With the collapse of the Camp David negotiations between Yasser
Arafat and Ehud Barak in July 2000, official relations between
Israel and the Palestinians moved from negotiations to cold
relations till 2004. Israel then imposed a full boycott, claiming
that there was no partner on the other side. With the success of
Hamas in the Palestinian elections in January 2006, the claim of
"no partner on the other side" became reciprocal, with Hamas also
not seeing the Israeli government as a partner for peace.
The following observations represent an attempt to suggest some
answers for a number of questions: How this new "no partner"
attitude affects civil society cooperation? And more importantly:
How should civil society organizations believing in peace respond?
What changes should be made in their tactics, and probably even
their strategies, in this new context?
The New Context
The new context of relations between the two societies has put
civil society cooperation into grave jeopardy. The relations are
characterized by: the inability of bringing the people of the West
Bank and Gaza to meet Israelis because of travel restrictions - the
separation barrier, the roadblocks and checkpoints; the inability
of Israelis to move inside the West Bank and Gaza Strip for the
There is escalating violence and counter violence from both sides,
an anti-normalization process and the demonization of the other,
the deterioration of hope among the two peoples that a peace
agreement might be achieved between them, the settlement expansion
on Palestinian lands and the closure of the Jordan Valley
(one-third of the West Bank) to the Palestinians. Moreover, the
Hamas government's refusal to recognize Israel within the 1967
borders, and the new Israeli government's plan of "convergence"
represent additional moves backward compared to the previous
disengagement plan from Gaza. The latter included the evacuation of
the settlers and the army. "Convergence" includes the evacuation of
the settlers only while the occupation will continue.
These new developments put the two-state solution under grave risk.
This represents increasing security and demographic dangers to
Israel, and indeed endangers the human security of both
How Did Civil Society Respond?
Civil society organizations cooperating with each other did not
adapt their strategies in response to the new context described
above. This led to the marginalization of these organizations in
both societies. They were also attacked and accused as being
"lovers of the other side, rather than being nationalistic
Civil society peace and conflict resolution organizations continued
their diverse paths practiced before the separation process between
the two peoples took place. In this regard, those Israelis who
believe in solidarity with the Palestinians continued to do their
activities without investing the intensive work needed to persuade
Israeli public opinion to move towards a two-state solution. On
other hand, those who believe in project-driven professional joint
activities continued doing that without investing enough in dealing
with the two public opinions. A third group chose to continue
working for healing, reconciliation and forgiveness between small
marginal groups in both societies. Still a fourth group tried to
recruit the grass roots and to organize mass movements in support
of peace based on the two-state solution. But these movements were
also marginalized. The question is why?
The deterioration of the impact of the peace and conflict
resolution civil society organizations is not only a result of the
overall situation, but also a result of chronic dilemmas in the
strategies and tactics of these organizations, such as (among other
things): the inability of these organizations as secular liberal
democratic ones to address the average religious citizen on both
sides with a language that this citizen can understand. A language
that includes, for instance, the peaceful, nonviolent, and tolerant
texts of the three monotheistic religions, which is a language that
the secular democratic civil society agents do not know, and they
might also not want to learn.
Moreover, these organizations addressed the mainstream of their
societies with prepared texts trying to persuade it to adopt these
statements, without accompanying them with an open, intimate,
participatory and democratic process of communication. These
top-down processes of communication with the public are arrogant,
non-patient and counter productive, and they will need to be
transformed into bottom-up processes that are respectful of all
positions, whenever they contradict the beliefs of peace civil
What Should Be Done?
With the new context, civil society cooperation across the divide
might need not only to strengthen its work with the two public
opinions - with all its subgroups, irreligious, non-religious, and
antireligious, but also it might need to deal with questions such
as: How to protect the two-state option? How to preserve the human
security of both peoples which includes freedom from fear and
freedom from want to all of them? How to move Hamas towards
democratization and political moderation? How to move the
convergence plan towards disengagement? And how to move the latter
towards the two-state solution?
These "visionary" types of question should be addressed, because
the work of the peace organizations should be visionary, and not
Other questions include: How to once more promote the role of Track
II to get both sides together, taking into consideration that this
track became very important in the absence of negotiations? How to
act effectively inside each society not only targeting the
mainstream, but also the governments? How to promote joint
non-violent activities in order to transform the conflict, what
type of activities, when and where? How to overcome fragmentation
in peace activism and promote diversity and working together as an
alternative? In light of the separation of the two peoples one of
the strategies to be considered might be: coordinated unilateral
tracks, where the activists will coordinate with each other, while
working unilaterally with public opinion in each society.
Finally with the new context, it seems that the issues of
reconciliation should be postponed, while the issues of getting to
a two-state solution should be prioritized. This could be done in
two stages: The first stage would be the disengagement between
Israel and the settlements project, and the second would be through
the disengagement between Israel and the occupation. These two
stages should be accompanied by a move by Hamas to political
moderation, something in which the regional civil society and also
regional state actors can play a crucial role. But can civil
society begin this regional civil society process? Can it promote
the process of ending the occupation in two stages? If this would
be done successfully, then reconciliation, healing and forgiveness
could be achieved.