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.
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.
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