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Jews and Arabs Join to Issue Grass-roots Call for Peace Plan

May 15, 2003
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A group of Israeli and Palestinian moderates hope the “people’s road map” to peace they unveiled this week will draw hundreds of thousands of backers on both sides.

Unlike previous peace plans, this one is slated to go before the Israeli and Palestinian people, who will vote on its content.

“This is the mother of all polls,” said Mohammad Darawshe, an Israeli Arab political strategist and one of the plan’s authors.

Officially called OneVoice, the campaign was co-authored by Daniel Lubetzky, a Mexican Jew who in the mid- 1990s launched an Israeli-Palestinian food distribution company known as PeaceWorks.

Darawshe and Lubetzky detailed their plan in a news conference Tuesday at the New York headquarters of billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

“We want to achieve a concrete vision of what are the self interests of the Israelis and what are the self interests of the Palestinians, and where do they meet,” Lubetzky said.

OneVoice is the most recent example of a new crop of popular peace movements springing up in recent weeks. Last week, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace launched a national petition drive for a plan that would pay to move Jewish settlers back inside pre-1967 Israel.

“There has been a tremendous explosion of grass-roots activity for peace,” said Stephen P. Cohen, a scholar at the Israel Policy Forum and an expert on nongovernmental diplomacy.

One critic called the effort “naive.”

The president of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, said the crux of the conflict does not rest in Jewish settlements or “road maps” to peace.

“After 10 years of a regime that promotes murder and hatred in the entire culture, that orders and finances the murder of Israelis and doesn’t arrest the killers,” those behind efforts such as OneVoice “don’t understand that the issue is Israel’s existence,” Klein said.

Cohen said OneVoice and last week’s “Call to Bring Settlers Home to Israel” by the Jewish Alliance mark the first time such activism has emerged since the Oslo peace process collapsed with the eruption of the Palestinian intifada in September 2000.

The intifada created “a sense of shock that petrified the peace instinct,” Cohen said. “That’s been replaced by a feeling that it’s time to do something. And let’s just do it.”

OneVoice is running with the Nike marketing slogan — “Just do it” — and aiming high. By the end of the summer, the group hopes to convince 10,000 Israelis and Palestinians to sign a statement of “principles for reconciliation” that would get both sides to back a two-state peace plan and stir new trust.

So far, OneVoice has collected signatures from more than 1,550 Israelis and Palestinians.

The principles include:

accepting the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to coexist independently, with personal and state security;

calling for an end to Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while ending “terrorism”;

recognizing the “suffering experienced by both sides”; and

backing efforts by leaders to pursue a two-state peace agreement.

OneVoice’s sponsors say most Israelis and Palestinians are moderates who support these goals, despite opinion polls in Israel backing the fight on terror and among Palestinians supporting terrorist attacks against Israel.

This week’s announcement kicked off a major telephone, newspaper, TV and online media campaign, largely in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Group leaders say they hope to raise $5 million for the overall effort.

OneVoice has won some major backing already. Computer giant IBM kicked in $450,000 for a Web site,, where Israelis and Palestinians will be able to vote on the standards for peace.

Like the cash-for-settlement plan, this effort also has gone after celebrity support. Lending their names are Hollywood figures as Brad Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, Danny DeVito and Jason Alexander; Washington names such as former undersecretary of state Stuart Eizenstat and Arab American pollster James Zogby; religious and communal leaders such as Sufi Muslim Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman; media names like the editor of Time magazine, Joshua Cooper Ramo.

For the plan’s next phase, OneVoice assembled a team of Israeli and Palestinian academic and political experts who were involved in past Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, including the 1991 Madrid summit to the 2000 Camp David talks.

Those experts will draft a one-page, 10-point plan that will go before Israelis and Palestinians in a kind of referendum known as the “People’s Mandate.”

People who backed the original statement will be able to vote online for the new document.

Experts then will reconvene to negotiate a final document based on the popular priorities — but OneVoice officials take pains not to dub it a peace plan to rival the “road map” or other efforts.

“The process is important,” said David Leffler, OneVoice’s Israeli executive director, a former aide to Yitzhak Rabin and former director general of the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Such tough issues as “the right of return — I don’t know the way around it,” Leffler added. “Let’s see what the people have to say.”

OneVoice officials say they hope to get the ears of top government leaders on both sides.

On the Israeli side, Leffler represents a key connection to figures such as Labor Party legislator Matan Vilnai.

Leffler’s Palestinian counterpart is Fathi Darwish, former director general of the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Nongovernmental Affairs. He has connections to Yasser Mahmoud Abbas, son of the new P.A. prime minister.

OneVoice will affect government policy either by prodding government leaders to act or by building a following so big the politicians will have to listen, Darawshe said.

“We will force it onto the public agenda,” he said.

Cohen — who, like Lubetzky, was involved in promoting business ties between Israelis and Palestinians under the Oslo peace process — was heartened by the new initiatives.

“The change is not coming from the top down, it’s bubbling up from the bottom,” he said.

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