Day One. Hard to believe that was just the warmup. After a lovely breakfast overlooking the city on the terrace of our hotel (and Israeli’s don’t mess around with breakfast, y’all), we got down to the business of orientation. The delegates and staff of NWI are all impressive women, not only in terms off credentials and accomplishments, but in their ability to just jump into the fray with each other. Introductions were refreshingly free of posturing, and full of heart for the task at hand. We also mentioned some women who had been invited but couldn’t join us out of fear for their security, a bracing reminder of what a privilege it was to be there, and what is at stake.
Then we had our first briefing, from Zahira Kamal and Naomi Chazan, a Palestinian and an Israeli respectively, and a pair of activists who’ve been working together for peace for decades. Zahira, a founding member of the International Women’s Commission and Former Minister of Women’s Affairs for the Palestinian National Authority, gave us a detailed history of the region and the conflict, and Naomi, President of the New Israel Fund and an active member of the International Women’s Commission, offered a perspective on the present-day obstacles to peace, the urgency of the timing (evidently if a two-state solution is not arrived at by next August, the whole matter may be referred to the UN Security Council, and whatever they decide will be out of Palestine and Israel’s hands, which wouldn’t be the best outcome, to put it mildly). Naomi identified three main constraints to moving forward:
1) Skepticism (e.g. 70% of Israelis want a 2 state solution, but at the same time, 70% of Israeli’s don’t believe it will ever happen)
2) Spoilers (e.g. the far right radicals on each side who don’t want peace, they want nothing less than the destruction of the other people. They’re well funded, sophisticated and well-organized, and have influence way outstripping their actual numbers, much like the far right in the US.)
3) Superficiality (e.g. diplomats and other players who want to appear to be involved in the peace process but don’t really want to get their hands dirty with the difficult work of actually building peace)