Supporting Israeli and Palestinian civil society

Peace is both top-down, but also bottom-up.

Demonstrators including Israeli and Palestinian activists take part in a demonstration in support of peace near Jericho last year (photo credit: REUTERS)
Demonstrators including Israeli and Palestinian activists take part in a demonstration in support of peace near Jericho last year
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This International Peace Day, especially as it falls in the middle of the Jewish holiday period, is an occasion to reflect on this how we can use the coming year to take steps that can help advancing toward a possible resolution of the conflict, because it still is possible.
All of us living in Israel or Palestine see daily the impact of the conflict, even as people on both sides claim that there is no road left to peace, or to a two-state solution. But I believe that both sides also know that there is no other option than to keep walking a difficult and windy path to a realistic and sustainable resolution of the conflict, with two states living side by side in peace, security and mutual recognition.
The European Union itself is the most successful peace project in human history. It brought 70 years of peace to a continent that had been at war for decades and centuries. Most Europeans today can’t imagine the horrors that spread across the continent in our not-too-distant past.
I know that many agree that the foundations for any long-lasting peace begin with people. That is why grassroots efforts to build confidence and trust within and between Israeli and Palestinian societies are essential, even critical. The further away peace seems, the more we must invest our efforts.
The EU has been supporting, through its peace-building programs, projects run by Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations, which aim to do just that. Programs have operated during the most difficult of years, sometimes full of violence, despair and hate. They kept operating because people, fundamentally, want an antidote to violence, they want hope and tolerance.
The EU developed these civil society programs, which have been running for more than 20 years, because we know that peace begins with people. And even when it seems peace-building is one step forward, and two steps back – without that step forward, we would find ourselves even further behind.
Through the EU Peacebuilding Initiative, we have managed to support the communities on both sides that are ready to engage in a dialogue, ready to promote peace, hope and tolerance, and oppose extremism, hate and violence.
Peace is both top-down, but also bottom-up. People need to have the capacity to receive the decisions made by leaders, through their own experience of how peace could be. This is why civil society organizations tirelessly continue to run peace-building projects, sometimes despite pressure from their own communities not to do so; they do their part in creating a better future.
These projects make substantial contributions to both societies, whether it is through helping the transfer of Israeli expertise to Palestinian doctors and patients alike to save lives, or addressing common residential issues in Jerusalem which is a shared city, supporting joint environmental solutions for pollutants that know no borders, or introducing the concept of reconciliation to people who have paid the ultimate price in the conflict – loss of a loved one.
These are all necessary activities, which may not of themselves bring about a solution or political agreement, but without which any solution or political agreement would be more fragile and could possibly be not implemented or sustained. They deserve both appreciation and financial support. The EU will continue to provide such support.  
Emanuele Giaufret is the EU Ambassador to Israel.