seth frantzman 88.
(photo credit: )
The shocking, but comical, news that the Palestinian Authority’s two most
powerful politicians had withdrawn their support for a US-funded coexistence
campaign encouraging average Israelis to be “partners” in peace is part of the
larger failure of misguided coexistence projects.
The latest story goes
something like this.
As a background to the peace talks now under way,
USAID, a US government humanitarian and economic assistance organization,
supported a Geneva Initiative ad campaign aimed at encouraging Israelis to
support peace. The campaign created 30-second video clips of Palestinian
negotiator Saeb Erekat asking Israelis, “Are you my partner” and purchased 280
billboards across the country. The billboards are modeled on Facebook and show a
photo of leading Palestinians asking people to accept their “partner
On September 7 it was announced that Mahmoud Abbas and Salam
Fayyad had asked not to be associated with the peace partner campaign because it
was “too Israeli.”
Fayyad complained that the Geneva Initiative had not
gotten his consent to be used in the campaign and according to reporter Avi
Issacharoff, “Fayyad also reportedly noted that it wasn’t clear to him why the
campaign did not also feature Israeli figures addressing the Palestinian
This is a question others have raised.
Where are the
billboards in Ramallah and Nablus showing Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak
asking the Palestinians to be Israel’s partners? But the history of the partner
initiative, which should never have been funded by the US government in the
first place, is only part of the larger coexistence picture.
MANY COEXISTENCE groups seek to foster only a one-sided kind of
coexistence. A list compiled by the website engageonline.org.uk proves
the point. At the top is the Abraham Fund. The six “initiatives” displayed on
its home page include the teaching of Arabic in Jewish schools, efforts to fight
for equal opportunities for Arab citizens and “promoting the employment and
integration of Arab women in the workforce.”
A fourth initiative seeks to
work on relations between police and the Arab community.
initiative seems to be slightly in line with coexistence, but it seems to place
all the burden on the police, encouraging them to learn “Arabic culture” for
instance. The program doesn’t seem to include any discussion with the Arab
community’s youth, encouraging them to cooperate with the police rather than,
for instance, throwing rocks at them.
The Negev Coexistence Forum is the
most egregious example of one-sided nationalism masquerading as
Founded in 1997, it offers tours of Beduin communities and
lobbies internationally on behalf of the Beduin by sending delegations to places
like the UN to get them recognized as an “indigenous” people. It also claims to
work in illegal Beduin villages in the Negev, renovating kindergartens,
constructing roads and working on water supply initiatives. They also provide
How is any of this “coexistence” work? There is no work on
behalf of, say, impoverished Jewish communities; all the work is only for one
group and it is work designed to reward that group for illegal behavior and
encourage greater nationalism among it. All that is fine, but why call it
“coexistence”; why not call themselves the Negev Beduin Forum? Almost all
coexistence efforts in Israel and the Palestinian territories break down on a
fundamental level. There is a recognition that the types of activities
coexistence groups want to do are simply not acceptable in the other community,
so what ends up happening is that only Jewish Israelis are exposed to
coexistence initiatives, while the other side remains blithely in the dark. In
some cases the coexistence work seems to achieve the opposite, by caving to
pressures by one group, the coexistence group actually becomes a mouthpiece for
nationalism and irredentism, fostering radical Beduin or Israeli-Arab causes,
such as Nakba education or lobbying at the UN on their behalf.
been several initiatives that appear to have gone in a more honest direction. A
Geneva Initiative-sponsored women’s circle of Shas-affiliated women and leading
Palestinian women is one example, as is the program Seeds of Peace that brought
together Israelis and Palestinians and sent them to summer camps
But on a fundamental level the expensive “partner” billboard
program is a fiasco, and just the kind of thing that does nothing to advance
peace. At the entrance to Ramallah the most visible sign is a mural of Marwan
Barghouti, currently serving five life sentences for murder, and Yasser Arafat.
No one will put up a sign of Israel’s prime minister seeking peace next to that
mural, and that fact symbolizes that, while peace may come, coexistence
certainly will not.The writer is a PhD researcher at Hebrew University
and a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.