Meanwhile, in Ramallah: Israelis and Palestinians Engage in Real Dialogue

On June 1st, the Palestinian Peace Coalition and H. L. Education for Peace – together the Geneva Initiative, brought together a group of 30 Israelis and Palestinians for an intensive joint meeting in Ramallah. They got to know each other, reflected on how the conflict affects their lives and talked about how they can work together to advance the two-state solution.
The group was composed of 15 Israelis and 15 Palestinians, all recent graduates of the Geneva Initiative's Advanced Political Courses. It was exceptionally diverse, and included representatives of parties and groups who do not traditionally support the two-state solution. Among others, the meeting brought together activists from Israeli parties such as the ultra-orthodox Shas and United Tora Judaism and Palestinian parties such as Fatah.

Nidal Foqaha, Director General of the Palestinian Peace Coalition-the Geneva Initiative (PPC), opened by telling participants about the different peace-building efforts the PPC engages in across the West Bank. Then, Bashar Iraqi, Media Director at the Palestinian Committee for Interaction with the Israeli Society (PCIIS) talked about his own organization's efforts to reach out to Israelis and create opportunities for constructive dialogue. This briefing was meant to map possible initiatives and political courses of action the Palestinian participants can take to advance peace within their own circles of influence. At the same time, it demonstrated to the Israeli participants that many Palestinians are not only supportive of a negotiated settlement to the conflict, but are also actively pursuing it. This message is particularly important in a time where the prevailing narrative in Israel is that there is no 'partner' on the other side.

Later, participants were divided into small groups, which allowed them to engage in free and candid discussion about themselves, their national narratives and the different ways the ongoing conflict affects them in their daily lives. One Israeli participant told his Palestinian group members about his experiences during the 2014 Gaza war: residing in the southern city of Ashkelon, he spent the summer under constant rocket attacks. A Palestinian participant then talked about his daily commute from Bethlehem to Ramallah, which is interrupted by three different check-points – often creating long delays.

The Participants were fascinated to hear one another. This came as no surprise: since the beginning of the second Intifada and the building of the separation barrier, Israelis and Palestinians have been almost completely disconnected from one-another. Unlike their parents' generation, many younger Israelis, for instance, have not had a chance to meet Palestinians outside of their military service. So simply sitting down to talk was not only a rare occasion for this group, but also quite a moving experience for many of them.

After spending some time listened to each other's stories and experiences, the participants were eager to start talking about what really matters: the future. They discussed what needs to be done to solve the conflict and build sustainable peace between the two societies, and what kind of compromises are necessary as part of a two-state solution. One Israeli participant asked a Palestinian whose family originally resided in the city of Jaffa, if he would be willing to give up his hope to return to his family's home. "For real peace, based on the two-state solution", he said, "I'd be willing to give that up".

In all of our activities, we encourage our participants to think about what they can do within their own circles of influence to advance the two-state solution. We were happy to hear that as a result of this encounter, a group of Israeli and Palestinian participants have decided to work together to create new opportunities for dialogue within their own communities, thus spreading the message of peace to new audiences. In the upcoming months, we will follow up with this inspirational group, and help guide their efforts to advance peace.

This activity was made possible through the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).