The feminine touch

A vision for a Mideast peace shared by 20 Israeli, 20 Palestinian and 20 international women leaders.

October 5, 2006 12:05
4 minute read.
naomi chazan portrait 88

naomi chazan 88. (photo credit: )


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The key to the resolution of the Arab-Israel conflict now lies, for the first time in history, primarily in the hands of women. Condoleezza Rice and Tzipi Livni are the effective custodians of a viable peace initiative. These extraordinarily competent women, drawing on their own skills and hopefully on the work of the resilient and vigorous Israeli-Palestinian women's peace movement, may yet succeed where their male counterparts have failed. Rice and Livni played a central role in brokering the end of the second Lebanese war. Foreign Minister Livni stands out as the only senior member of the government who, from the outset, expressed serious reservations about the exclusive reliance on military force. She discerned in real time the need for the creation of a diplomatic exit option, and diligently oversaw the staff work for its realization. The plan she devised became the basis for United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701. Secretary of State Rice was pivotal in ironing out the details and gaining the necessary backing at the UN. Both women, with the active behind-the-scenes support of Tarja Halonen of Finland (current holder of the presidency of the European Union) and EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, have been outspoken about the need to move ahead with diplomatic efforts to bring about the resolution of the conflict at this conjuncture. On the Israeli scene, Livni has been a consistent advocate of reopening negotiations; Rice's tour of the Middle East has precisely that objective in mind. It is easy to attribute the positions of these two women - both schooled in hard-line politics and both recently evincing greater malleability - to their astute understanding of changing circumstances and their demonstrable penchant for reasoned analyses of complex situations. The fact that they are women may also make a considerable difference. They surely can rely on the cumulative experience of joint women's peace efforts in the pursuit of a workable agreement. Women have persistently created vibrant peace pockets in the midst of violence and growing acrimony over the past two decades. They have come together in an effort to assert their own humanity and to mold a better future for themselves and their societies. Prodded by the realization that civilian lives, especially those of women and children, are adversely affected by ongoing military conflicts, they feel a special responsibility to generate an alternative discourse at this sensitive crossroads. THE ONGOING activities of Women in Black, The Jerusalem Center of Women, Bat Shalom, The Jerusalem Link, Engendering the Peace Process, and the Coalition of Women for a Just Peace (among others) culminated last summer in the establishment of the International Women's Commission for a Just and Sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace. The IWC, under the auspices of UNIFEM, consists of 20 Israeli, 20 Palestinian and 20 international women leaders and civil society activists who share a common vision: the achievement of a comprehensive and just peace to bring about stability, democracy and human-based development to the entire region. The IWC charter of principles states that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires an end to occupation and immediate final-status negotiations to reach a just two-state solution which would result in the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel on the June 4, 1967, lines. Besides mobilizing women on the ground, IWC delegations have held discussions in Brussels with leaders of the European Union, in Washington with members of Congress and the administration (including Secretary Rice), and most recently at the UN with female heads of state, foreign ministers and delegates. Its members stress that negotiations and mutual agreements are the only legitimate tools for a constructive solution, while underlining their opposition to unilateral measures which perpetuate militarism and constitute a prescription for continuous conflict. In the aftermath of the Lebanese crisis, the International Women's Commission has called for the convening of an international conference to launch and successfully conclude permanent-status negotiations. It considers the Arab League Peace Initiative of 2002 an appropriate framework for the resolution first of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and then for the achievement of a comprehensive and just peace in the region. In its view, this proposal could promote a new Middle East that the people in the region desire. In the interim, the IWC demands a complete halt to all violence and suggests the implementation of confidence-building measures (including the exchange of prisoners, freedom of movement for people and goods, and the dismantlement of illegal settlements). Israeli and Palestinian women were among the first to advocate international involvement as a means for ensuring human security for all. They expect the global community to start and sustain negotiations, and to provide effective monitoring, verification and arbitration mechanisms when needed. This message, and the alternative climate it seeks to foster, could serve Condoleezza Rice and Tzipi Livni well as they attempt, together with other leaders, to set in motion a series of diplomatic moves to finally bring an end to the conflict. Women can provide the backbone, as well as further inspiration, for the general support they should expect to garner as they move ahead in this direction. The peace process, to date, has been lacking a feminine touch. The combined efforts of Rice, Livni, Halonen, Ferrero-Waldner, and thousands upon thousands of women may yet supply this missing and critical ingredient to make it work.

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