Why the Peace Process Needs More Women Now

October 14, 2020

On Friday, September 18, the first night of Rosh Hashanah, two consequential events occurred: the world lost the feminist icon in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and women took to social media in droves to issue a rallying cry: “she would want us to grieve by fighting.” This call to action mobilized gender equality advocates and led to record-breaking fundraising efforts.

As for me, I recommitted to uphold Ginsburg’s mission to eradicate gender inequity, and began contemplating my role as a contemporary American Jewish woman. And, in this moment, I realized that I wished this same sense of urgency existed in promoting the role of women within the diasporic Zionist community and in the broader pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Jewish people have a long, proud tradition of teshuva (the act of returning from our sins to the highest version of ourselves) and, more broadly, of correcting inequities. However, these efforts have yet to translate into meaningful representation of women in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process or in ongoing Arab-Israeli normalization efforts. Furthermore, there’s mounting evidence suggesting that these initiatives are less likely to succeed in the long term without women’s participation. If Jewish women want to uphold Justice Ginsburg’s legacy, we must join our communities in demanding a seat at the negotiating table — and all leadership forums. Progress has never been linear, but Jewish leaders can start to catalyze women’s political representation through the five below steps:

  1. Increase Awareness Among Institutions

Throughout much of my Jewish or Israel-centered education, I was unaware of women’s historical exclusion from negotiations and the benefits of their participation. Until our community acknowledges the extent of this representation problem, we cannot start to fix it. A study from the Council on Foreign Relations highlights the discrepancy: in major peace processes from 1992-2018, only 4% of signatories and 13% of negotiators were women. But when women participated, resulting agreements were 64% less likely to fail and 35% more likely to last 15 years. If statistics are too esoteric, look no further than the images in the media coverage from the recent normalization deals between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain: not a single woman appeared to be present at the negotiating tables. Not only is this harmful as a precedent for women optically, it is dishonest representation of the constituencies within both negotiating societies.

Throughout much of my Jewish or Israel-centered education, I was unaware of women’s historical exclusion from negotiations and the benefits of their participation.

  1. Embrace Diverse Leadership Styles

To allow women to envision themselves at the negotiating tables, we have to create a new narrative about leadership, one that celebrates the unique characteristics that women bring to the political stage. For instance, those involved in major negotiations believe women canwork effectively across partisan lines. We can also elevate the profiles of women who have successfully guided peace talks to learn from their tactics: In 2013–2014 negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, Tzipi Livni reportedly advocated for parties to ignore political distractions and continue to discuss concrete agenda items—even though other members of her team appeared ready to filibuster talks.

  1. Avoid Politicization

The consequences of vicious hyperpolarization hurt the Diaspora community and the progress of women’s rights and representation. Equal participation of women in negotiations should not be controversial. It should be a welcome opportunity for liberals and conservatives to coalesce and start to work together again—not only in the service of equity but also in the service of problem-solving. Time and time again, history suggests that the prioritization of country over party pays off; more women at the table can help with that. Witness, for instance, Secretary of State Condolezza Rice’s evolution from “passive participant to activist diplomat” in the 2007 Annapolis Peace Process. Rice’s willingness to break with conservatives to achieve near-success in negotiations exemplifies the benefits of disregarding shortsighted political pressure and prioritizing peace over party.

  1. Implement Achievable Objectives

Jewish communal coalitions need to translate abstract support for women’s representation into tangible planning. We can begin by promoting existing initiatives that deserve our attention and support. For example, the nonprofit Gender Avenger, whose mission is to ensure women are represented in the public dialogue, created a pledge that asks signatories to confirm that they will not serve as a panelist at a public conference when there are no women on its panels. Additionally, Israel Policy Forum, a nonprofit policy organization mobilizing support for a viable two-state solution (where I’m involved with as a lay leader), recently launched the Women Peace and Security effort, committing to “advancing women’s involvement, expertise, and leadership in Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding and Jewish communal affairs.”

  1. Speak Up, Show Up.

Everyone has a critical part to play in helping achieve equality, and it starts from the ground up. Insist a woman asks the first question at your Q&A, encourage women to join your board, and translate your voice into meaningful action. It really is that simple.

In his recently published memoir, Friendly Fire, Ami Ayalon, former head of the Shin Bet, envisioned that a female leader of Israel will be the one who legislates and enacts a two-state solution. I love imagining the woman in Ayalon’s dream and hope I get to meet her — and I hope you do too — because until we all attain equality, we cannot attain a perfect America or a perfect Israel. In the words of Justice Ginsburg, “when I’m sometimes asked, ‘when will there be enough [women on the Supreme Court]?’ and I say ‘when there are nine,’ people are shocked. But there’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”

Alexandra Stabler is the Founding Chair of IPF Atid’s Los Angeles chapter, Israel Policy Forum’s young professionals community. Currently, Alex works as a strategic marketing and communications consultant, specializing in ideating and executing entertainment and public affairs initiatives.

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