By Hajer Naili
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
An Israeli-Palestinian women's group that helped pioneer the push for a two-state solution fell apart in late 2010 under pressure of heightened hostilities. Its demise highlights the scarcity of women in peace talks in this conflict and around the world.
(WOMENSENEWS)--A Palestinian-Israeli women's group that had been pushing for a two-state solution for Israel and the occupied territories can't offer any comment on the Palestinian Authority's push for statehood recognition at the United Nations this week.
That's because the group, International Women's Commission for a Just and Sustainable Peace between Israel and Palestine (IWC), fractured last year under the pressure of heightened tensions between the two sides.
The last time the group gathered was in October 2010 in Jericho, in the West Bank, said Simone Susskind, a member of the group's International Steering Committee, who spoke with Women's eNews in a phone interview from her office in Brussels, Belgium.
The tri-lateral women's group, consisting of Palestinian women, Israeli women and female political leaders from around the world, was founded in 2005 under the auspices of UNIFEM in New York. Its mission was to implement and strengthen U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, passed in 2001 and requiring parties in a conflict to respect women's rights and to support their participation in peace negotiations and in post-conflict reconstruction.
"It is sad, but we agreed to the end of IWC because we were not able to work altogether anymore," said Susskind. "There were tensions linked to the 2008 Israeli military operation against Gaza. It was extremely hard because 80 percent of the Israeli population approved the military intervention, including women who were members of the international commission of IWC. For the Palestinian women there was no way to work with partners who justified the Israeli attack. Again, last year the Gaza flotilla raid raised tensions and provoked crises."
In December 2008, the Israeli army launched an attack against Gaza in response to rocket fire from the Palestinian territory. The reprisal attack on Gaza left 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead, four from friendly fire.
Last year, the Israel military boarded six ships in international waters that were carrying relief supplies to the Gaza Strip, which was under Israeli military blockade. The action left nine members of the protest "flotilla" dead.
On top of these polarizing events, Susskind said a general fatigue about the entrenched conflict had afflicted the group. The women, she said, "have been fighting for a cause they consider a just cause but then they notice that the conflict is moving in the opposite direction."
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' bid for statehood recognition via the United Nations--versus peace talks--is strongly opposed by Israel and the United States. Statehood would give the Palestinian Authority the possibility of seeking redress against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
The negotiations between the two sides stalled last year when Israel expanded its territories in land in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Core issues are the status of Jerusalem, the return of Palestinian refugees and the borderlines. While Palestinians want to form an independent state on the 1967 lines, Israelis have rejected this option.
As widely reported on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a meeting in New York with Abbas to resume "direct negotiations."
Susskind believed it possible that women within Palestinian society can play a united role in peace talks, given their agreement with their political leadership.
In Israel, however, she said that was more challenging. "There is a growing gap between the feminists who fight for a fair peace and the authorities and the political system in Israel," she said.
The seed for the International Women's Commission for a Just and Sustainable Peace was sowed in 1989 when contingents of Israeli and Palestinian women met in Brussels to press for peaceful negotiations and for Israel to recognize Palestinian representatives.
They also pressed for a two-state solution to the conflict before any official representative of Israel, the occupied territories or the United States, said Susskind, who described the proposal as pioneering.
Women have been scarce in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations since the start of the conflict in 1948.
"Up to this point, there have been a few women involved," said Rebecca Miller, senior program officer at The Institute for Inclusive Security, based in Washington, D.C. "Most of them have been involved in technical committees, other than Tzipi Livni, but there have been no women at the highest levels."
Livni, leader of the Israeli opposition and the Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset, served as Israel's foreign minister from 2006 through 2009. The Palestinian negotiating team included several women during the first rounds of negotiations in the early 1990s. The current delegation, however, has no women at the highest levels.
Last year, Netanyahu announced that, consistent with Israeli law mandating women's inclusion, the delegation will include a woman.
However, Miller said the identity of this woman has never been revealed. "Others and I inquired several times and we never were told whether the person has been appointed and, if so, who she was."
When women are included in peace talks, they tend to raise key issues usually ignored by male negotiators, such as security on the ground, long-term reconciliation and human rights, according to UN Women's 2010 report "Women's Participation in Peace Negotiations."
"Women can be a positive force in driving forward negotiations and be a critical force in bringing along the rest of society," Miller said. "There is a real failure to recognize the unique prospective that women can bring."
Darren Kew, associate professor of dispute resolution at University of Massachusetts Boston and Anthony Wanis-St. John and assistant professor in the International Peace and Conflict Resolution program at American University, published a study in 2008 showing a direct correlation between the inclusiveness of peace processes and the likelihood the agreements that are forged will endure.
Since the 1980s, women have been extremely involved in groups that promote peace and mobilize communities and society to demand a negotiated peace settlement. That informal but crucial role needs to be protected and supported, says the UN Women report.
"When individual women are placed in formal, official roles at the peace table, their impact on the language of the text and the inclusion of provisions specific to women is frequently very high," the UN Women report adds.
The marginalization of women in Palestine-Israeli peace talks is mirrored around the world. In a sampling of 24 major peace processes since 1992, UN Women researchers found women composed 2.5 percent of signatories, 3.2 percent of mediators, 5.5 percent of witnesses and 7.6 percent of negotiators.
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Hajer Naili is an editorial intern for Women's eNews. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in Middle East and North Africa.
The Role of Women in the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process:
"Women's Participation in Peace Negotiations," UN Women: