create a strong basis and
foundation for any future relations.
Shira Herzog: What would be called a supporting
constituency, a strong foundation among the Palestinians.
Fadwa el-Sha'er: We need to see success on the ground. Some
people refuse to participate in P2P activities; they confuse
normalization and peopletopeople projects. It is important to
create awareness among the people about the definition and the aims
of peopletopeople projects. They don't know the exact aims, the
future strategy, the impact, the target. This is the important
Janet Aviad: That's a very important point.
Nadia Nasser-Najjab: Fadwa, what do you think? How do you
see it? By the way, she ran in the elections and almost won.
Fadwa Khader: Almost, as an independent candidate. Next
Let me tell you about my experience. I have been very close to our
people throughout the past three weeks. People have been talking
about normalization. They don't really understand the difference
between peopletopeople and normalization.
Hamas was elected because the people want an end to the
difficulties in their daily lives. They thought that maybe Hamas
would bring about a change. This is not true. We know that very
well. But most people don't really understand that.
Signe Gilen: They want a change.
Fadwa Khader: Yes. And we know very well why our people want
a change. During the past ten years of the PLC, things got
increasingly complicated, especially since the second intifada-high
unemployment, great economic difficulties, lack of services, no
political progress on the ground and the establishment of an
apartheid situation. Those are major issues we have to face.
In general, whenever people don't have any home they go directly to
God or to religion. We have to realize this. So the Palestinians
voted for Hamas because they thought maybe they will bring about a
change. And Hamas was also very intelligent in their campaigning.
They were very effective emotionally. But we don't know what will
happen within Hamas. We don't know what will happen after February
16th, the first meeting of the new PLC. Maybe then things will
start to become a little clearer.
Fadwa el-Sha'er: And after Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) will
define his political agenda (see Abbas speech in the Document
section - Ed).
In addition to what Fadwa said, the people also felt that the U.S.
and Israel didn't help Abu Mazen make any progress. The people did
not see any light at the end of the tunnel. They are all depressed.
Hamas spoke to the people very simply saying, We want to rescue
you; we want to take care of all these things for you - security,
peace, the wall, the money. So the U.S. and Israel also share in
the responsibility for these results.
Shira Herzog: We know that the Palestinians have certainly
shown their commitment to a democratic process. And in a democracy,
civil society is not so dependent on government policy. But because
of the situation of occupation, it's more complicated.
The question is this: Depending on who's in the government and
who's in the opposition, there may be a hardening of the language
regarding cooperation. In other words, as long as there's
occupation, is cooperation acceptable? Is it normalization? Is it
collaboration? And it will be important to watch how the community
that is committed to joint protest activities, joint political
activities and/or professional cooperation fits into whatever new
language will be used about cooperation versus occupation. This is
what will give meaning to the question of legitimacy on either
side. And that's part of what is not yet clear for the