The Downside of Peacebuilding

Is the peace process heating up or slowing down? I’m an active Jewish peacenik, and that’s the kind of question that gets attention in those circles. But it leaves me cold. I’d rather rehash the past.
During the Oslo peace process, I worked briefly for an outfit called the International Center for Peace in the Middle East. It was founded by Abba Eban, and for a number of years was an institutional force for peace that connected Zionists, non-Zionists, Palestinians, Arabs, Europeans and North Americans seeking to advance peace. Good people worked there for years. (It was the model for the Peres Center for Peace btw.)
That said, my boss was OB, who was charged with corruption after his tenure as executive director. (I think he was convicted – he disappeared to Europe for years.) His successor, former Meretz MK Zehava Galon, examined the books and called the police. The charges were mostly around two issues: extensive billing for expenses, and fudging the reports to donors regarding the use of funds. As someone with a hand in writing fundraising reports and reporting on projects to the funders, I can affirm that not everything was kosher. Internally, folks sort of knew that OB was a shady character and the very image of a seductive rogue. He was a very good diplomat.
At last year’s J Street conference, I saw OB for the first time in nearly fifteen years. It came back to me: the reputation for womanizing, the late night meetings with impressionable young (female) journalists, the home in Jaffa as part of the wave of Arab-displacing gentrification, the tortuous language used to report to funders how we spent their money. These aren’t entirely separate activities, despite what you may think.
When peacemaking was ‘in’ and respectable parts of Israeli society where invested in it, this included cynical journalists, former army officers and intelligence agents, and various capitalists with ‘new middle east’ stars in their eyes. Not to mention offbeat Orthodox rabbis, ‘peacenik’ settlers, Hamas reformists, and Palestinian Authority returnees in fancy new cars. ICPME was squarely in the center of all this peacemaking.
For the most part, these respectable parts of Israeli society withdrew from supporting peace overly much. Their disengagement was part of a general rightward, pessimistic, ‘realistic’ trend in Israeli politics. But they are waiting in the wings – ready to resume their previous role as professional intermediaries between the Israeli and Palestinian societies. Waiting to fundraise for ‘People to People’ projects. Joint youth camps. International delegations to Scandinavian conferences. Learning missions to Cyprus and the Balkans. ‘Competitive Advantage’ seminars for future binational business initiatives. Water saving cross border initiatives. And all the rest.
All these programs will cost money, and the money will flow to those who best understand the ins and outs of embassy schmoozing and sweet talking foundation executives. Lovable rogues like OB will resurface, showing up in Washington DC to shake hands with whoever seems important – Jeremy Ben Ami and his board of directors might be useful someday. Maybe they can help steer some future USAID ‘peacebuilding’ grant towards whatever organization he ends up running.
It kind of makes me sick.
As a supporter of Israeli-Palestinian peace, I should want to see a successful diplomatic breakthrough. Some compromise allowing the mainstream in both societies to reach some sort of accommodation. But it kills me to think of all the sleazy bastards – on both sides – who will glad hand and smooth talk their way to fame and fortune. None of these folks will migrate from the human rights organizations, or Anarchists Against the Wall, or Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators, or Gush Shalom.
The winners won’t be those who lost the most in the war. They’ll be the ones best at exploiting the peace. Do we really want to help them?

8 thoughts on “The Downside of Peacebuilding

  1. Jew Guevara writes: But it kills me to think of all the sleazy bastards – on both sides – who will glad hand and smooth talk their way to fame and fortune.
    “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” -probably Harry S. Truman (ironically the source of this quote is unclear)

  2. Israel is in the Middle East
    Casablanca is in the Middle East
    Therefore Israel is Casablanca
    One of these days someone will set up a Middle East studies course. I mean a real Middle East studies course, as in it takes 2 ‘X’ to cheat a ‘Y’. I takes 2 ‘Y’ to cheat a …
    And so forth

  3. How did societies ever get along without the do-gooder industry greasing the wheels?
    Btw, what’s the equivalent of “non-Zionist” on the Palestinian side?

  4. This might sound crazy, but there are plenty of Palestinians who have actively worked for Israeli interests. They are called ‘collaborators’ and thousands of them were more or less willing, on top of the thousands who were coerced.
    Beyond that group, there are tens of thousands who genuinely admire Israeli society for its democracy, openness, personal freedom, and relative secularism. This is mixed with a certain amount of horror at the sins Israel is guilty of, but still.
    As an alternative to the do gooder industry, allow me to submit the victorious revolutionaries, who line up the defeated faction against the wall. Not saying that’s better, only that alternatives do exist.

  5. @ fs. The president’s name was Harry S Truman. No “.” after the “S” because it didn’t stand for anything. He had no middle name, just the “S”.
    In fact, sometimes he was referred to as “Harry S for nothing Truman.”

  6. Quick story:
    I applied for a grant with a Gaza youth organization. It was declined. Oh well. A week later I get a call from another Gaza youth organization – Greenpeace Gaza. (no relation) It seems they had forged an application with my NGO listed as the Israeli partner. Hrm.
    I contacted the Israeli partner managing this effort, the CRB Foundation, let by a former leader of Peace Now. What to do? I was asked, nicely, to just go along with it, take my share of the money, and do the project.
    I complained and said that allowing Greenpeace Gaza to get any money at all after forging our name on an application, for a much crapper project made no sense.
    Ah, but it did. The process for allocating ‘People to People’ grants was quite political, and these particular Gazans were well connected. They were allowed to simply trade us out for another Israeli group, and do the project. Though I have no idea if it ever took place.
    Perhaps this was the only such mishap. But I doubt it.
    And what about the Oslo architect who was taking three full time salaries for three different projects? (The funders compared notes and figured it out.)

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