Learn lessons from Northern Ireland to solve Israeli-Palestinian conflict


12 July 2017

New research concludes Israeli-Palestinian peace building projects lead to significant attitude changes, but must be expanded for maximum benefit.

A landmark new study concludes that grassroots Israeli-Palestinian peace building projects work and are a vital missing ingredient in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The ground-breaking study, released today, was commissioned by Israel and Middle East think tank BICOM, and written by Ned Lazarus, a Professor at George Washington University and expert on peacebuilding in Israel and the West Bank.

After the most comprehensive review ever conducted in this area, based on 20 years of evaluation data and extensive field work, the report proves that peacebuilding programmes work. Almost 1 in 5 participants were still heavily involved in peace building 20 years after attending their first event and, on average, more than 80 per cent of participants said they trusted the other community more.

Key findings include:

  • Policy makers should learn the lessons from the Northern Ireland peace process. Well-funded peace building projects that brought the two communities together were in place 12 years before the Good Friday Agreement and helped make it possible. They remain in place today, to protect the agreement and show that long-term investment in peace building can bring lasting change to intergroup relations in a conflict environment.
  • Peace building creates peacebuilders and constituencies for peace. For example, 17.5 per cent of participants in a programme run by the NGO Seeds of Peace went on to dedicate their careers to peacebuilding work.
  • Peace building changes attitudes. Peacebuilding programmes significantly improve Israeli and Palestinian participants’ attitudes to one other. Ninety per cent of participants in a project run by the Near East Foundation said that they trusted the other community more after being in the programme.
  • Peace building creates trust and empathy between the two peoples. A programme led by the Parents Circle Families Forum found 80 per cent of participants were more willing to work for peace and 71 per cent felt more trust and empathy towards the other community.
  • Peace building projects change policy. For example Eco-Peace, an Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian environmental NGO has helped Israel double its water supply to the Palestinian Authority.
  • Sustained follow up is vital for success. One-off encounters were less successful than those that involved follow up meetings. The Seeds of Peace programme found that alumni involved in follow up meetings were twice as likely to remain active in the long-term than those that didn’t.
  • Despite the experience of Northern Ireland, and the evidence of successful peacebuilding in Israel and the West Bank, the UK is investing very small amounts in peace building projects. Just 0.2 per cent of the £68.5m DfID spends in the Palestinian Territories is invested in peace and coexistence projects.
  • The report concludes that the UK should join, and contribute significantly, to an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, following the successful model of the International Fund for Ireland (IFI).

Jonathan Powell, chief British negotiator during the Northern Ireland peace process, who wrote the preface for this report, said:

“This invaluable report suggests a practical course of action for governments and civil society. While every conflict has different causes and solutions, we know from Northern Ireland that long-term grassroots peacebuilding between the contending parties is always essential to achieving peace.”

BICOM CEO James Sorene said:

“This report establishes the clear evidence base that investment in peace building projects changes attitudes and recruits the peace activists of the future. Both are the vital missing ingredients for a successful negotiated resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and public support for its implementation. The evidence is compelling and the need is clear. This report is a wakeup call for the UK Government and its partners around the world to increase their investments in dialogue and peace building projects in Israel and the West Bank.

Professor Ned Lazarus said:

“Successful models for Israeli-Palestinian peace building have been established through decades of work, under extremely challenging conditions. To achieve broader, longer-term societal impact, these efforts need to be scaled up and to receive significant long term investment.”

John Lyndon, Executive Director of OneVoice Europe and Research Fellow at King’s College London said:

“This report is both timely and necessary, and can hopefully provide a blueprint for greater international support of civil society efforts to foster conflict resolution.”

The report sets out clear recommendations for practitioners and funders looking to help build the conditions for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Recommendations for practitioners:

Legitimacy is crucial: Broaden the appeal of peace building to new constituencies.

Don’t ignore security: Address the concerns about what will happen after Israel withdraws from areas in the West Bank.

Deliver practical benefits: Talking is important, but so is economic development, the environment, health, medicine, and technology.

Use the research record: It’s time to share successful strategies and best practices.

Recommendations for funders:

Choose your projects carefully: Best to support peace building projects that further aims that are already broadly supported, meet clear needs, and enjoy some degree of official support by the Israeli and/or Palestinian government.

Diversify: Allocate more resources to increasing the kinds of people involved in peace building and the programmes on offer.

Strength in numbers: Support effective “umbrella” peace building forums that build up the capacity and the impact of peacebuilding projects.

Think long-term: Support the establishment of an international fund to “scale up” Israeli-Palestinian civil society peacebuilding.


Charlotte Henry, Senior Press Officer
020 3745 3348
07879 644 099

Note to Editors

  1. The report, “A future for Israeli-Palestinian peace building”, can be read here.
  2. The International Fund for Ireland (IFI) has invested more than 900 million Euros in more than 6,000 civil society peacebuilding programmes in Northern Ireland over 32 years.
  3. The IFI began its work 12 years before the Good Friday Agreements were signed. It promoted economic and community development, dialogue and cooperation within and between divided communities, tackled the underlying causes of sectarianism and violence and built reconciliation between people and within and between communities throughout Ireland.
  4. We have experts in the UK available for interviews and background briefings. Please contact the press office for more information.
  5. BICOM, the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, is an independent British think tank producing research and analysis to increase understanding of Israel and the Middle East in the UK.

Endorsements from Israelis, Palestinians and peace building practitioners for BICOM’s report A future for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding

MK Hilik Bar, Deputy Speaker of the Israeli parliament. Head of the caucus for the resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict:

“The Israeli-Arab conflict is one of the most discussed conflicts in the world. There have been a great many peace plans and the research into the conflict could fill a library. So why have we not solved it yet? I believe three things are preventing it from happening right now.

First, interest: both sides must understand that peace is good for the other side, but essential and crucial for its own side even more. Second, trust: both peoples must feel deep in their hearts that peace has a chance. The individual Israeli must imagine (better, meet) the individual Palestinian and see a partner willing, just like him, to live in peace. Third, courage: only brave leaders can step out of their comfort zone and take the risk and pay the necessary price for peace. The one thing leaders cannot resist is public support. If both peoples will honestly show their leaders how much they support and trust them in their efforts for achieving peace, they won’t be able to step backwards. Each of those three elements — perceptions of self-interest, each peoples’ trust for the other and enabling the courage of leaders — are shaped by the practical peacebuilding projects discussed in this comprehensive and important report. I fully endorse it.”

Elias Zananiri, Vice-Chairman of the PLO Committee for Interaction with the Israeli Society. He is a former journalist and spokesperson for the PA’s Ministry of Interior and Internal Security:

“I would urge people to read Ned Lazarus’s important and timely report into the value of peacebuilding projects, not as an alternative to negotiations and the two state solution but as one way to help those negotiations succeed and ensure the two state solution becomes the basis for lasting peace between the two peoples.

“Let us all admit that barriers of hatred, suspicion, and ignorance of the other, and the reopening of past wounds with every clash between Palestinians and Israelis, continue to prevent the two sides from reaching a lasting and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution along the 1967 lines, as stipulated in the latest UN recognition of the state of Palestine on 29th November 2012. That’s why the work of both BICOM and Fathom is hugely important. Both know how to zoom out and look at the big picture, understanding the conflicting views on both sides, and then zoom in to address the differences. Both bring stakeholders together from both sides together and organise fruitful discussions. It is this kind of work that helps remove stereotypes and enmities between the two parties to the conflict, and that is exactly why this effort is needed.

“As a Palestinian who has been deeply involved in media and political activism throughout the past four decades or more, I can say that while the Palestinians have taken the strategic change in their approach by accepting the notion of the two state solution and recognizing Israel’s right to exist within recognized and secure borders along the June 1967 lines, we still see that the Israeli side has failed to reciprocate with this change in the PLO position.

“The joint work of BICOM and Fathom in facilitating meetings between the two sides, scrutinising what went right and what went wrong in the process of negotiations over the past two decades is very important. That’s how we address those differences and bring the two sides closer to understanding each other. Only by understanding the other and accepting the other’s existence can the Arab-Israeli conflict be solved. BICOM and Fathom are leading both of us closer along that route. Their encouragement of dialogue is highly important and our hope is that one day, sooner rather than later, their effort brings the fruit that parties to the conflict have yearned for.”

Polly Bronstein, CEO, Darkenu:

“This report is inspiring. In the last twenty years of terrorism and failed diplomacy, Israelis and Palestinians have become more distant, more fearful and less known to one another. Left or right; religious or secular: this trend should alarm all Israelis, as no matter what happens politically — Jews and Arabs are destined to be neighbours. By working together, overcoming fear and prejudice, maybe the next generation of Israelis and Palestinians can teach their leaders a thing or two, and prepare the ground.”

John Lyndon, Executive Director of OneVoice Europe and Visiting Fellow at King’s College London:

“The Israel-Palestine conflict is one of the most heavily researched in the world. Yet a shockingly small fraction of this research focuses on the millions of Israelis and Palestinians who share this land, their relations with one another, and how such relations could be improved so that a breakthrough might be possible. This report is both timely and necessary, and can hopefully provide a blueprint for greater international support of civil society efforts to foster conflict resolution.”

Ron Gerlitz, Co-Executive Director, Sikkuy: the Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality:

“It is for many years now that different organizations and initiatives sought the promotion of a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement, as well as the creation of an equal and shared society for Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. These efforts have been made within a highly challenging socio-political context, which saw the political strengthening of radical voices who oppose Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement and the promotion of equality for Arab citizens of Israel.

“Nevertheless, there are two additional serious challenges facing such initiatives: 1) A prevailing misconception according to which these efforts and initiatives have failed thus far in generating any success or creating real impact, and that it is not possible to promote Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement and to create shared society for Jews and Arabs inside Israel through civic activism within the current socio-political environment and context. 2) Lack of sufficient knowledge regarding the optimum and most effective strategic paths of action through which civic activism could contribute to achieving these goals.

“Hence, this report by Dr. Ned Lazarus is of utmost significance for different actors who develop, implement, and invest resources in these initiatives. The report indicates that, on contrary to the prevailing perception, civic initiatives have indeed succeeded in creating meaningful change and significant impact. Additionally, the report provides professional knowledge and invaluable insights regarding effective operation methods of strategic resource investment and civic engagement that will lay a solid foundation for the promotion of Palestinian-Israeli peace and equal and shared society inside Israel.”

Dr. Nimrod Goren, Head of Mitvim: The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies

“The stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process leads to a renewed international focus on the role that civil society can play in promoting peacemaking. Increased interaction and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians is vital to enhancing mutual understanding, promoting changes in attitudes, and empowering pro-peace actors. The contribution of civil society organizations to the peace process is traditionally regarded to be on the grassroots level. However, Israeli and Palestinian organizations are currently finding themselves increasingly capable of also making policy impact — articulating new ideas, bridging knowledge gaps, conducting policy dialogues, and contributing to diplomatic processes and initiatives. The timely report by Dr. Ned Lazarus, which provides an in-depth look at the future of Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding is of high relevance and importance. It ensures that international thinking and practices regarding the role of civil society will not be limited to lessons learned in the 1990s and 2000s, but will reflect current realities on the ground, recent trends among Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations, and new knowledge in the fields of conflict resolution and transformation.”

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