Erbfeindschaft was the idea that French-German enmity would be inevitable and eternal. This idea lasted from as far back as the 16th century to after WWII. Yet, today, Germany and France are seen as genuine allies and their rivalry is seen as something beyond ancient history. Similarly, in Northern Ireland during the Troubles (1960’s-1990’s), tens of thousands of people died during the decades long violence between Nationalists and Unionists. And today, there is far less violence and more peaceful relations between Nationalists and Unionists in northern part of the island.
How were two intractable conflicts between people transformed into more harmonious relations? One of the main factors was that contact and people-to-people dialogue between the people was enhanced and received support from the respective authorities.
In the Elysee Treaty of 1963 between Germany and France, one of the main points of reconciliation was for the authorities to support contact between the peoples on the ground. As a result, more and more German and French academic institutions and youth movements created linkages that brought their youth together to humanize each other and prepared them for more peaceful relations for the coming generation.
In 1986, then US President Ronald Reagan and Congress helped establish the International Fund for Ireland, which helped create more coexistence and joint economic programs on the ground to bring Nationalists and Unionists together.“Our efforts, together with those of the Governments of the United Kingdom and Ireland, will help to promote economic and social development in Ireland thereby constructing a durable framework that would provide a promise of peace,” said the president. These programs of people-to-people between Nationalists and Unionists helped pave the way to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
As we can see, with sufficient funding from the authorities, contact and people-to-people dialogue can help the sides humanize each other and create more harmonious and peaceful relations that will create a viable opportunity for a peace agreement.
The same means can and should be done in Israel-Palestine. On Tuesday, Republican Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) and Democrat Joe Crowley (D-NY) proposed a H.R. 1221 “International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Authorization Act of 2017.” The Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) has been working hard to introduce such legislation, where they propose to establish an international fund to support coexistence and people-to-people dialogue campaigns on the ground in Israel-Palestine. It will secure $200 million, which will be divided between US congress, the EU, the Arab states, and the private sector.
We cannot miss this golden opportunity like we did before. Joe Crowley proposed this legislation to Congress back in December 2014, but it slipped away due to little backing. Now we it on the table again and must push to make sure it goes further.
From post-WWII in France-Germany to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, let us continue this feat of bringing peace through contact and people-to-people dialogue with the support of the authorities.
Please contact your congressmen and express your support for this legislation to help bring Israelis and Palestinians together to create a culture of peace.