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The "Middle East 2020" project defines what a peaceful and prosperous Middle East will look like in 2020 and discusses how such a vision can be made real. Launched by TIESWeb (the Transatlantic Information Exchange System) in April 2004 at the 2nd Miami Transatlantic Citizens Week, it aims at shaping alternative visions for a peaceful Middle East, starting from a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and emphasizing the power of civil society in influencing political and social processes.
The Young Israeli Forum for Cooperation (YIFC), the Israeli partner for this project, is a non-profit organization cultivating a generation of young leaders who seek to take an active role in shaping Israel's future. YIFC's primary goal is to empower young professionals (aged up to 35) to generate movement towards the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to foster Israeli-European relations.
YIFC's European partners in this project are dialogue lab, an organization contributing to the advancement of just and peaceful societies, and AEGEE (Association des Etats Généraux des Etudiants de l'Europe), a student organization; and its Palestinian partner is Palestinian Vision, an organization promoting active leadership roles for Palestinian youth within their communities through training and voluntarism. Since 2003, YIFC has conducted a series of four exchanges among European, Israeli and Palestinian students and young professionals entitled "The European Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict". These conferences sought to strengthen the role of the younger generation in bringing about a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to establish a new regional network of committed young leaders who would actively promote it.
Each conference brought together 35-40 participants, representing different professional, social and political backgrounds, for a week-long vision-led exchange dealing with the conflict's core issues. The groups were characterized by ideological diversity, which ensured the representation of sectors which rarely participate in people-to-people projects. The aim was to reach new multipliers and to refrain from convincing the already-convinced.
Thirty-three vision themes came out of these conferences, which represent the aspirations for the future of the 150 Israelis, Palestinians and Europeans who took part in them.
Four themes emerged as appearing in each and every conference:
1) Mobility/freedom of movement;
2) Respect of human rights;
3) Personal security; and
4) Mutual respect, dignity and understanding.

Four different themes appeared in three of the four joint visions devised in our conferences:
1) Jerusalem as a shared, undivided capital;
2) Regional cooperation, including other Middle Eastern countries and the EU;
3) Educational and cultural exchanges; and
4) High standards of living and economic development.

In December 2005, Franck Biancheri, the president of Newropeans, the trans-European political movement, visited Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). The visit was organized by the YIFC, in conjunction with the (Palestinian) International Peace and Cooperation Center (IPCC). It included meetings with some 150 Israelis and Palestinians in a series of events and debates which focused on the hopes, aspirations, fears and concerns of Israeli and Palestinian students and young professionals, and on developing concrete initiatives to promote a peaceful future. In a session conducted in conjunction with the Jerusalem International YMCA, participants were asked to imagine themselves in the reality of the year 2020. Each was asked to point out key components of the reality which he/she would most want to see in 2020, and which he/she would be most afraid of having to confront.

1) Mobility - Almost all participants identified mobility as a key factor. The young Israelis and Palestinians saw their ultimate future as one that included many more possibilities to move around - whether as a means to enhance personal relationships, to travel, to gain professional and academic skills or to become part of a more global system. They expressed their desire for free movement within their immediate surroundings, to be able to visit friends who reside on the "other side" and to easily visit neighboring countries. Mobility was portrayed as the main benefit from a future peace - it was perceived as a greater value than the vague concept of peace.
2) Regionality - The discussion concerning mobility aspirations raised the question: "Mobility where?" Participants wanted open borders between two independent states - Israel and Palestine. They also supported a wider regional framework for their countries - namely the European Union and the Middle East. It was agreed that Israel and Palestine may have different needs in this regard, i.e., Israel has stronger relations with the EU, and Palestine has stronger ties with the Arab Middle East. The Euro-Mediterranean regional framework was highlighted as a powerful instrument, combining both tendencies and allowing interaction within a wider regional perspective.
3) Leadership - Participants envisioned a civil leadership which is less derived from the security apparatuses, which attracts qualified people from various fields of expertise, which is not corrupt and which acts to transform the societies into much more open-minded, normalized and equal ones.

During January 2007, the YIFC with its Palestinian and European partners will hold in Berlin the fifth conference on "The European Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." The participants will analyze the core issues of the conflict and build structures for future constructive joint projects. The conference proceedings will be published, and a follow-up seminar will endeavor to put into action the strategic plan devised at the conference.


Conclusions

During the vast majority of our activities, all partners found it very hard, if not impossible, to dream, to go beyond current reality towards envisioning in detail an alternative reality. It seems that it was much easier to identify vision themes than to create a vision narrative. The tragedy is that both Israelis and Palestinians are unaware of their shared needs and aspirations, and doubt whether these even exist. Identifying a common idea is a first step in formulating a dream.
Participants mentioned the end of occupation and the two-state solution with a shared Jerusalem as a desired political solution - but rather than focusing on these elements, they found much importance in creating an attractive agenda for the post-conflict era. This seemed to be a useful mechanism to find common ground between the sides and to attract young professionals to take joint action. It was mentioned by some as more important than trying to agree on the details and content of the future peace agreement. Peace was described as a means to achieve a desired reality and not as a goal in itself.
The different vision themes that emerged deal extensively with basic human needs and less with political interests. Issues are more related to self-esteem, personal and collective feelings and interpersonal relations. An emphasis was put on the needed changes within each society. In the long term it takes the form of a different style of leadership that represents the outcome of a change in conduct, and that can further promote this process into a significant and comprehensive social change.
There is a vital need to enable much larger numbers of Israeli and Palestinian young professionals to engage in conferences and matching projects such as those organized by YIFC in recent years. Then Israelis and Palestinians may find it easier to understand that they do share common hopes and dreams, for which they should work together.
But we need to keep in mind that the vision emerging from such Israeli-Palestinian endeavors should be translated into concrete and pragmatic action plans that will promote it. The promotion of the vision shall not be left in the hands of the current leadership, but shaped by the future leadership - the young professionals of today. Thus, YIFC is working to establish sustainable Israeli-Palestinian young professionals' alliances, which aim at identifying the jointly desired futures; understanding the social process that may lead to the implementation of these futures; and mapping the different social factors that may influence this process, for better or for worse. It is further engaged in endeavoring to include vast parts of the societies in such a process and developing the relevant action plans.

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