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This coming weekend the representatives of a new forum of more than 100 Israeli and Palestinian peace and dialogue groups will be meeting in Jordan to advance our conviction that there is no alternative to bilateral negotiations.
The new forum coordinated by the Peres Center for Peace and the Palestinian democracy organization Panorama has been created in order to impress upon decision makers and the public in Israel and Palestine that there are partners for peacemaking on both sides.
The Israeli peace and dialogue forum, numbering more than 60 organizations, has been meeting regularly since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000. The Palestinian forum of peace and dialogue groups was launched this year with some 35 member organizations. Together they constitute a significant lobby and advocacy body for advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The Israeli, Palestinian and joint Israeli and Palestinian peace building and dialogue NGOs are calling on the international community, donor nations and foundations to renew their commitment to support Israelis and Palestinian civil society organizations working together for Israeli-Palestinian peace. This new alliance is strengthening the work for peace, dialogue and human rights in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
In this time of crisis, these non-governmental actors remain firm in the belief that the future of our two peoples is interdependent. The Israeli and Palestinian groups have decided to work together to keep open existing channels of communication and establish new ones sharing the vision of a mutually agreed upon resolution of our conflict, which ensures the dignity, liberty and security of both nations.
BY ITS very existence, this forum calls for recognizing that there are partners for peace among the peoples of Israel and Palestine. The majority of Israelis and Palestinians support peace based on a bilateral political process and the NGO forum encourages engagement of Israelis and Palestinians at all levels.
As an active member of the forum, I continue to work to build cooperation and trust because I know that peace must be built by real people. Our collective work is more important than ever while the challenges that we face are more formidable than at any time since before the peace process began.
Almost all of our organizations are facing severe shortages of financial support. Some of us sense a feeling of abandonment from the international community at the very time that our efforts should be multiplied.
Some donors have suggested that as long as there is no formal peace process there is no need to support a civil society-based peace process. Some donors have been disappointed that our collective work has not had more impact.
We too share a sense of disappointment and we are very self critical. We have made great efforts to improve our capacities and our accountability.
Through the Peace and Dialogue NGO Forum we are providing technical and professional capacity-building services to our members. We are working with professional public relations companies to increase our public impact. We are working hard to be more professional and, most of all, we are working to have more exposure and more influence.
We all have positive achievements to show from our work. We have been part of a process that has brought Israeli and Palestinian public opinion closer to agreements on key issues in the peace process. Many of our organizations have worked for years in joint Track II meetings to develop solutions to the permanent status issues in conflict. Some of our organizations have pioneered programs in peace education that are exemplary models being duplicated and used in other parts of the world.
The joint Israeli-Palestinian work in the field of health has provided direct assistance to hundreds of people who are now alive and healthy thanks to the cooperation that we have fostered between medical and health institutions. Joint work in the interfaith field has brought together hundreds of religious leaders from the three faiths. Israeli-Palestinian activist organizations are leading the struggle for the protection of human rights. Our activities are diverse and comprehensive.
We are motivated to continue because this is our home and here is where we and our families will continue to live. We know that there must be peace between the two peoples and we will not rest until our goal is fulfilled.
The goals of helping to achieve peace are shared goals and we see ourselves as partners working jointly to advance the cause of peace. People-to-people contacts (as our work has become known) are essential and we are all committed to increasing our efforts at this time. We strongly believe that this is the time to empower the peacemakers.
This is the time to encourage Israeli-Palestinian cooperation. We will not allow our work to cease. Peace is made by people and we are the people who are making peace.
The writer is is Co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information. www.ipcri.org