By Darya Shaikh*
Whenever OneVoice enters a strategic planning process, we always recite the phrase: the only thing predictable about the Middle East is just how absolutely unpredictable it is.
This notion of a constantly shifting ground upon which we are building our movement is true in the immediate sense, but fails to account for the remarkably – and tragically – constant overarching paradigm Israelis and Palestinians find themselves in. Make no mistake, the past two decades have been defined by an entrenched status quo in which an ongoing conflict and occupation have stymied any progress toward the two-state solution.
In response to this intransigence, activists and organizers intent on creating a better future for Israelis and Palestinians can often get caught up in being reactive to an immediate opportunity.
This is what led OneVoice to join the chorus of commentators, politicians and UN officials in resurrecting the Arab Peace Initiative.
Crafted by the 22 Arab League member states 10 year ago, the Arab Peace Initiative was – and remains to this day – a unique starting point to end the conflict. It proposed a comprehensive resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within a broader framework of normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.
Representing an abrupt about-face, it contained the potential for a new era of regional stability and cooperation in the wake of the League’s historical refusal to engage with Israel. It was designed to give Israelis the confidence to take risks for peace with the Palestinians through the promise of a stable Middle East while providing Arab backing for Palestinians to make the necessary compromises to finally establish a Palestinian state.
Thomas Friedman and MK Meir Sheetrit (Kadima) were among the first to stand up in support of the Arab Peace Initiative. They saw what we see, an opportunity to break the political deadlock, trying something new to solve this old, entrenched conflict. However, Israel’s leadership never engaged with the plan or with the leaders who proposed it. Worse yet, was the failure of the government or anyone, for that matter, to effectively present the document to the Israeli people.
By rejecting it out right, the Israeli people never got the chance to see the Arab Peace Initiative for what it is and what it could be: a momentous initiative, a positive entry point for negotiations and an encouraging sign of untapped potential for peace.
It is for these reasons that when our Palestinian and Israeli youth leaders on the ground proposed the idea to launch parallel and complementary campaigns centered on the opportunity contained within the Initiative, we jumped at the chance.
Behind the campaigns was a sense of urgency. If we could show the people the latent potential of the Initiative and compel them to push the Israeli government to reconsider the document, we could potentially break the stalemate. OneVoice youth leaders in Palestine and Israel held parallel educational events to spread the message of the document, organized media stunts to publicize it and launched social media campaigns to mobilize a groundswell of public support for it.
Here in the United States, we launched our own call to action complementing their work. We asked all of you to get involved and help us put the Initiative back on our politicians’ radars.
Many of you immediately responded to our call. Using Twitter and Facebook, you messaged your elected officials and reminded them of their responsibility in resolving the conflict and the role the Arab Peace Initiative could play. Thank you.
Despite this initial momentum, in early May, a shift occurred. Shaul Mofaz’s opposition Kadima party agreed to join Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government, creating one of the strongest government’s in Israeli history. The political reshuffling that has resulted has not yet subsided and no one is quite sure how the Israeli political landscape will look once the dust settles.
We thought long and hard about the best course of action. We agreed that given this significant shift, the Arab Peace Initiative was no longer the best vehicle for OneVoice to push for the two-state solution.
One thing is certain, though: this government, should it choose to, now has the mandate and the majority needed to take huge strides toward peace. OneVoice’s job – and it has already begun – is to ensure that they do.
The Arab Peace Initiative remains a potent symbol of potential regional stability, and we will continue to draw on the language and precedent it set. The coalition government, however, presents new possibilities and new challenges that demand new tactics.
*Darya Shaikh is acting CEO of the OneVoice Movement.