Savir's Corner: For the young, by the young

For peacemaking to lead to democratic outcomes of equality, it must be conducted in a democratic fashion with the civil societies partaking in the process, most of all the young.

Yala Young Leaders logo 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Yala Young Leaders logo 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The jubilation over the breakdown of the peace process, and the pride each side takes in blaming the other side for the failure, is nothing short of a betrayal of the people of Israel and Palestine.
If even a fraction of this energy, maneuvering and flamboyant rhetoric had been invested in promoting realistic peace, the process would be headed in the direction of creative solutions.
This peace process must end with two democracies living side by side. It must, therefore, be led in a democratic fashion – in other words, serving the people’s interest and including them in the process.
The last round of so-called negotiations was about dictating the terms of peace and catering to the interests of the leaders, not their constituencies.
At every step, talk and decision, the leaders looked in the mirror, not to the future. Binyamin Netanyahu was moved more by public opinion polls than by historic commitment.
Peace has to be made with the values of peace, with mutual respect for equality and with consideration for people’s lives and well-being. Trying to dictate the terms of peace and complaining to the Americans about the needs of a coalition with anti-peace forces is blatant disrespect to the people and the partner.
It is the continuation of conflict by other means.
Peace by tyranny. This is reflected in the bellicose and denigrating rhetoric of the leaders. Peace is defined in purely nationalistic terms, by superiority rather than equality. Netanyahu’s ultimatum for the recognition of the Jewish state was like pointing a pistol at Abu Mazen’s (Mahmoud Abbas’s) head – “prove that you are a partner, or else....”
Such demagogy is filled with hypocrisy: “Peace must be for our children.” The well-being of the next generation is hardly on the mind of leaders incapable of making difficult choices. Their view of the future is myopic, focused on public opinion rather than the people’s future. Sixty percent of Middle Easterners are under the age of 27. The young are today’s majority. It is primarily their individual and collective interests and rights that have to be addressed, especially in education, employment and civil rights.
The region has an average of 30% unemployment, which is also the situation in Palestine. While many go to universities, the studies do not provide them with the skills for good jobs. In Israel, one-third of our children live under the poverty line (800,000 children). Our governments do not provide for the next generation. Money is wasted on the conflict, inflated defense budgets, appeasing the religious, and, in our case, on settlement expansion. Israel, due to its hi-tech success, is much better off, yet it cannot remain an island of wealth in a sea of poverty.
Peace resulting from a democratic worldview must aim at equality between states and within the state.
Within the country, basic rights must be protected, starting with the most basic of rights – life. A country at peace must be at peace with the respect for equal rights, irrespective of nationality, religion, gender or sexual orientation. The respect for the most basic human and civil rights must be at the foundation of the state and stem from a profound attitude of human equality. This is demanded today more by young protesters than by old governments. The young yearn to be respected equally for their individual rights and preferences. This is true for Israel, Palestine and the entire world.
Equality between states is a fundamental value of modern international relations based on the principle of self-determination. Peace cannot be made when one party senses superiority over another; historically such an attitude has led to treaties of humiliation, not peace.
In the case of Israel and Palestine, it must be clear, therefore, that two sovereign nation states will have to live side by side in full equality.
This requires that each side enjoys full sovereignty.
Palestinian sovereignty cannot be undermined by Israeli security arrangements or settlements, nor can Israeli sovereignty be endangered by Palestinian immigration. The economies of the two states must be equally free to develop with free movement of people and goods as well as security.
Most important, the young on both sides must have a sense of full freedom to develop their potential and well-being with good education, employment and civil rights, leading to socioeconomic cooperation. Peacemaking must have this vision in mind – it is far more important than holding on to this or that square kilometer.
For peacemaking to lead to democratic outcomes of equality, it must be conducted in a democratic fashion with the civil societies partaking in the process, most of all the young.
Most of the peace treaties of the last century suffered from a lack of popular legitimacy, with the possible exception of the South African post-apartheid agreements. The agreements in Ireland, the Balkans and the Middle East (Egypt, Jordan, Oslo) did not enjoy the necessary popular consensus and therefore did not lead to real reconciliation. People will generally not follow a peace agreement without being asked about its value in terms of doing justice and allowing for economic peace dividends. Paradoxically, peace is elitist (often by the leaders, for the leaders), and war is participatory (only fought by the young). The young generation, which is the first to be sacrificed in war, has every right to play a part in the peace process, through its representatives and on social networks.
A participatory peace can be realized, more than ever before, due to the Internet. In the Middle East and North Africa there are almost 100 million people on the Internet, half of them on social networks. In Israel, 75% are Internet users and 50% are on Facebook.
People can be mobilized for the sake of peacemaking, or even more important can mobilize vast constituencies in favor of peaceful coexistence.
Peace is in need of democratization, as peace and its dividends are for the people. The people, mainly the young generation, can experience a process of transition from conflict to coexistence by a dialogue with the people of the other side on social networks.
Every day thousands of Israelis and Palestinians speak to each other on Facebook and Twitter, above the head of their governments.
When people sense that they have a say, many will be supportive, understanding that peacemaking demands a long transition. A participatory peace can therefore have important added-value for the peace process: • Greater legitimacy for the process and the outcome.
There is an illusion that peace is a rose garden, while it merely begins as an oasis. Peace between enemies is difficult; its main advantage is in relation to the alternative, which destroys lives and livelihoods.
It demands a major national effort to ensure its sustainability, putting aside hatred, suspicion and violence and learning to coexist according to common interests. When people, mainly the young generation, feel on board, despite powerful oppositions from the ultranationalists, peace will achieve greater legitimacy.
• Economic peace dividends must be shared according to the considerations of economic growth, social equity and opportunities for the young. Better and more education should be at the core of a society coming out of conflict. The post-conflict generation should be offered the best education and professional training that the world has to offer. The young must be allowed to demand it, as well as a fair share of the peace dividends. Both in war and in peace, the powerful elements of the economy tend to reap the economic benefits. A participatory peace has to introduce the opportunities that globalization has to offer to young people. It should lead to regional economic cooperation, in industries that favor the young, such as high technology and tourism.
• A new social discourse is of critical importance in the aftermath of the conflict. The language of hostility and hatred poisons the values of society. Participatory peace, especially with the involvement of young people on social networks, creates a new universe of discourse. The dialogue held today on Facebook between Israelis and Arabs, such as on the biggest online peace movement, YaLa Young Leaders, (with close to half a million followers in the Middle East), is generally respectful, even polite. Young people clash on historical narratives, but can agree on a future of common interests. With time, they develop a new language, succinct and empathetic, highlighting pragmatic, common interests for education, employment and entertainment as well as common values of basic freedoms.
In this vein, this Sunday the nearly 500,000 followers of YaLa Young Leaders will join on their Facebook page in their third regional online peace conference.
They are disappointed with their leaders’ inability to offer a better future of peace. In this innovative way, they continue the process online – Israelis, Palestinians, Egyptians, Jordanians, Tunisians, Moroccans, Lebanese, Syrians, Yemeni, Saudi, Sudanese, etc.
This new effort is respected by the international community. The young leaders will hear from Shimon Peres, Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Ala, Munib Masri, from members in or close to the US administration – David Axelrod, Zeenat Rahman and Laura Blumenfeld (from John Kerry’s team), Larry Summers, Dennis Ross, Aaron Miller, from heads of the EU – EU President José Manuel Barroso, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, as well as from the Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and leading business people such as David Fischer (vice president of Facebook) and Dan’l Lewin (vice president of Microsoft).
This international salute to the YaLa Young Leaders peace conference is no coincidence. It reflects a new understanding that with the current failure of traditional diplomacy, peace today must be by the young, for the young.
The writer is honorary president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.
Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.