EPMED Report on a European Parliament Conference, 19 October 2017
On 19 October 2017, the European Platform for Middle East Dialogue (EPMED) organised a conference in the European Parliament entitled ‘Palestinians and Israelis: Moving towards needs-based solutions’. The conference gathered seven Palestinian and Israeli grassroots and international speakers, as well as key actors from the European community, to exchange ideas about conflict transformation and its relevance for EU policies regarding Israel and Palestine.
The conference aimed to kick-start a conversation at EU level around identifying needs-based solutions in areas vital to the transformation of this conflict. EPMED defines ‘needs-based solutions’ as ‘solutions for concrete obstacles that need to be addressed to achieve sustainable peace’. Against this background, a panel of European actors considered what this approach implies for EU policy and how the EU may lend support to transforming the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The conference was hosted by Mrs. Hilde Vautmans (ALDE, Belgium) and co-hosted by Mr. Victor Boştinaru (S&D, Romania). For this event, EPMED was joined by the Peace Action, Training and Research Institute of Romania (PATRIR). PATRIR is a member of the PeaceTraining.EU consortium and received the Luxembourg International Peace Prize for ‘Outstanding Peace Organisation’ in June 2017. The conference was made possible thanks to private donations via a crowdfunding campaign launched by EPMED.
Following introductory remarks by Christiaan Gevers Deynoot, Co-Director at EPMED, Hilde Vautmans gave the opening speech. She encouraged politicians to learn from local peace dialogue actors and to consider diversity as a strength. While highlighting the importance of realising the two-state solution, Ms Vautmans also acknowledged the need for more support to projects that focus on promoting dialogue.
“We need to have friends of solutions, not only friends of Israel on one side and friends of Palestine on the other” – Kai Frithjof Brand-Jacobsen
Keynote speaker Kai Frithjof Brand-Jacobsen opened his intervention by drawing attention to the limited funding available for peace building operations in Israel and Palestine. He also pointed out that those who seek to engage the other side are often countered by their home communities, which further embeds the separation between Palestinians and Israelis. According to Mr. Brand-Jacobsen, this trend calls for sustained engagement by all European actors in support of conflict transformation, and in particular also the European Parliament. He stressed that the needs-based approach constitutes a key pillar of conflict transformation and, as Mr Brand-Jacobsen reminded us, recognising the needs of the other is in itself already a powerful step towards fostering mutual understanding.
Panel I: Local perspectives on the peace process – Identifying needs-based solutions
As part of the first panel, seven Palestinian and Israeli grassroots and international speakers, shared their views and experiences around the notion of conflict transformation through needs-based solutions. While not exhaustive, the areas touched upon included the following: domestic education, gender, cross-communities, security, and international education.
The first speaker, Steven Aiello presented his organisation Debate for Peace (DfP), which educates Jewish and Muslim high school students in Israel about the importance of respectful dialogue. Founded in 2016, DfP has become a national youth leadership program focused on organising Model United Nations simulations around the most pressing global conflicts and challenges. Mr. Aiello considered such cultural mediation vital to the transformation of the conflict. Based on his experience, he identified the key aspects of education that are particularly relevant for children growing up in conflict situations: critical reasoning, analytical thinking, problem-solving and negotiation skills, and most importantly, respect for each other’s opinions.
Sarah Linder presented her work and the many testimonies of Israeli and Palestinian women she has interviewed as part of her project Political is Personal (PiP). Ms. Linder expressed the importance of listening to women’s experiences of the conflict and understanding the needs that emerge from their everyday lives. Arguing against the notion that women are necessarily pro peace, her project instead aims at placing women’s stories at the forefront of the debate and emphasises that women in conflict situations need to be heard on an equal footing alongside their male counterparts.
“We are praying for what we want rather than working towards it” – Mohammad Asideh
Mohammad Asideh, Palestinian non-violent activist working at OneVoice Movement on the European education programme Solutions not Sides, seized the opportunity to address European politicians directly. Based on his experience in teaching European audiences about the conflict, Mr. Asideh warned about polarisation being exported to Europe and beyond. He considered that if we are to encourage conflict parties to be more inclusive towards other perspectives, the only credible way is to promote this approach at the level of policy-making.
While not a grassroots actor like the other panel speakers, Daniel Schwammenthal from the AJC Transatlantic Insitute was asked to address the security perspective. He highlighted the relevance that security holds for the citizens involved, stressing that security has a critical role to play alongside these other themes in finding new approaches to conflict transformation.
Societal security was also evoked by Ziad Sabateen and Phil Saunders, co-founders of Path of Hope and Peace, who refocused the conversation on the individuals living the conflict. Working for 20 years towards peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Mr. Zabateen is a founding member of Combatants of Peace and former student of rabbi Menachem Froman. He evoked his own story living under occupation in the town of Husan near Bethlehem as an illustration to highlight the importance of joint activities between Israelis and Palestinians on either side of the border. Mr. Saunders complemented this presentation by detailing his experiences engaging the wide range of communities living on the West Bank. He reiterated the need to promote cross-border cooperation between communities and shared their NGO’s plan for a joint Israeli-Palestinian medical facility.
Panel II: Beyond the Paris Peace Conference – What role for the EU in the peace process?
Against the background of the perspectives on needs-based solutions offered in the first panel, moderator Brigitte Herremans, Middle East policy officer for Broederlijk Delen and Pax Christi Flanders, opened the second panel on what this means for EU policy-making.
“Time is not on our side” – Ambassador Nicolas Suran, Permanent Representative of France to the EU Political and Security Committee
Ambassador Nicolas Suran, Permanent Representative of France to the EU Political and Security Committee, evoked the pressing issue of time. Reminding us that the window of opportunity for the Middle East Peace Process is closing, he underlined that the time to review EU policies regarding Israel and Palestine is now. According to the Ambassador, the EU should look more at how it can better spent its money, maximise the impact of its interventions, and create synergies between international efforts.
Dr. Tony Klug, Special Advisor on the Middle East to the Oxford Research Group, further reflected on Ambassador Suran’s words, arguing that it is precisely against hopelessness that politicians should fight. He opined that people on the ground can devise the solutions for concrete needs. Where politicians have to step in is on the motivational side, whether that be economic or political. He warned however that clarity of intent is a prerequisite for this, stressing the importance of unpacking ‘entrenched’ statements about the conflict in order to find a common understanding on the way forward.
Kai Frithjof Brand-Jacobsen also participated in the panel discussion. He highlighted in particular the availability of a multitude of concrete solutions to real needs that should be addressed to achieve sustainable peace. He called for more European human and financial resources to be dedicated to peace building efforts.
While recognising the crucially relevant security and legal-ethical aspects of the conflict, this conference aimed to highlight other critical needs that require attention. Needs that have to be addressed to help identify common interests that can serve as catalysers for dialogue and prepare the ground for lasting peace. Together, the speakers outlined various key areas where the EU can help change the patterns of conflictual interactions that characterise the relations between many Palestinians and Israelis.
Introducing the notion of conflict transformation through needs-based approaches within the EU discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be a major step. More concrete recommendations that followed from the conference are outlined below. In the coming period, EPMED will continue to explore the notion of needs-based solutions in the specific areas highlighted at this conference.
- Set up an Israel-Palestine ‘Friends of Solutions Group’ in the European Parliament focused on how the EU can promote needs-based solutions.
- Develop EU policy measures to help proliferate the number of spaces for engagement and dialogue between the two communities at home and abroad.
- Introduce conflict transformation mechanisms in the bilateral policy frameworks and areas of cooperation with both Israel and Palestine.
- Develop an EU long-term peace strategy that acknowledges the need for sustained EU engagement in the Middle East Peace Process.
EPMED, joined by PATRIR, would like to thank all of the speakers, participants, attendees and donors to this conference. Special thanks go out to MEPs Hilde Vautmans and Victor Boştinaru for their warm welcome and to their teams and the European Parliament staff for their valuable contributions to our event.
Video recording of the conference can be seen on our Facebook page here.