“The people-to-people peace process is important, particularly when government level processes are not enough to ensure successfully reaching an end to hostilities,” writes Rafi Goldman an economic and strategic consultant, who directs the Center for Cooperative Development of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Development (AJEEC-NISPED).
In 1931, Sir Horace Plunkett considered the idea of a journey to Palestine to study and advise the Jewish and Arab co-operative movements, but, as Margaret Digby writes in her book on his life, the Colonial Office “took fright” and the visit was abandoned.
In his essay Palestine and Israel: A co-operative approach to conflict resolution, Rafi Goldman argues that co-operatives may be powerful actors in conflict resolution because they believe realities can change, refusing to operate by the “there is no alternative” slogan. Mr Goldman also explains how conflict resolution is linked to sustainable human development and how a people-to-people peace process is a vital element of peace agreements negotiated by governments. He thinks co-operatives could play a role in enabling both.
In the wake of the recent conflict in Gaza, the AJEEC-NISPED called for an immediate ceasefire and the end of the siege on Gaza, a return of its displaced citizens to their destroyed homes and implementation of a rebuilding plan.
AJEEC-NISPED was founded in 1998 by Dr Yehudah Paz, who dedicated his life to working towards peace between Israel and Palestine. The institute now works with a number of national and international organisations, including the Centre for Democracy and Community Development (CDCD) and Shorouq Charitable Society for Women of Palestine.
Mully Dor, chair of AJEEC-NISPED, hopes that the “tremendous pain” of the past weeks will result in an understanding that only a political solution in a regional framework can bring peace to the region.
“The co-operatives in Israel and in the Arab countries and all over the world link human co-operation with economic development,” he says. “They focus on civil society as the vehicle for successful social transformation. Through fostering collaborative Arab–Israeli grassroots co-operative enterprises, with emphasis on sustainable growth, we provide developmental opportunities for conflictual communities, so that peace is sustained through clear prospects of improvements in living standards and a hope for the future.”
AJEEC-NISPED opposes the military approach and believes in a sustainable two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict within the framework of a regional solution.
“Subsequent to a ceasefire, we call for an international conference, with representatives from all countries of the region that will advance a regional solution based on the Arab Peace Initiative,” says Mully Dor.
“Our Middle East programmes aim to support a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, based on the principles of justice, reciprocity, a sense of security and an ending of the occupation while ensuring the right for the national, social and cultural expressions of each nation. We believe that an Israeli-Palestinian peace is an integral part of the process for peace in the Middle East.
“Therefore, we are promoting the creation of a network of contacts and co-operation on the people-to-people level in the region. Together with the Centre for Democracy and Community Development in Palestine we established the Regional Peace Initiative Network based upon the principle of the Arab Peace Initiative (API). This joint forum of Israeli members of Knesset and parliamentarians from the Palestinian Authority and Arab countries met already six times in secret meetings in Cairo Egypt, Amman Jordan, Prague Ramalla and Jerusalem.”
Another project of AJEEC-NISPED has been the Joint Ventures for Peace, which brings together Israeli and Palestinian craftswomen and entrepreneurs. The project, developed with the Canadian government, supports the women in the creation of objects while participating in a dialogue on peace.
“Joint Ventures for peace has empowered participants both artistically and economically. But more than this, it has helped the women to learn about each other’s lives, hopes and dreams, breaking down the barriers that increasingly divide our two peoples. We believe the project proves that the possibility for partnering to promote peace does exist and that it offers a vision for a better future for us all,” says Mr Dor.
Despite its initial success, the project has been shelved due to the difficulty of developing trans-boundary projects between Israel and Gaza. The institute was also working on co-operating in a joint venture for the production and marketing of cherry tomatoes, strawberries and sweet potatoes as part of a new trademark – Co-operative Produce for Peace. The project involved co-operatives from the Gaza Strip, but with Hamas taking control of the area in 2007, all joint projects have been stopped.
Since Hamas came to power, Israel has imposed a policy of closure on the Gaza Strip. The blockade means that Israel issues restrictions on travel and on movements of goods between Gaza and the West Bank and Israel.
But Mr Dor thinks co-operatives can help people co-operate out of poverty, which can contribute to the peace process. In 2012 NEGEV founded the Israeli Cooperative Development Centre which helps develop new co-operative enterprises.
“We believe that a peaceful solution in the Middle East and other conflict areas around the world will not be achieved without a process of sustainable human development,” he says.
“This process must focus on meeting the ever-increasing basic human needs such as food, housing, clothing, education, health, welfare, employment, security, culture and freedom. In other words, creating a safe environment where all people can live to their fullest potential in dignity and freedom. Societies in which most people live at adequate socio-economic levels are more likely to be willing to make the compromises necessary to live in peace, both within their own communities and with their neighbours.”
Mohammed Khaled of We Effect (formerly Swedish Co-operative Center) in Palestine also thinks that co-operatives can contribute to the peace building process in the region. Mr Khaled leads We Effect’s country office in Palestine, which works with around 130 co-operatives in the West Bank and Gaza.
“When We Effect started its support in Palestine in 1998, the idea was to support the peace building process,” he said. Apart from strengthening co-ops, they also aim to establish relationships between co-operatives and organisations on both sides. However, since the Second Intifada in 2000, political barriers have made it very difficult to build such relationships.
“At all times there is a limit on what we can do,” says Mr Khaled. He explains that the current context did not encourage people from both sides to talk to each other, and neither did the language in the media. He added that at operational level, the current restrictions when it comes to exchange of commodities make it almost impossible to import goods from Palestine to Israeli regions.
We Effect focuses on helping Palestinian co-operatives enhance good governance and increase participation, transparency and accountability. “When farmers or co-operative members practice that at micro level within organisations, then they become promoters of democracy within their communities and bigger societies,” explains Mr Khaled.
He thinks that co-operatives can also enable people to get organised and have a collective voice, addressing their needs and problems and defending their rights through advocacy work at grassroots levels. Co-operative unions and apex bodies can then influence policies and laws.
“Once they see that this is an effective and efficient approach, of course it will affect their way of thinking and living,” he says, adding that this could result in a civil society approach rather than a violent one. We Effect continues to promote co-operation among Palestinian co-operatives and co-ops in Israel, but Mr Khaled thinks that the political will is still needed to achieve greater results.
“Both sides as co-operative movements need to have a minimum stability at political level to enable them to do their work,” added Mr Khaled. We Effect is also working on opening a regional office in Jerusalem to enable a better collaboration with co-operative in Israel.