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Advancing Trust and Reconciliation Among Palestinians and Israelis

working_groupsDespite setbacks and challenges, countless Palestinian and Israeli leaders remain committed to cooperating across divides and paving the way toward a more peaceful and prosperous future. These leaders are prepared, at considerable risk to themselves, to build in their respective communities the cooperation and mutual support that is so lacking at the national level.

History tells us that establishing this trust requires a focused, long-term effort to create and sustain informal, joint projects. During 2007-2008 the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress led a two-pronged effort to foster trust and reconciliation in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Conceived by Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) and endorsed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, this informal diplomatic effort was supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Ambassador Dennis Ross led an endeavor to foster socio-economic development, including cooperation on health, medicine and science projects in collaboration with Dr. Susan Blumenthal, Center Director of Health and Medicine, and Maxmillian Angerholzer, Executive Director of the Lounsbery Foundation. In a parallel effort, Ambassador Tony Hall and Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, with assistance from the Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion at the Catholic University of America, promoted interfaith cooperation in the region.

collaboratorsProject activities in each area used a dynamic approach to reconciliation between the groups. The NGO Mapping Project, led by Ambassador Ross, sought to identify moderate, effective, community-based Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and through a series of interviews, surveys of civic leaders, and commissioned focus groups, compiled detailed information on 55 NGOs throughout the West Bank. This information can be used by donors seeking to design more effective civil society programs through local partnerships.

The Palestine/Israel Health Initiative (PIHI), led by Dr. Blumenthal, fostered collaboration and increased interaction between medical, public health, academic, NGO, and scientific experts in Israel and the Palestine territories to improve the health of people in the region, as well as to promote increased cooperation and understanding. Sixty Palestine and Israeli leaders in health and medicine convened and produced compelling recommendations including improving primary care and disease prevention and creating new models for cooperation in research, education, training and the delivery of health services.

The science and technology initiative, led by Mr. Angerholzer, tapped into each group’s historic interest in the sciences and their current need to apply science to health, economic, social and general welfare issues. In January 2008, Mr. Angerholzer met with more than three dozen Israeli and Palestinian scientists and academics, hosting one roundtable session in the West Bank with Palestinian professors, and a second with Israeli and Palestinian scientists.

The final component to this initiative was led by Ambassador Hall and Cardinal McCarrick and informed by their vast experience in inter-religious cooperation. The Interfaith Cooperative Initiative’s (IFCI) primary objective was to support the integration, expansion, development and interfaith cooperation activities of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, a nascent organization in the region. Council members represent the key religious institutions of the Holy Land, and include the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, the Supreme Judge of the Shari’a Courts in Palestine, the Meeting of Heads of Local Churches, and the Patriarchs of the Latin and Orthodox Churches of Jerusalem. During a November 2007 visit of twelve Council members to Washington, DC, an historic communiqué was issued by the group, stating that the Council is committed to “prevent religion from being used as a source of conflict, and instead serve the goals of just and comprehensive peace and reconciliation.” The continued efforts of the members of the Council, the IFCI team and such partners at the Church of Norway and A Different Future make clear that the Council of Religious Institution of the Holy Lands has become an active venue for sustainable interfaith cooperation.

In November 2007, the Center partnered with RTI International and the Meridian International Center to host a unique forum to discuss the issue of values in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Lord John Alderdice, a prominent negotiator and mediator closely involved in the negotiations that led to the Good Friday agreement ending the Northern Ireland conflict, facilitated discussions offering participants, including guests from the region and other persons of influence in Washington, a new perspective on the conflict.


Advancing Trust and Reconciliation Among Palestinians and Israelis