The Role of Women in the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process
The mobilisation of women in the Israel-Palestinian peace process really began during the 1980s. The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 provoked movements among Jewish women opposing the conflict. Moreover, the first intifada in 1987 saw the formation of Jewish women’s organisations such as Women in Black, Israeli Women Against Occupation and Women’s Peace Net.
Palestinian women’s organisations, which until then focussed on the needs of the Palestinian community regarding education and social services, began to work together with Israeli Jewish women in order to bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In 1989, Israeli and Palestinian women met in Brussels and evoked:
- the importance of the resolution of the conflict through negotiations
- Israel’s recognition of Palestinian representatives and,
- a mutual recognition of peace.
Many grassroots initiatives have been created to build trust, cooperation and understanding between Jewish women in Israel and Palestinian women in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. These involved visits, dialogue activities, local and international conferences, collaboration and demonstrations. Women’s organisations have continued to work together, trying to alleviate social, economic and political problems suffered by both sides. Mother's and parents’ movements have also played an important role in mobilising support for peace.
Presence of Women in Negotiations
Very few women have managed to officially involve themselves in the peace negotiation process. The negotiating team for the Palestinian Occupied Territories included several women at the Madrid Peace Conference and following talks in Washington in 1991. Their participation in the process has since then decreased and the delegation no longer has any women at the highest levels . With the aim of recognising their important role and including women in the peace process, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently announced that the Israeli delegation would include a woman.
The International Women's Commission (IWC) and Resolution 1325
The UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, adopted in 2000, calls for the participation of women in decision-making and peace processes, underlines their role in conflict resolution and peacebuilding and advocates the protection of women's rights. In 2005, the International Women’s Commission for a Just and Sustainable Peace between Israel and Palestine (IWC) was formed in order to implement and strengthen resolution 1325. The commission was created by Israeli and Palestinian women and also includes other international women’s leaders such as UNIFEM’s director Inés Alberdi, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Finnish President Tarja Halonen. Uniting women from both sides of the conflict with other experienced diplomatic and political negotiators, the IWC speaks with one voice for a just and sustainable resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
According to their Charter of political principles, the IWC has the following guiding objectives:
- To ensure the meaningful participation of diverse women, including those from civil society, in any Israeli-Palestinian peace process, including negotiations and supportive initiatives;
- To guarantee gender equality and that women’s perspectives and experiences are incorporated in any future resolution of the conflict;
- To work for an end to the occupation and genuine negotiations towards a just and sustainable peace;
- To promote a process of political dialogue that rectifies ongoing asymmetries and addresses all elements of reconciliation.
Since its creation, the IWC has met with decision-makers from Israel and Palestine as well as other global actors including members of the Quartet on the Middle East, the UN, the EU and the USA, to pursue its goals. The commission has succeeded in underlining the critical role of women in their communities, the importance of an inclusive peace process and the need to recognise their participation, protect them from conflict and put an end to their marginalisation.
2010 marked the 10th anniversary of the UN Security Council resolution 1325. Alongside UNIFEM, and with support from the Spanish government, the IWC organised a conference on "Advancing Women’s Leadership for Sustainable Peace in the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and Worldwide". Bringing together worldwide leaders and experts, the conference worked on establishing action strategies among international leaders, and promoting awareness and gaining support for the work of the IWC.
Potential and Pitfalls
One of the main pitfalls of the IWC focuses on its ability to engage with the Israeli and Palestinian populations on the ground. Critics have pointed out its status as a “high-profiled women’s club” that few Israeli and Palestinian women are actually aware of. The organisation’s main challenge is to disseminate information, promote awareness and fully engage with communities at the grassroots level.
Additionally, continuing violence and conflict threatens the potential of the IWC. During the Gaza War 2008-2009, for example, relationships deteriorated as Palestinian women refused to enter into any form of dialogue with their Israeli counterparts.
The inclusion of women in the negotiation process also remains minimal despite the fact that both the Palestinian National Authority and the Israel Knesset have approved the demands of Resolution 1325 and the IWC. The continuing work of the IWC has not resulted in full access for women to the process of conflict resolution and peacebuilding in the Middle East. The challenge remains of how to promote the full involvement of women in the peace process and how to increase cooperation between the Israeli and Palestinian sides.
Israeli and Palestinian women have shown over the years, however, that they have the potential to make a real difference in implementing lasting peace in the region whilst promoting their status and place in society. Research has shown that women, when involved in negotiations, facilitate dialogue amongst partisans and raise key issues sometimes otherwise ignored. The potential they represent in negotiations in order to end a half a century long conflict could therefore be paramount to finding a lasting two-state solution.
- Sela & Ma'oz eds, 1997, The PLO and Israel: From Armed Conflict to Political Solution, New York, St Martin's Press, p.215
- Article "Include Women to Move the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process Forward", Middle East Online
- IWC Charter of Principles
- Article "Israel and Palestinian Women Together for Peace"