On Tuesday, Republican Jeff Fortenberry and Democrat Joe Crowley introduced HR 1221, “International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Authorization Act of 2017,” a new legislation that will establish an international fund sponsoring people-to-people dialogue and joint economic development between Israelis and Palestinians. Though there are certainly other important factors that will be needed for peace, such as security and leaders willing to make peace, another overlooked factor is the people-to-people perspective. As the late Shimon Peres once said, “The way to make peace is not through governments. It is through people.” Due to the fear and lack of trust between the peoples, peace must be done from ground up rather than the top down.

The Israel-Palestine conflict is not just a conflict between leaders, but it is also a conflict between the two peoples and their emotions. When making the distinction between conflicting conflicts and ethnic conflicts, political scientist Chaim Kaufman articulates, “Effective conflict resolution…requires addressing the emotional and symbolic processes that influence how tangible issues are perceived.” Thus, there will be no durable solution without considering the emotional grievances of both sides nor will either party be able to make the necessary concessions, even if they wanted to, without the overwhelming support of the public. Unfortunately, trust between Israelis and Palestinians is rather low.

In August 2016, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that 54% of Palestinians believe Israel’s main goal is to take all the land from the River to the Sea, while 40% of Israeli Jews believe the Palestinians share the same goal. Even more disturbing, 76% of Palestinians are worried or very worried on a daily basis that they or their family could be hurt by an Israeli, while 71% of Israelis hold the same fear towards Palestinians.

Indeed, peace will not come as long as Israelis and Palestinians continue to fear and distrust each other. The way to build trust and a “culture of peace” between their respective societies is by humanizing each other through people-to-people dialogue.

This falls under the category of social psychologist Gordon Allport’s contact hypothesis. The contact hypothesis suggests that intergroup relations will improve if groups are brought into contact and cooperate with each other under four optimal conditions: 1) both groups are perceived to have equal status in the programs 2) groups cooperate and have common goals 3) the activities allow for participants to build lasting friendships 4) the programs must have the support of the authorities.

The contact hypothesis has worked in helping resolve intractable conflicts between peoples before, such as between Germany and France after WWII and in Northern Ireland.

After WWII, one of the main factors that led to the reconciliation of France and Germany was the establishment of linkage programs between German and French people that allowed them to have dialogue and humanize each other. In her academic article, “Reconciliation as a Peace-Building Process in Postwar Europe,” Alice Ackermann writes that reconciliation between France and Germany was made by, “the active pursuit of expanding societal and cultural ties between France and Germany.” Similarly in Northern Ireland, people-to-people dialogue programs between nationalists and unionists helped create the public support necessary for the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Of course, people-to-people dialogue is not unique in Israel-Palestine. In her chapter in Beyond Bullets & Bombs, Dr. Jodi Shams Prinzivalli points out how there are “more than 200 groups currently working toward a different way of life, bridging differences. At present, Israel and Palestine have more than double the number of organizations working for reconciliation than any other area in the world. Clearly this one fact in itself is a statement about the will of the people.” As we can see, the human capital and the will of the people are not lacking. What is lacking in Israeli-Palestinian peace activism at the grassroots level is the fourth optimal condition of Allport’s contact hypothesis: support of the authorities.

Reconciliation between Germany and France was institutionalized through the 1963 Franco-German Treaty. The treaty gave special emphasis on the state sponsorship of cultural and youth exchange programs. Though private citizens had created people-to-people programs beforehand, the state sponsorship resulted in affecting 5 million German and French youth.

In 1986, then US President Ronald Reagan and Congress helped lead the way for the establishment of the International Fund for Ireland. As Reagan stated, “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.” The same can and should be done on the ground in Israel-Palestine. As Director of the Middle East Peace Alliance (ALLMEP) Joel Braunold writes, “Congress should pay itself this compliment by establishing an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace that mirrors the bipartisan path blazed in 1986 by then-House Speaker Tip O’Neill (D-MA) and President Ronald Reagan in their successful efforts creating the same institution to address the violence in Northern Ireland.”

ALLMEP has been working to promote people-to-people dialogue programs on the ground in Israel-Palestine. ALLMEP is a network of over 90 organizations trying to help foster peace, cooperation and coexistence between Israelis, Palestinians, Jews and Arabs on the ground. Currently, ALLMEP secures $10 million a year for grassroots programs. Mr. Braunold stresses how this budget pales in comparison to the International Fund for Ireland’s $1.5 Billion over 25 years. Moreover, the IFI secured a $33 per capita in Ireland opposed a mere $3.75 per capita in Israel-Palestine. The ALLMEP estimates that it will need about $200 million to sufficiently fund grassroots organizations to bring Israelis and Palestinians together to create a culture of peace. Therefore, ALLMEP has proposed for the establishment of the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace to finance peace organizations’ work, which has now been introduced to Congress. US Congress, Europe, the Arab world and the private sector would each contribute to 25% of the fund respectively.

People’s trust and fear are a key component to any intractable issue. Neither party will be able to sign a peace agreement without the backing of their people. From France-Germany to Northern Ireland, contact between people on both sides has proven to help ripen the prospects for a peace agreement. Israel-Palestine is no different, but they will need their grassroots campaigns to have the financial viability to sufficiently create a culture of peace.


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