The UN Security Council should invest in grassroots peace-building rather than passing resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, activist Meredith Rothbart told the 15-member body when it gathered in New York on Wednesday.
“I’m a Jewish-Israeli,” said Rothbart, co-founder and CEO of the grassroots group Amal Tikvah that promotes civic society peace-building between Israelis and Palestinians. “I am a religious Zionist speaking to you from Jerusalem," she explained.
"The UN has passed resolution after resolution," Rothbart said. "But in order to build peace between Israelis and Palestinians, I ask you to consider investing in social peace. Commit to investing in the infrastructure needed for real peace. Help us build a multilateral inter-entity.”
Rothbart said that UN investments could transform small-scale projects such as those focused on climate change, food security, female entrepreneurship, or adjacent community centers.
It was no coincidence, Rothbart said, that she had been invited to speak by the Irish Ambassador because that country knows the “power of civil society peace-building. It is clear to all who are observing our political reality that negotiations at the highest diplomatic levels would not result in substantive peace right now.
“The Oslo Accords failed because the agreement came from a secret process between elite leaders with no women, no religious leaders, and no representative of those wishing to disrupt the process with violence. Let’s not do that again.
“We know that civil society peace-building is not only an affirmative step, but it also works and it is a required precondition for a negotiated peace agreement, especially in an intractable conflict.”
The “intractable nature” of the conflict must be broken “into manageable parts” that can be tackled “one by one,” said Rothbart.
“We must build a popular belief that peace is actually possible, and that all people, Israelis and Palestinians, have an integral role and a responsibility in its pursuit,” she said.
Palestinian activist Mai Farsakh, of the Jerusalem Legal Aid & Human Rights Center also addressed the UNSC at Ireland’s invitation.
She focused her remarks on Israelis settlement expansion, outlining the harm it causes to Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“Israeli actions are undermining a two-state resolution and the possibility of peace in the region,” she said. “Settler violence plays a key role in maintaining West Bank settlements. Such violence takes the form of verbal assault and intimidation, physical attacks up to murder, destruction of property, [and] fencing off of land among other measures.
“Israel’s restrictive and planning policies that prevent Palestinians from affording or obtaining building permits. This leads the majority of Palestinians and Bedouin in Area C of the West Bank and east Jerusalem vulnerable to homes loss. The ramifications of home demolitions and violence have far-reaching ramifications on the mental healths of Palestinians in these areas.”
Irish Ambassador UN Geraldine Byrne Nason, whose country held the rotating council presidency in September, had invited both young women to speak.
“We have heard your voices,” she told them. “It is my view, it is your generation and maybe your gender that holds the key for a brighter future for both Palestine and Israel.”