New York, October 4, 2011—In the week leading up to the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN, OneVoice youth leaders Eyal Shapira and Obada Shtaya took their message to the American people, engaging with administration officials and the general public in a variety of events held across Washington, DC.
Eyal, 25, and Obada, 20, toured Washington from September 16 – 23 as part of OneVoice’s International Education Program (IEP). They spoke with senior White House officials and staffers from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the State Department, conducted presentations at the Buxton Initiative and Churches for Middle East Peace, and hosted a more informal roundtable discussion at Busboys and Poets, a local café and alternative bookstore.
OneVoice CEO Howard Sumka, introducing the event at the Buxton Initiative, spoke of the unsettled political future of the Israel-Palestine conflict in light of the Palestinian UN bid and the need to seize the opportunities afforded by this changing political climate. “The bid has introduced some uncertainties for us,” said Sumka. “It has been a very long time since so much attention in the international media and international diplomatic circles has been paid to the Israel-Palestine conflict, to the problems we face and to how we got stuck in the place we are stuck now.”
Eyal and Obada capitalized on this increased attention as they targeted a variety of audiences, bringing the message of a two-state solution, of political pragmatism and of OneVoice to policymakers, think-tank representatives, young professionals engaged in the field, and the wider public.
Members from prominent publications and organizations, including the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, were on hand at the Buxton Initiative, comprising an audience that largely mirrored Eyal and Obada both in youth and enthusiasm.
While events like Buxton and the Busboys and Poets talk reflect OneVoice’s commitment to broad-based grassroots support, the meetings with the Foreign Affairs Committee, a senior White House official from the National Security Council, and State Department representatives from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Secretary Clinton’s Office of Policy and Planning provide administration officials with a perspective they would not otherwise get.
“Officials are used to meeting with other policymakers,” said IEP Director Rachel Steinberg; “this is an opportunity for them to hear from people engaged in the communities, to put a face to the policy and, maybe, to make them think about the individuals implicated in their policy debates.”
The complimentary approaches – the grassroots meetings with young and engaged people along with the policy briefings with administration officials – fulfill the same role of furthering understanding of the middle ground within both communities. “When people personally share a little bit about their stories we find that they are really able to connect,” said Kathryn Goetz, chief of staff for the Buxton Initiative. “It makes them a real person with hopes and desires and struggles that we all share.”