One thing Israelis and Palestinians have in common is poor political leadership. Recent international efforts to resurrect a meaningful peace process toward a two-state solution will amount to nothing so long as Israeli and Palestinian politicians lack the courage and strength to lead their people toward the compromises needed to secure a peaceful and prosperous future for both peoples.
While this political paralysis continues, facts on the ground reinforce the barriers to peace, which are now very well known, not least the expansion of settlements that threaten the viability of a future Palestinian state and the ongoing incitement of violence against Israelis. The status quo represents an intolerable infringement of the undeniable right of the Palestinians to their own state and self-determination, as well constituting one of the most serious threats to Israel’s long-term security. A one-state solution, which some people now see as inevitable, would strike at the heart of Israel’s character as a Jewish or democratic nation.
Against this bleak political backdrop, it is too easy to be defeated by pessimism, but as Shimon Peres once said: ‘The way to make peace is not through governments. It is through people.” That’s why I’ve joined over 60 other MPs from different parties in supporting the campaign led by Joan Ryan MP and Labour Friends of Israel for an international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace. Designed by the Alliance for Middle East Peace, a coalition of more than 90 organisations building people-to-people dialogue, the fund aims to fund civil society projects and economic development initiatives that promote dialogue, co-existence and peace between Israelis and Palestinians at a grassroots level.
People-to-people dialogue isn’t a substitute for a peace process, but we know that such initiatives have a demonstrable impact on building the kind of shared understanding that is essential for building peace. During a visit to the Holy Land ten years ago, I met through the Parents Circle Families Forum Israeli and Palestinian parents who had lost loved ones to the conflict. Through bringing families together to discuss their shared, painful experience, the forum found 70 percent of all participants had increased trust and empathy and 84 percent were motivated to take part in peace-building initiatives in their communities.
Experience in Northern Ireland through the International Fund for Ireland has shown that a significant investment in co-existence projects can bring about the popular support necessary to build and sustain a peace agreement. Over 30 years, more than £700million has been ploughed into supporting almost 6,000 grassroots projects.
This work is now more necessary than ever. Polling by the Israeli Democracy Institute and the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research has produced startling evidence of diminishing faith in a two-state solution – with just 59 percent of Israelis and 51 percent of Palestinians supporting it.
The polls also found significant levels of fear and distrust between Israelis and Palestinians – 65 percent of Israeli Jews fear Palestinians and 45 percent of Palestinians fear Israeli Jews.
Britain’s current investment in Israeli-Palestinian co-existence projects is a pitiful £150,000. That’s why we’re calling on the government to commit £1.35million as its share to build a $200million fund. The benefits of such a fund are clear, for Israel, for Palestine and for peace.