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OneVoice – Building Consensus in Israel and Palestine

December 18, 2013

On 26th November WLS hosted a meeting with speakers from OneVoice.

Rabbi Richard Jacobi started the meeting with an introduction to OneVoice and their young speakers – Sharon Alsoodani, Natasha Abeer, and Danielle Cumpton.  He wondered whether any other organisation could claim such a diverse board of advisers as OneVoice. Their advisory board includes former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, ex world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, former chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, Palestinian chief negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat, and Michael Melchoir a member of the Knesset – to name but a few.  You can find more details and a full list of members of the Honorary Board of Advisors on the OneVoice website.

Sharon, from OneVoice Europe (based in London), explained that OneVoice took a pragmatic approach based on two principles:

Firstly, that whatever solution is agreed it must fulfil the aspirations of all sides

Secondly, that the solution must be accepted by the majority by all sides

Opinion polls in Israel and Palestine show that the two-state solution (Wikipedia) has wide support – but the numbers supporting the two-state solution is falling.  There is, therefore, a closing window in time in which to agree the two-state solution.

The OneVoice youth leadership programme started in 2004, it works with young people in Israel and Palestine with nearly 3,000 people now having gone through their training. These youth leaders then hold town hall meetings (Wikipedia) in their communities to discuss issues relating to the two-state solution and the lack of progress being made.  The aim is to get people talking so that understand the proposed two-state solution, learn more about the issues involved, and understand what needs to be done to reach a working and pragmatic solution.

Sharon also explained that OneVoice undertakes campaigns to raise awareness on common issues, such as planting trees to cultivate and claim land earmarked for confiscation; raising awareness about peace initiatives including those proposed by Arab states; organising flash mobs etc.  OneVoice also helped to establish an all party parliamentary two-state caucus in the Knesset – now called the Caucus for Ending the Israeli-Arab Conflict and the largest caucus in the current Knesset.

The next speaker was Natasha who is a Palestinian living in East Jerusalem and joined OneVoice in 2006.  She explained that, having been born in 1983 her early life was dominated by the First Intifada (Wikipedia) and the aspirations of the 1993 Oslo Accord (Wikipedia).  On joining OneVoice she trained as a youth leader and more recently has taken on more senior leadership roles in OneVoice Palestine – the part of the OneVoice organisation active in the West bank and Gaza.

She is keen to raise awareness about the willingness of people to find a solution and how the majority recognise the need and want to end the conflict.  OneVoice Palestine campaigns put pressure on the elected leadership to listen to the silent majority and to work for peace.

Natasha noted that the “wall” (Wikipedia) prevents people from both sides from talking to each other, so there is a need to promote dialogue and for peaceful campaigns (such as planting trees, sending balloons over the wall , etc) to raise awareness.  She added that Palestinians love to talk about politics but she felt that more needs to be done to see the bigger picture and to share understanding of the issues – including differences of opinion. There is recognition of the need to make comprises but more talking is needed to understand what compromises are possible.

The last speaker was Danielle, a student at Tel Aviv university who joined OneVoice Israel last year.  She noted that the two-state solution may be flawed and it is difficult to engage with people when talking about it.  However, she wondered, what were the alternatives and why, if 70% of the population are in favour of some form of two-state solution, no progress is being made?

Danielle believes that because it is the voices of the minority that prevail, real progress for the majority cannot take place.  This is why the work of OneVoice is so important – engaging with the majority, getting their voices heard, promoting wider debate, and building consensus with the next generation of leaders about the opportunities or options available for peace.  Many of the OneVoice Israel campaigns are about engaging everyone in the process, raising questions, looking at options, and building grass root consensus with that silent majority.

Danielle was particularly proud of recent work with politicians from all sides that led to an event where for the first time ever both the Israeli and Palestinian flags flew side by side at the Knesset.

The speakers then formed a panel for a short question and answer session, where the key points to emerge were:

The need for the silent majority to be heard and be seen through campaigns such as those organised by OneVoice to offer alternative views or counteract those who try to maintain the status quo.  Extremist are in the minority but, on both sides, they scream the loudest and they get all the media attention; hence the need to be clever in getting media and popular attention through campaigns etc.

OneVoice is working with other peace campaigners in Israel and Palestine, on the need to build consensus etc.  They also partner with other organisations across the world through OneVoice International not just in the UK and Europe.  Israeli politics is very dependent on support from the USA, but the European Union also has influence and it should not be forgotten that – because of its history – the United Kingdom still has a big influence.  It was noted that in the UK there is lot of bipartisan activity in the UK – either pro one side or the other but very little consensus building in support of peace.

The majority of people living in Israel and Palestine want peace – the difficulty is defining what peace looks like and what needs to be given up to achieve peace.  Those who say they are opposed to peace are not usually supporters of war, they are usually opposed because they feel too much is being given up and they do not see or understand what is being gained in return.

Israeli Arabs are an often overlooked third-party to the conflict; so any solution must recognise their suffering in the past years and their rights going forward.

At the end of the evening we expressed our thanks to Sharon, Natasha and Danielle for their participation by taking a collection and making a donation to OneVoice to support their continuing work.

Local media coverage of this event can be found as follows:

East London & West Essex Guardian – Synagogue hosts charity talk on Israel and Palestine Conflict

Ilford Recorder – Solutions to Israel Palestine conflict topic of talk at Woodford Liberal Synagogue

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