The Saban Center hosted the top executives of the Palestinian and Israeli teams of OneVoice, an innovative grassroots network that seeks to empower citizens, and to advance democracy and conflict resolution. The speakers, Nisreen Shahin and Oriella Ben Zvi, were introduced by Daniel Lubetzky, founder and president of the PeaceWorks Foundation. Lubetsky explained that OneVoice began as a reaction to the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories following the failure of the Camp David talks in 2000, when the worst cycle of violence in the conflict’s recent history began. OneVoice seeks to reach out to moderates on both sides through civic engagement, as an effort to move the peace process forward and end the conflict.
Nisreen Shahin, executive director of OneVoice Palestine began by speaking about the history of OneVoice in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. OneVoice’s work is organized into four phases: Connection, Negotiation, Motivation, and Mobilization. During the Connection Phase, OneVoice sought to address the skepticism that each side feels towards the other. The organization developed a Proclamation of Principles for Reconciliation, which it distributed to Palestinian and Israeli towns and villages to create awareness of the cause and to connect with individuals. The Negotiation Phase involved OneVoice bringing together a council of political experts to develop a list of the ten most important issues in the conflict. These issues were then taken to focus groups and voted on by Palestinian and Israeli citizens. During the Motivation Phase, OneVoice reached out to young people through the development of a leadership program. In the final Mobilization Phase, OneVoice implemented a “get out the vote” campaign for the Palestinian elections.
Oriella Ben Zvi, acting executive director of OneVoice Israel, described OneVoice’s work in Israel as focused around the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. In an effort to address the extremist response to the withdrawal, OneVoice had members of the major political parties (Likud, Labor, Shas, and Shinui) sign a document pushing for peace. They also started internet campaigns and met with youth leaders to discuss the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip. OneVoice also worked with the business community to distribute items to soldiers to demonstrate support for the military’s role in the disengagement process.
Ben Zvi described Israeli politics as in a state of upheaval. She also predicted that this would be the end of the Likud. Shahin discussed the Palestinian political situation, saying that the world is watching the Palestinians now and the biggest obstacles to the peace process are the internal conflict within Fateh and the conflict between Hamas and Fateh. Shahin argued that Abu Mazen is a willing leader, but both sides need serious negotiations to move forward. Destroying the Hamas infrastructure is not the answer, rather Hamas should be encouraged to participate in the political process.
A question was raised regarding the role of Hamas in getting Israel out of the Gaza Strip. Shahin argued that few people think the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip happened because of Hamas. One participant asked whether Israel would allow Hamas to participate in the elections if Hamas gave up its weapons. Ben Zvi said that Sharon’s statements against such participation have been in the political context of the current situation. Should Hamas actually give up its weapons, then, she argued, Israelis would accept it being part of the political process. Lubetzky disagreed, saying that Israelis see Hamas only as a terrorist organization and thus any participation by Hamas would be difficult to swallow. On the Palestinian side, Shahin argued that Sharon has helped Hamas by his statements and that Palestinians are against violence to achieve political goals.
Regarding OneVoice’s position on Hamas, Lubetzky said that they are still formulating an answer, but OneVoice as a non-partisan entity cannot officially endorse Abu Mazen. The idea is to get more people to take part in the political process with the hope that the greater the participation, the more moderate the results will be. The idea of “one army, one authority” is part of OneVoice’s platform, but OneVoice is still unclear as to how assertive it should be as an organization in confronting violent groups.
Also attending the meeting was Yasser Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Mazen’s son, who argued that Hamas should have the opportunity to participate in the elections. He said that it is not up to Sharon to decide how the Palestinian elections should be conducted. The people of Gaza will believe whoever puts food on their table—while Hamas continues to do so, it will have support. Abbas said that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is unable to control the security situation in Gaza because Sharon refuses to allow weapons into the area. This hurts the PA and strengthens Hamas, because Hamas will always find a way to obtain weapons and will not lay down their weapons of its own free will.