The gender factor promises to be particularly significant in the context of the election stakes.
By NAOMI CHAZANIsrael is emerging from one of the most tumultuous weeks in its political history with a new party map and a date for the next elections. The choices presented to the voters are far more clear-cut than in the past. The issues, although still centered on differing attitudes toward the conflict with the Palestinians and its resolution, will be far more varied. Fundamental socioeconomic and ethical questions are now on the agenda. The personal element will also weigh in heavily, highlighting contrasting leadership styles, ideologies and programs.
The electoral season - always heated - will be especially so given the stakes involved. The parties will compete over each and every vote. The gender factor, heretofore elusive and traditionally unpredictable, promises to be particularly significant in this context.
As the parties gear up to select their lists, consolidate their platforms and design their campaigns, they will also have to devise a strategy for attracting the women's vote. They would do well to take note of the results of the Dahaf poll (conducted by Dr. Mina Tzemah) which was presented at the launch of the International Women's Commission for a Just and Sustainable Israeli-Palestinian Peace (IWC) held at the Knesset this week.
Seventy-seven percent of the Israeli public thinks it is important or very important to include women in negotiations aimed at bringing about an end to the conflict. While an unprecedented 75% of males would like to see women at the negotiating table, 81% of the women in this national sample are emphatic in this regard.
Intriguingly, 76% of the public believe that women bring different and important perspectives to the talks (only 22% doubt that women have anything useful to add). Once again, the differences between men and women are telling: while 63% of men acknowledge that women have something new to offer, 84% of the women surveyed are convinced that they have a substantive contribution to make.
In the same vein, 55% of the Israeli public think the inclusion of women will hasten the achievement of a negotiated settlement (63% of the women believe this to be true). Only a meager 12% feel that the participation of women will decrease the likelihood of an agreement.
These findings - sadly ignored in the media frenzy of the past few days - are by any measure striking. The overwhelming majority of Israelis want women and their insights at the peace table; almost all women expect to be there.
THE DAHAF poll was conducted to test the rationale behind the establishment of the International Women's Commission, and to help design its plan of action. Its results give added impetus to this venture, which brings Israeli, Palestinian and international women of diverse political and social backgrounds together in a path-breaking effort to integrate women as full partners along with men in the resolution of the conflict.
The IWC idea has been incubating for several years. This past summer UNIFEM (The United Nations Development Fund for Women) convened an international conference to explore ways of asserting women's voices in the quest for a termination of the violent strife and all that it entails. The participants agreed on a charter of principles which sees in the creation of a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel a means "to achieving a comprehensive reconciliation in order to realize a mutually secure and sustainable peace and coexistence."
The charter views the full inclusion of women and diverse gender perspectives in the peace-making and peace-building processes as a key to achieving these goals.
The founders of the IWC - a group of prominent women and civil society activists representing a broad array of Israeli, Palestinian and international women - bring years of experience and substantive expertise to this undertaking. They are determined to participate in every setting, forum and platform in which critical issues are decided. They are committed to expanding the range of issues under discussion, and will prepare position papers on central topics as they arise. And they are dedicated to making a tangible contribution to the consolidation of a new culture of peace.
The Palestinian members, who launched their branch concurrently, have secured a presidential decree in support of their work. For the Israeli members, the inauguration of the IWC marks the concrete implementation of the law passed in the Knesset this summer dictating the incorporation of women in critical decision-making bodies (the first legislative instrument in the world to translate UN Security Council Resolution 1325 - which advocates the involvement of women in peace efforts - into action).
The IWC initiative is especially timely as Israelis head for the polls. Just as the party reshuffle taking place today is a result of the need to readjust the political map to reflect public opinion, so, too, will the election results reflect the values and aspiration of all the voters. Those who are sensitive to the popular cry for a fair and lasting peace in which women play an active role will have a distinct advantage at the ballot box.
The gender component is an indispensable part of the country's political calculus and of its hope for a safe, meaningful and equitable future.
The writer, a political scientist and former Knesset member, now heads the School of Society and Politics at the Academic College of Tel Aviv-Jaffa.