As Britain found in Northern Ireland, broad popular support is an essential underpinning for any successful peace process.
Over the two decades since the signing of the Oslo Accords, an extensive and growing network of NGOs has worked at a grassroots level to foster the values of coexistence, peace and reconciliation between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples which will be required if any future settlement is to be sustainable.
Such people-to-people work is already evident in all kinds of fields. From sports clubs for children and young people to environmental, cultural, economic and interfaith projects, the job of building positive relationships across conflict lines has already commenced.
I have visited a number of them in Israel, such as the inspiring MEET programme. It brings together young Israeli and Palestinians to learn about technology and enterprise but, just as importantly, to learn, too, about what they have in common, not what divides them. President Barack Obama described MEET as ‘an example of how innovation can reshape the region’. Evaluations of the project show the real difference it makes: there was, for instance, a 60 per cent increase in the number of students who value working with someone from ‘the other side’ after just one year on the programme. And MEET is by no means unique; nor do projects simply work with young people.
However, despite the huge investments made by the international community in the peace process, coexistence work has not been viewed as an essential part of this investment.
LFI’s campaign – ‘For Israel, For Palestine, For Peace’ – aims to persuade the British government to support the creation of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. This fund is designed by the Alliance for Middle East Peace, a coalition of over 90 organisations building people-to-people cooperation and coexistence, to leverage and increase public and private contributions worldwide, funding joint economic development and civil society projects that promote coexistence, peace and reconciliation. It is modelled on the International Fund for Ireland which over 30 years has invested over £700m in more than 5,800 coexistence projects which, as the fund puts it, promote economic and social advance and to encourage contact, dialogue and reconciliation between nationalists and unionists
Britain’s current international development spending in this area is pitiful, so we want to see the government increase it from the current level of approximately £150,000 to £1.35m – this is a rough approximation of the United Kingdom’s share of the $50m that Europe would be expected to contribute to the fund. The other three-quarters would come from the United States, the rest of the international community (including the Arab world), and private foundations and individuals. It is important, too, that this should be new money: the fund is not intended to replace support that would otherwise be provided directly either to the Palestinian Authority or to Israel.
We now need your help. To start with, we want people to write to the international development secretary, Priti Patel, in support of the campaign. For more information about how you can do that and to learn more about the campaign, please visit www.lfi.org.uk/campaigns
Without sufficient funding – either from governments or private philanthropy – coexistence projects in Israel and Palestine are currently only able to have a limited impact. But, operating at scale and properly funded, they could, however, help to build powerful constituencies for peace in Israel and Palestine, forcing leaders in both countries to return to meaningful negotiations.
Jennifer Gerber is director of Labour Friends of Israel. She tweets at @