An All-Women Symposium: The Missing XX-Factor

By | Mar 07, 2016
Middle East Peace Talks

1| What more could be done to achieve
peace between Israelis and 

2| What might women bring to the
peace process if
more were included?

with Ruth Calderon, Tamara Cofman Wittes, Nadia Hijab, Naomi Chazan, Caroline Glick, Fania Oz-Salzberger, Laila El-Haddad, Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, Anat Saragusti, Cora Weiss, Sarai Aharoni, Noura Erakat, Laura Blumenfeld, Lara Friedman, Simone Susskind, Felice Friedson, Leila Hilal & Galia Golan

Interviews by Sarah Breger, Marilyn Cooper, Dina Gold, Anna Isaacs, George E. Johnson & Sala Levin

When did you last hear someone say something new about the peace process? And when did you last hear someone new say it? Every day, it seems, a panel of experts—diplomats, pundits, scholars, chin-pullers of all varieties—convenes to chew over the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. These groups all have something in common: They are overwhelmingly male. The PBS program Frontline recently attracted criticism for asking 23 male experts and three women to reflect on the career of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. We at Moment have been offenders ourselves, printing past symposia on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that featured far more male than female contributors.

Partly this reflects the makeup of the military, diplomatic and foreign policy sectors, which lag in diversity of all kinds. But it’s not just that. Scanning foreign policy journals, social media and on-air punditry, you’d hardly be aware of the peacemaking successes achieved by women—in the Middle East and  beyond. In 2011, Leymah Gbowee won a Nobel Peace Prize for her role in founding the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement, which contributed to the end of Liberia’s second civil war. A decade and a half prior, the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition played a critical role in brokering the resolution to political and ethno-religious violence in Northern Ireland. Peace talks led and influenced by women in Guatemala, Darfur, the Philippines and Colombia have brought an end to long civil wars and internal conflicts. And former under secretary of state for political affairs Wendy Sherman recently led the talks that resulted in the Iran nuclear agreement.

Despite these successes, women have generally been excluded from the nitty-gritty negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and largely relegated to supporting roles. To be clear: Women have been involved in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking for decades through largely unofficial channels. The 1980s saw the formation of several women’s groups, including Women in Black, Israeli Women Against the Occupation and the Israeli Women’s Peace Net. In 1989, Belgian activist Simone Susskind helped convene a conference of Israeli and Palestinian women, including activists  Naomi Chazan and Hanan Ashrawi. Not only did this meeting lead to the establishment of the women’s organizations Bat Shalom (on the Israeli side) and the Jerusalem Center for Women (on the Palestinian side), but they succeeded in drafting and signing a joint declaration that recognized the need for two states to coexist.

Still, in 1991—during a decade of heightened activity in terms of negotiations—women were largely absent from peace talks. The exception was Ashrawi, who represented the Palestinians at the Madrid talks but was not invited to the final negotiating table. (During the talks, Israel summoned Likud member and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset Sarah Doron to join the Israeli delegation in response to Ashrawi’s visible presence.) Things didn’t get better as the decade proceeded. Despite the appointment of Madeleine Albright as the first female U.S. secretary of state, no Israeli or Palestinian women played major roles in the failed 2000 Camp David meetings. Then-President Bill Clinton has said, “If we’d had women at Camp David we’d have an agreement.”

That same year, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which addressed the impact of conflict on women and called for their engagement in conflict resolution and peacemaking. This was followed up in 2005 by a UN-sponsored trilateral women’s group, called The International Women’s Commission for a Just and Sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace, which had little impact on official talks.

While there has been an increasing number of women serving in the highest foreign policy positions in the United States, among them Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton, little has changed in Israel or the Palestinian Authority. The exception is Israel’s former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who has twice led the Israeli team in ultimately unsuccessful peace talks with the Palestinian leadership.

What perspectives might we be missing by ignoring so many women? What if we convened a group—diplomats, policy thinkers, activists, journalists—that happened to be entirely female? To do just that, Moment decided to ask women two questions: What more could be done to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians? What might women bring to the peace process if more were included? We provide a rare platform for the perspectives of young and old, feminist and nonfeminist, left and right, Jewish and Muslim, Israeli and Arab, American and European women. There are many more voices to include, so this is an ongoing project; more interviews are in process—including ones with Ashrawi and Albright—which will be part of an expanded e-book available at

Ruth Calderon

If Jewish Israelis and Muslims could sit together and study the classic canonized texts—the Bible, the Quran, the Mishnah, Talmud and so forth—along with talking about contemporary politics and different solutions and different maps and so on, they would see how close Hebrew and Arabic are as languages and how many similarities there are between the core values of Judaism and Islam. So many stories are brother or cousin stories, like the binding of Isaac and the binding of Ishmael; the way we see monotheism; the stories of Abraham and Moses. When Muslims and Jews study these things together, the experience is one of very profound closeness. It provides a common ground on which we can build some future of being neighbors and living in the Middle East together.

There is a lack of mothers’ voices, sisters’ voices, daughters’ voices, women’s voices in the peace process. War is considered a man’s thing, at least in Israel. Most of the decisions are made by generals. Women should always be at the table. We can learn from the story of Moses and Pharaoh: They’re competing with all kinds of symbols of manhood, but it was Pharaoh’s daughter, together with Miriam and Yocheved, who saved the baby Moses.

Generally, women have less of a problem working in a non-hierarchical team, whereas men usually form a hierarchy very quickly. When trying to advance the peace process, the feminine capability of working in a team and not needing to be the number-one could make a big difference in the process. Women have had so many centuries of learning how to make men feel respected. Maybe we can help there, too.

Ruth Calderon was a member of Knesset from the Yesh Atid party from 2013 to 2015. She is the founder of the first secular, coed, pluralistic beit midrash in Israel.

Moment for just $19.97...subscribe now and get Good Karma FREE

Tamara Cofman Wittes

The biggest challenge to the peace process is in the domestic politics of the two sides. On the Palestinian side, there is a real crisis of authority. There is a big gap with the Palestinian public. Political institutions and groups like the PLO, Fatah and Hamas are very disconnected from young Palestinians on the ground. Part of it is that young Palestinians haven’t seen any progress on their independence or Palestinian statehood. If there is no clear vision of who will succeed Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas], the crisis will only worsen.

Israelis still support a two-state solution, but don’t believe it is realistic. There is a crisis of faith in negotiations. You now have this wave of violence that is very unpredictable, which is creating fear among Israelis. To restore faith in negotiations, people in Israel need to have not only a sense of security but a sense of what peace would look and feel like. The current Israeli government has taken the view that they don’t need to move forward with negotiations and have not put forth any policy initiatives toward negotiations, or toward any other approach to answer the question of what Israel’s future with the Palestinians will look like.

I’m not someone who thinks women bring some unique female attributes to politics, policy or peace negotiations. That said, I think that this is a conflict that both sides and mediators all feel is very stuck. There is a clear need for new ideas. It is very difficult to generate new ideas with all the same old players. If you look at the private sector, people with diverse identities bring diverse ideas to the table. The same is true in politics as well.

Women have been part of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—as citizens, as peace activists, as combatants, even as terrorists. And as mediators and diplomats, whether it is Madeleine Albright or Wendy Sherman, women have been a part of this picture all along. What troubles me is that women are part of the story, but their role has been ignored or erased in retellings.

Tamara Cofman Wittes is the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Nadia Hijab

For Palestinians, women and men alike, the quest for peace is also a quest for justice. But what constitutes justice in this conflict? And can justice be achieved without creating injustice? Back in 1988, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the representative of the Palestinian people at home and in the diaspora, formalized a position that had been in the works since the early 1970s: That justice—and peace—could be achieved by the establishment of a sovereign state in the Palestinian territories Israel occupied in 1967 and by upholding the rights of Palestinian refugees. In one form or another, a “two-state solution” has underpinned international efforts for peace since the first Oslo Accord was signed in 1993.

Today, we are further away than ever from a just peace. Throughout the negotiations conducted since the 1990s, Israeli governments—both Labor and Likud—have continued to colonize the occupied Palestinian territories in stark violation of international law and Palestinian rights. Three generations of Palestinians have now grown up under Israeli military occupation. Israel has been so “successful” that many Palestinians—as well as American officials—question whether a two-state solution is even possible now. The term “apartheid” is being increasingly applied to Israel’s very unequal treatment of the Jews and Palestinians living under its rule, both within Israel and in the occupied territories.

So where do we go from here? Women everywhere have struggled in different times and places to achieve equality between women and men and to end centuries-long injustices. I believe women can help advance peace if they draw on the injustice they have experienced as women and apply that to this conflict. They could ask: What is the injustice underlying this conflict? What would justice look like today? Can it be achieved in one state of Israel-Palestine where all citizens are equal? Or in two sovereign states after the withdrawal of Israeli settlers and soldiers from their illegal enterprise? By pushing these questions women can help pave the way to peace, with justice.

Nadia Hijab is executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, which she co-founded in 2009.

Naomi Chazan

First, I think having more women involved in the peace process might change priorities and extend the agenda, which is too narrow now. Women don’t necessarily think about the same subjects as men. They might bring in more issues of reconciliation and of human security. Second, it might change the atmosphere in the negotiations. It might humanize the discussions and alter the tone. We now have a long history of many discussions between Palestinian and Israeli women. Through these, we’ve seen that it is very important to try to understand the other, and to be sensitive to their concerns and aspirations. After some very difficult encounters, we’ve found that it is possible to find some common ground. We’ve seen the value of allowing for more inclusiveness in conversations. A lot would be gained by bringing those experiences and qualities to the wider peace process. Most negotiations have been around security issues in a narrow military sense. Women have not been given credit for having any expertise in this area.

Women have played a tremendous role in demanding a process. Even now, when so few people believe a process is possible, women still carry the torch. Women, much more than men, believe that it is possible to reach an agreement and that this agreement can be just and durable. Women, much more than men, have been persistent in their commitment to a peaceful life shared by Palestinians and Israelis.

The countries that have the smallest gender gaps in key areas such as economic status, politics and education are also the ones that are the most peaceful. We can’t know whether that is it because they already have peace and are therefore able to address gender issues, or if their willingness to achieve gender equality is indicative of a mindset that also promotes peace. Right now there is no peace process, so it’s an entirely hypothetical question. So is the question about whether gender matters in the peace process. It’s fairly easy to say what’s happened is because so few women have been involved, but impossible to know for certain what would happen if more women were part of the process. Frankly, what would happen if more women were involved is not even close to being the most important question.

Gender is not the main issue. The most important questions are: Is a reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis possible? Is it even possible to achieve peace in the Middle East?

Naomi Chazan is an Israeli academic and a pioneering feminist activist. She is a former president of the New Israel Fund.

Caroline Glick

My very short answer is that we should abandon the so-called peace process because the Palestinians have never been interested in peace. They lied to us in 1993 and they have continued to lie to us. They have no interest in a state. Had they the slightest interest in a state, they would have had one for the past 15 years. As it stands, they have controlled their population centers since 1996 and, rather than transform those areas into a nascent state, they have transformed them into incubators for terror groups and radicalized the population to the point where there is no significant constituency for peace with Israel. The delusion that there is a peace process has done enormous damage to the cause of peaceful coexistence between Israel and the Palestinians. The only way to begin to undo the damage is by ending the charade.

Only once the truth is recognized can we begin to implement policies that are relevant to the situation rather than continuously exacerbating it by rewarding the PLO and Hamas for their aggression, hatred and bad faith, as we have been for the past 23 years.

Women have no intrinsic advantage over men in negotiating. I was a member of Israel’s negotiating team at the height of the Oslo process from 1994 to 1996. It never occurred to me then, and has never occurred to me since, that the problem with the “peace process” had anything to do with the fact that women were not leading the talks. The problem was that the Palestinians were lying to us about their intentions and breaching all their commitments.

Perhaps the fact that women in the Palestinian Authority, like women throughout the Islamic world, are treated like second-class citizens should have been a sign to Israel that the PLO was not interested in peace. After all, leaders whose society rejects half its members are unlikely to make peace with a nation that they believe should be destroyed. But aside from the link between the immorality of misogyny and the immorality of Jew hatred, it is hard to see why a woman’s voice would have been more valuable at the table than were the voices of the men.

Caroline Glick is an American-born Israeli journalist and author. She is the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post and author of Shackled Warrior: Israel and the Global Jihad.

Fania Oz-Salzberger

I’m somewhat skeptical of the myth of the feminine touch in international relations. I think there’s a certain mythology therein, but I’d like to take the first part of the question seriously. With typical Israeli chutzpah, which is not inimical to seriousness, I would say that what is missing from the peace process is the peace process itself. It is currently nonexistent. Not dormant, not delayed, but nonexistent. And it is deliberately nonexistent, because the leaders of both sides are very happy to see what used to be the peace process melt away. Both of them are absolutely certain that time is on their side. In my mind, both of them are tragically wrong. And so, the first and crucial thing missing is political will on the part of the leadership of both sides.

I would have loved to say that we are missing a softer touch, a people-to-people engagement. I used to think so. I used to argue that civil societies of both Israel and Palestine ought to step in and shake up their lazy leadership. But I am now convinced that a process that has died or completely stalled, on the level of statehood or statesmanship, cannot at this stage be awakened by civil societies. Not least because the leaders of both sides have been quite effective in the last couple of years in fanning mutual distrust, hatred, and indeed active violence between the civil societies themselves. Many moderate voices are either muted or drowned out by the chorus of mutual loathing. Current leadership has been busy silencing pro-peace voices in Israeli civil society. Not just silencing through legal measures, but also by creating an extremely hostile public atmosphere in regards to such individuals, NGOs, intellectuals and artists who are trying to lead a peacenik stance within Israeli society. I still believe Israeli society is strong enough to eventually shake off the hostility-fanning attitude of its current political leadership. But it will take time, a good deal of patience and a good deal of activism.

I am sorry to say that in my own experience, in almost all of the walks of life that I have been through—from kibbutz and the Israeli army to my current place in the Israeli and global public spheres—I have not seen any particular advantage of women over men when it comes to political negotiation, statesmanship or civil society activism. Women can be as fanatical as men in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. There are female nationalists and racists, there are women terrorists, extremists of all brands and colors. This is not wholly symmetrical: There is a difference between an ultra-nationalist female settler who thinks and says horrible things about Arabs and Palestinians and, to be blunt, the mother of a Palestinian terrorist who just murdered an Israeli family, who voices unmitigated pride in her son.

For sure, there are many female leaders and members of peace initiatives and organizations on both sides. Many wonderful women are reaching out to find their humane interlocutors on the other side of the fence. But—and it is a powerful but—what these women are doing is performed by men as well. If there is a “feminine principle” to peacemaking, a womanly touch in the romantic sense, members of both (or all) genders may or may not be blessed with this touch. We certainly need this soft power in the Middle East, and elsewhere. But even more so, we urgently need rational, resourceful and resolute political leaders, regardless of their sex.
Fania Oz-Salzberger is a professor of history at the University of Haifa School of Law and a writer whose books include Jews and Words, co-authored with Amos Oz.

Laila el-Haddad

What should be done to further the peace process is a radical rethinking of what this “process” actually is and what it intends to achieve (or not) and for whom. Up until now, it has been all “process” intended to indefinitely forestall Palestinian statehood, of which no mention was even made in the original Oslo Peace Accord, or else to grant nominal civil authority over chop-sueyed territories. The “Palestinian question” needs to be viewed as a struggle for rights and equality, rather than simply a question of real estate or land for peace.

As for how motherhood has played a part and what women might bring to the peace process, I can speak only to the Palestinian side of things. Palestinian women bear the brunt of the decades-long occupation and control over Palestinian land and lives, against which they are resisting on a daily basis—if not always on the forefronts of the battlefield, then in the daily, quiet confines of their homes and lives: the invisible battlefield. They must keep the fractured family unit functioning. They must be fathers, where thousands are incarcerated; they must be healers, where the wounds of war run deep into the soul long after the tanks have ceased to fire; they must be breadwinners, where nearly half of men are unemployed; and they must be perpetuators of history, where heritage and history are being appropriated, erased or intentionally disappeared. But again, this question assumes there is a table at which the two parties are negotiating as equal partners, or that there is something that can, or should, be negotiated over, or even that this method of negotiation is the conventional wisdom that all agree on: Increasingly, more and more Palestinians and Israelis are favoring a one-state solution as the most just and sustainable resolution for all.

In the same vein, I do not think one can draw equivalence between the struggles of Israeli women and Palestinian women, or argue that their involvement will necessarily further the peace process. I believe our impact can be best felt from the ground up: in our homes, in our communities, where we will alter the mindset of our young ones, and instill in them a humane understanding of this “other” we coexist with, often invisibly. There can be alliances built, but only on principled bases, not on an illusion of “getting along” (for me, this has never been about “getting along,” but about denying one group their rights and freedoms).

I hope to see Israeli mothers be the corrective “revisionist” domestic historians as they speak to their children about the Nakba, about Palestinians as the original indigenous inhabitants of this land, as human beings who are being oppressed, for which their state is responsible, and for which all of us have a hand in undoing, and not merely of Palestinians as accidental co-inhabitants of the land who suffer at the hands of bad leaders and who do not love their children as much. Achieving peace between Israel and Palestine needs more than token gestures, ink on paper, or good-willed dialogue. It means keeping things real, and I do believe as women, we are better positioned to do that. Assuming the premise of negotiating was rethought, and the table at which we were negotiating was equitable, then the right kind of women—those committed to equality and justice for all—would certainly be forces of change.

Laila el-Haddad is a Palestinian journalist and author whose books include Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting and Everything in Between.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner

If more women from both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides were involved with negotiating an end to the conflict in the Middle East, we would have many more areas of agreement by now. The whole situation would not be resolved, but the armed and warlike aspects of the conflict would end. Women are not eager to wage war. Women don’t have a military past, and bragging about military victories is not important to them. Women are very sensitive to human life. It is not that they care more than men, but they care in a different way. Women are more likely than men to mourn deaths that have nothing to do with them personally. But we are living in the Middle East, where we live by the rule of the jungle. The strongest ones rule, and if you show any sign of weakness, you will be eaten. In this kind of environment, men are the only real players. Women have other ways of surviving. They have intuitions men don’t have, and they find ways to survive besides using brute force. Women, by nature, are looking for relationships and want to talk with one another.

Women would not be able to bring peace immediately. There are more factors driving the situation than just sensibilities—history, religion and culture all play an important role in the dynamic. But in their desire to stop the constant flow of blood, women would work hard to build relationships with the other side. I don’t know if there would be a woman from the Israeli side who would give up the Temple Mount or a Palestinian woman who would give up the right of return. But if women were in leadership positions in a widespread way, they would not want to spend all their time killing each other. They would stop this constant bloodshed.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner is an Israeli attorney, human rights activist and founder of Shurat HaDin Israeli Law Center, an NGO representing terror victims, Israeli issues and Jewish causes.

Anat Saragusti

I’m an Israeli, and I have been a journalist most of my professional life. I covered the Palestinian occupied territories for years and also the wars in our region in the last decades. Being an aware feminist and a journalist, I have seen how this conflict has the power to exclude women from the public sphere and decrease their visibility.

In the summer of 2014 we had a military campaign in Gaza. It lasted 50 days. Some 2,200 Palestinians were killed, hundreds of them children, women and the elderly. Dozens of Israelis were killed, 67 of them soldiers and five civilians, one of them a four-year-old boy. Every aspect of this war was playing fiercely against women’s participation, against granting protection to women, and of course it had nothing to do with prevention.

All decision-making forums were dominated overwhelmingly by men. Decisions were based solely on the needs and perspective of the military. There was only one woman in the cabinet.

This also means that the civil perspective was not present in the room. The alpha males that made the decisions and led the military offensive saw mainly the needs of the army and soldiers. Many of the cabinet members are army veterans and ex-generals. So the civil society needs that are usually presented by women were absent.

To complete this picture, we should look at the public arena. When the whole country is involved reluctantly in a war, everybody is glued to television, radio and the Internet to get the livestream of endless news. So in many ways, the media shape our views and perceptions. This was so powerful, because in addition to the fact that the civil perspective and the gender perspective were hardly on the table, we faced a reality in which even the public debate was completely colored in camouflage. Studios were filled with an endless march of ex-army generals—all male, of course—who were invited to explain reality to us, the people. Needless to say, they all spoke in military jargon.

In that context we can easily and sadly say that gender equality and gender perspective are collateral damage of war.

The Gaza campaign was one war too many. Women started to question the common assumption that war was inevitable. This was when we established Women Wage Peace. Thousands of women from all over the country, from all political views, different ages, variable ethnicities and faith simply said, “No more.” No more war. We want a viable peace agreement.

This is a grassroots movement that is rapidly growing, and we now have more than 15,000 members. In house meetings and through other means we create a safe space for women to speak for the first time about war, peace and security. To speak about their fears, but also about their vision. We work to change the discourse, and to strengthen the belief that an agreement can be achieved and that an agreement is the only means to bring security to Israel. This was a backlash to the overwhelming military discourse.

Anat Saragusti is an Israeli journalist who has been CEO of Agenda (Israeli Center for Strategic Communications) and director of B’Tselem USA.

Cora Weiss

I was in Cuba recently and met with Josefina Vidal, who, together with the State Department’s Roberta Jacobson, negotiated the landmark agreement to reopen relations between Cuba and the United States. Talking with Josefina Vidal reminded me of the two women who were at the peace table that produced the Good Friday Agreement between Catholics and Protestants and ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland. They made a historic difference because they wouldn’t let the men proceed until they agreed to institutionalize human rights.

The Palestinians sent Hanan Ashrawi to the Madrid talks. Unfortunately, the current Israeli government’s women, such as the justice minister [Ayelet Shaked], are not peacemakers, so saying that we just need women is not enough. There’s as much political diversity among women as among men today. We need peace- and justice-minded women, women who call for gender equality, for protection of the environment, who see the need to abolish nuclear weapons and support peace education in all schools and who will implement Resolution 1325. That’s my 21st-century definition of a feminist. Forty-eight countries have called for action plans to implement the Security Council resolution. Israel does not have one, but leave it to a new gathering of women to write a people’s action plan, such as the women warriors for social justice at the Center for the Advancement of Women in the Public Square at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. There are plenty of women as capable of negotiating peace as men, if not more so. But first the table has to be set. The recent decision to prevent Palestinian peace activists from entering Israel is a terrible blow to any peace effort and a clear statement from the government that they don’t want it.

In October, the UN Security Council named peace processes in the Philippines and Colombia as the two best examples of women’s participation in peacekeeping. In the Philippines, women successfully negotiated a provision that all economic projects have a certain percentage of money for gender programs. In Colombia, the women got support for rural women who were mostly affected by the country’s violence, and they’re now trying to get justice and reparations for victims of sexual violence. Decent, peace- and justice-loving women make a huge difference in peace processes and in implementing peace agreements, but we can no longer call just for women who happen to be women. It’s a very important moment to consider the distinction between women who happen to be women and peace- and justice-loving women.

Cora Weiss is the president of the Hague Appeal for Peace and a longtime peace activist who contributed to the drafting of UN Resolution 1325.

Sarai Aharoni

You can’t really talk about “How do women approach the conflict?” or “How does the conflict affect women?” All of this assumes there is a cohesive, across-the-board experience of women, and of course that isn’t true. We need to state the obvious—different women have very different experiences and views on the roots of the conflict and its current phase. We also have to remember, when we ask these questions, what kind of burden we are placing on the backs of women when we are trying to think of a different world, a kind of utopian world.

Women have been pushed out of the political process in Israel. There have been attempts to prioritize women and inclusion, but they have produced almost zero women peace leaders. In the last two decades there have been clear attempts to bring women into political decision-making—through the political parties, through media, through civil services. And, yes, we see more women in public discourse, but when it comes to voicing opinions about the conflict, either these women are not heard or it is hard for them to be perceived as legitimate. Tzipi Livni was the head of the delegation in late 2007 and was in very close contact with then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, but that particular summit was a failure or a non-event.

For Israelis, peace is framed as a security issue. For Palestinians, peace is framed as an issue related to justice and rights. Security is linked with military issues and with questions of authority, and meant to project strength. All of these characteristics are stereotypically male in Israeli society.

Sarai Aharoni is one of the founding members of the Haifa Feminist Institute. Her research focuses on gender and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process within the field of feminist security studies.

Noura Erakat

The solution has to be rooted in the settler decolonization movement. Most people say to me, “Does that mean you want to kick the Jews out?” No. There are something like four to five generations of Israelis born there and a number of Middle Eastern Israelis who don’t have anywhere to go, because the opportunity to return to Iraq and Syria has been foreclosed because of several factors, including U.S. intervention. So what does an agreement look like? First, to dismantle this notion of Jewish national supremacy. Currently, a Jewish person living outside of Israel has significant rights that are not available to Palestinian citizens of Israel whose presence preceded the State’s establishment. What will happen to Jews and Israelis? They can stay, but they must relinquish the privileges that place them socially and economically in a place of institutionalized privilege that almost always necessitates violence against Palestinians. This is most viable in a one-state solution, and, in any case, the two-state solution has long been dead.

What can women offer? It depends. Some women are not great; Golda Meir was a woman who insisted Palestinians were not even a people and thus didn’t deserve self-determination. I’d rather have a lot of feminists in power than a lot of women in power. I don’t think anatomy is going to be the answer. Do I think feminism is an answer? Absolutely. As a feminist, I’ve looked to Palestinian women, such as Hanan Ashrawi and Haneen Zoabi. I see these two women, I see a number of feminist movements that are doing that hard work. People always ask, “Where is the Palestinian Gandhi?” To which I respond, “Everywhere—you just haven’t looked.” There are a number of Palestinian feminists. You just need to look.

Noura Erakat is a Palestinian American legal scholar, human rights attorney and assistant professor at George Mason University.

Laura Blumenfeld

Above all, a Middle East peace negotiator has to be creative. At least once a day, talks hit the wall and a negotiator must improvise a way up and over. Do women excel at this? Arguably, yes. Especially if it’s a woman who is smart, tough, intuitive and nimble enough to make the all-male Middle East team. The few women who rise in this field do so because they are experts at identifying alternative avenues toward a goal. They understand that there is more than one way to win, more than one person who can be right, and more than one path to peace. Add to the mix the following traits and you have the makings of a successful negotiator, male or female: empathy, guts, patience, a long memory for political facts and a short memory for personal feuds.

Right now, the peace process is stuck for legitimate, strategic reasons. The timing is not ripe for a comprehensive solution, but we can take constructive action. Trade in the grand-bargain, final-status negotiations for small steps and interim progress. Embrace the doable. On the Palestinian side, the United States can encourage officials to develop domestic institutions, build the economy, tone down rhetoric, put Israel on their map and say “two states for two people.” On the Israeli side, the U.S. could press officials not to build outside the settlement blocs, limit collective punishment and ease movement at checkpoints without compromising security. The U.S. can also exploit the climate of indifference and low expectations and launch intensive, secret, back-channel talks, with the participation of Jordan and Egypt.

The next U.S. president should carry a Middle East cheat sheet, 3 Cs for success: Clarity—articulate a clear foreign policy and match words with deeds. Clarity preserves credibility. Context—base your approach in its proper historic, cultural, and global context. Context is like an e-mail address; if you don’t get it right, your proposals bounce back. Commitment—the presidents who’ve succeeded in peacemaking were passionately committed. Don’t announce an effort, unless your heart is in it. Middle Easterners sniff out ambivalence and will balk at taking risks. You can fake it till you make it with many things in life, but not with Middle East peace.

Laura Blumenfeld is a former State Department senior policy advisor on Secretary of State John Kerry’s Israeli-Palestinian Negotiating Team and a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic Studies, SAIS Johns Hopkins.

Lara Friedman

For years we’ve said that the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is pretty clear. The question is: Where do you find the political will on all sides to get there? The problem isn’t that we don’t know how to end this conflict; the problem is that there are enough people on both sides who don’t want to end it because they prefer zero-sum outcomes. People always seem to want to find the right formula to put off the difficult questions until later. We’ve been doing that for 20 years. If we’re looking for ways to get through this bloody impasse, now is the time to be honest with ourselves. We have to deal with the hard stuff. When I look at my work, I’m not coming up with new solutions on territory—I’m saying, “These are the choices that have to be made now, or later more pain and suffering will have happened in the interim.” If people think it’s easier to solve this later, we have decades showing that that’s wrong. It’s wrong for Israel’s own democracy, it’s wrong for Palestinians, who are suffering generation after generation and who are lost to extremism, which is growing on both sides. Some people would say we’ve already arrived at a one-state outcome, not a one-state solution. A one-state outcome is constant pain, constant clashes, constant violence—it doesn’t solve anything. It directly threatens Israel’s viability as a state with a Jewish character and a democracy.

Right now we need strong doses of reality from people who care about Israel to the Israeli government and its people and to the American Jewish community. The law of gravity is reasserting itself when you see things like Europe increasing what some Israelis see as anti-Israel policies. In reality, Europe is saying, “We absolutely support Israel, but our support for Israel stops at the Green Line.” That’s the most pro-Israel position anyone can take. They’re saying, “What happens across the Green Line has to be negotiated in good faith. The future of that land has to be negotiated so there can be a two-state solution; until that time, that’s where our support stops.” I hope more people adopt this policy. We can’t allow more cynical folks with a different agenda to say, “You have a binary choice—either you support Israel, including Israel in the settlements, or you’re an enemy.” That pushes a lot of people who are friends of Israel into a position that’s untenable. To be clear: I am not calling for BDS against Israel. I’m calling for distinguishing between Israel and the settlements.

For me, the bottom line—whether you’re talking about Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking or resolving the nuclear threat with Iran or environmental issues or weapons of mass destruction—is that you need to have the best people at the table. The Iran negotiations were led by a woman, which is great and demonstrates the role that a great person can play. On Israel-Palestine, for decades there’s been a notable absence of women at the higher levels. If you are deliberately or with unconscious bias excluding 50 percent of the intellectual capital of the nation from the table, you are hurting yourself. There is clearly an unconscious trend here that keeps women out of the foreign policy sphere. That’s not good for our foreign policy-making.

Lara Friedman is director of policy and government relations for Americans for Peace Now.

Simone Susskind

In the 1980s I was president of the Jewish Secular Community Center in Brussels during the middle of the first Intifada. I helped organize “Give Peace a Chance,” the first public dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian personalities. We brought in prominent people like Yehuda Amichai and Abba Eban. At the end of 1988, I was invited to Jerusalem for an international meeting of Jewish feminists from all over the world. Hundreds of women coming from everywhere. One of the speakers was the founder of the “Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo” [the group of Argentine mothers whose children had disappeared during the military government]. The speaker had lost her three sons during the dictatorship in Argentina; she was not a politician, she was someone who had decided to get down on the square together with other women who had lost their loved ones. It was a very powerful movement. They succeeded in Argentina and we thought we could do something similar with both Israeli and Palestinian women. In May 1989, we organized “Give Peace a Chance—Women Speak Out” in Brussels with 40 women from the West Bank, Israel and the Gaza Strip, including official PLO representatives. It took us two hours to write down seven points, “The Brussels Declaration,” which were, in a way, pioneering. It was a very powerful and moving moment, a moment full of hope. Within a few weeks we had an informal group carrying this message. Then came the first Gulf War and it put everything on hold, besides the personal connections. In 1992, we started talking with our Palestinian and Israeli colleagues, and I went to the European Commission and we came up with a concept of cooperation. We also established The Jerusalem Link: A Women’s Joint Venture for Peace, comprising two women’s organizations: Bat Shalom on the Israeli side, and the Jerusalem Center for Women on the Palestinian side. The two organizations shared a set of political principles. In 2005, following the second intifada and the fact that neither the Israeli women nor the Palestinian women had any impact anymore on their public’s opinions, we managed to get funding from the Belgian government to support a meeting where Palestinian and Israeli women together with prominent international women could establish, under the United Nations Development Fund for Women, a trilateral women’s group, called The International Women’s Commission for a Just and Sustainable Palestinian-Israeli Peace. Its mission was to address their common peace message to world leaders, implementing and strengthening UN Security Council Resolution 1325. The IWC stopped its activities in 2011, because its members felt that hopes for a peaceful and just solution were fading away.

Simone Susskind is a longtime peace activist and Deputy at Parliament of the Brussels Capital Region and president of Actions in the Mediterranean.

Felice Friedson

A short time ago it was political heresy to publicly suggest that peace is not reachable, but even Israel’s opposition leader has now asserted that the environment is too toxic to succeed in peacemaking. A long time ago, former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority Salam Fayyad said to me that the Palestinians need to end their bifurcation between Fatah and Hamas and return to bilateral efforts rather than chasing after unilateral state-building. The situation is now devolving into something we have never seen before, with a horrific percentage of young men and women losing their lives in what they certainly know will be a futile attack on an Israeli soldier or border police officers. Adding to the perversity is the current decision by the Palestinian leadership to praise their dead as martyrs rather than protesting more teenage deaths. Israel, too, needs to get its house in order and prepare a much wider base to support any serious peace bids. It needs to halt the polarization in which different parties cannot break out of the black-and-white mold. But the collapse of much of the Arab world makes Israelis skeptical of the ability of any Arab leader to deliver on peace deal promises.

I have had a unique position by being the interlocutor between Israeli and Palestinian journalists. I speak from experience when I say that the distrust is palpable between Israelis and Palestinians.

I have to believe that more women at the top can only help. I have spent years studying women of the Middle East, and I have found a remarkable talent pool. I was in Yemen before the revolution and was amazed by the contribution of women there. I have met remarkable women both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and we have seen so much laudable input from these few that I am excited by what the many could do. Women are more detail-oriented. Women can finesse things men cannot. There is no shortage of outstanding women; more women at the table would make a tremendous difference.

Felice Friedson is the founder of The Media Line and The Mideast Press Club.

Leila Hilal

The participation of women as a specific constituency has never been a major issue for Palestinians, whose primary interest is in seeing an end of occupation of their land and the return of refugees. Their struggle is a matter of national emancipation, assumedly the same for men and women. In the 1990s, following the signing of the Oslo Accords, there were attempts to organize Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives, but they failed to gain momentum because they replicated the wider colonial patterns. Active Israeli women were not able to embrace Palestinian rights as a matter of principle; rather, they sought only to engage the peace process and Palestinian women to save the Jewish state. In other words, Palestinian and Israeli women have yet to forge genuine solidarity networks because they are both operating within strictly separate national frameworks. If the paradigm were to shift to a one-state solution, women would have substantially more common ground to mobilize together for a collective vision of shared feminist peace and freedom.

Leila Hilal is a senior fellow for the International Security Program and the former director of the Middle East Task Force at New America Foundation.

Galia Golan

What could be done to try to move toward a resolution of the conflict is to change the government in Israel. For that, we have to work on the Israeli public, which is the job of civil society and peace NGOs and so forth. We’ve reached a point—we probably reached it a long time ago—at which we really need outside help. Israel needs some kind of pressure from outside. We need something to wake people up, to make them realize that with the present government—or the same type of government in the future—Israel is going to be increasingly isolated. The best kind of pressure would be from the United States because they have the greatest leverage and influence over Israel, but I don’t see that coming. I think Barack Obama wanted to do that, but it seemed such a dead end. If the United States isn’t going to bring any kind of pressure, they should at least let the Europeans do what they want to do, including the French idea of an international conference. Let Europeans pass a new resolution in the Security Council. Ideally, Obama and the Americans would come up with a new resolution, but if they’re not going to, then don’t veto the Europeans when, say, the French bring a resolution. I happen to think that selective sanctions might make a difference, but I don’t think that a general boycott or total sanctions would work—they’d create a rally-round-the-flagpole effect. The government does want to see a resolution of the conflict, but to get them to act more strongly there has to be more of a crunch.

We have seen women in positions of power who are not helpful. They don’t seem to fit the stereotype of being more humane or caring people than, say, men. As a matter of fact, some of the most extreme right-wing and even racist people in the government happen to be women, which doesn’t bode well. That’s not to say there aren’t women of a different kind—Tzipi Livni was a clear example of the kind of women we talk about when we say we want women in power, because she’s a person who sees the humane and humanitarian side of things. There are a lot of women like that in the peace movement in Israel. If women like that were in power it would make a difference, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the issue isn’t one of simply having more women there. It really matters which women are in power.

Galia Golan is professor emerita of political science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She is an expert in international affairs and the author of 10 books, most recently Israeli Peacemaking Since 1967: Factors Behind the Breakthroughs and Failures.

Sherri Mandell

I don’t think there can be a peace process until there is some peace in the culture. Israelis educate for peace, and there needs to be more work done on the Palestinian side to make that a priority. To me, that is the most important thing–education both within the family and externally. Our foundation works with Israeli women who have lost family to terrorists. We work on healing and try not to be political; and we believe that we can make these children into leaders and also that the mothers can become stronger and more loving. We would love to do the same with Palestinians. The Palestinians need something to deal with their grief and trauma something that is not about killing but about bringing peace and tolerance to their culture.

More women wouldn’t make a difference. We have had women leaders and nothing has changed. There are fanatics on both sides, and there need to be moderates putting people in a room together. There need to be demands made by the Israeli side, demands for compromise and that Palestinians stop glamorizing terrorism and respect Israel’s right to exist.

Sherri Mandell is co-director of the Koby Mandell Foundation, which runs programs for bereaved families in Israel. 

Bambi Sheleg

I’m not sure gender is the answer. I think that willingness to compromise and to understand that we have to compromise is the core of the issue. But within the Palestinians and also within the Jewish population, the people who are willing to compromise are not in charge. This is a big problem. I believe that in both people, those willing to compromise are the majority, but the zealots or the radicals threaten those people. Among Palestinians it’s even worse than among the Jews. People who really want to compromise are under threat.

I do not think that the problem is that women are not represented enough in the negotiations. I think a cultural process, a social process that would give us the opportunity to understand each other in a better, deeper way could be something, but I don’t believe it has anything to do with gender.

Bambi Sheleg is an Israeli journalist and founding editor of the magazine Eretz Acheret.

2 thoughts on “An All-Women Symposium: The Missing XX-Factor

  1. P. Bradley says:

    A great start. I think more Palestinian women voices need to be included in this conversation.

    1. lover of Zion says:

      There are plenty of Arab voices – and they all say the same thing: everything isl Israel’s fault! There are also plenty of Jewish and Israeli voices that blame Israel. Only Caroline Glick – and to some extent, Felice Friedson and Sherri Mandell – actually present the reality of the situation. Why not invite Nurit Shaked to add her viewpoint as well? She’s certainly a “feminist”, if that is what makes a woman’s contribution valuable…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.