The Power of One Voice

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published June 13, 2007, issue of June 15, 2007.
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The bad news drives out the good. Or, as I prefer, Elef’s Law: Every ounce of promising idea one can articulate will beget at least a pound of dismissive refutation.

Here comes a promising idea. It will immediately be thought implausible, but not because it lacks merit. It will be thought implausible because we have witnessed so many fruitless ideas and that we find it hard to accept that any idea can be fruitful.

The idea? Most broadly, that since there are many more moderates than there are extremists — we’re talking here about Israelis and Palestinians — if only we could mobilize the moderates, they could reverse the deteriorating course of history, write “finis” to the conflict.

Now, so many conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict begin with a wishful, even fantastical, “if only” that one’s guard is immediately alerted. Oh oh, here comes Rodney King again: “Can’t we all just get along?”

But a Mexican Jew named Daniel Lubetzky who graduated from Stanford Law School in 1993 was not deterred by the fear of being thought sappy. Instead, he founded an organization called “One Voice,” and maybe — just maybe — it’s the most practical idea around.

Suppose, Lubetzky thought, we can get a lot of people — say, for example, 1 million — on both sides, Palestinians and Israelis, to sign a joint statement of principle. And suppose we were then to put before all who’ve signed a set of policy propositions and ask them to vote on each. And suppose a broad consensus could be generated regarding the propositions.

Might that not shift the current imbalance of power between extremism and moderation? Might not sufficient momentum thereby be generated to impel politicians to heed the express will of their people?

It turns out that so far, 380,000 people — 200,000 Palestinians and 180,000 Israelis — have signed on to the framing pledge. More than that: Last month, smack in the middle of the ongoing mayhem in Gaza, 14,000 Gazans added their names to the list.

The pledge? In its most basic version, an affirmation of the rights of both peoples to independence, national security, personal safety, sovereignty, freedom, dignity, respect, and economic viability and a call on the political leadership “to immediately commence negotiations and implement a two-state solution” to the conflict.

And the vote? There are 10 propositions; the first and arguably the most important, endorsed by 76% of both Palestinians and Israelis, says “Israel will be the state of the Jewish people and Palestine the state of the Palestinian people, each recognizing the other as such, both democratic and respecting human rights, including minority rights.” Together, the propositions follow, roughly, “the Clinton parameters.”

Lubetzky and his colleagues appear to have touched most if not all bases. They have successfully reached across partisan and ideological constituencies.

Their 37 member Honorary Board of Advisors includes such disparate people as Avishai Braverman, former president of Ben Gurion University of the Negev; Muhammad Ali; Stuart Eisenstat; Dennis Ross; Thomas Pickering; Jim Zogby, executive director of the Arab American Institute; Sheik Taysir al Tamimi, chief Palestinian Islamic justice; and Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of the United Kingdom.

Its trustees advisory council, drawn principally from business leaders, includes the founders of Craig’s List and Travelocity. It has an entertainment council that is growing too rapidly to keep accurate track, but that includes Jason Alexander, Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman and Danny DeVito.

Most of all, however, it engages in extensive grass-roots organizing, training youth leaders in both societies to recruit others, to organize town meetings, to help grow One Voice into a genuine mass movement. It is One Voice’s success at mobilizing and training some thousands of young people that earned it an appearance at this year’s World Economic Forum at Davos, where Shimon Peres, Mahmoud Abbas and Tzipi Livni shared the stage with videocasts of One Voice town hall meetings in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Tel Aviv.

The mantra of the videocasts, put forward by young Arabs and Jews pledged to live in mutual regard: “What are you willing to do to end the conflict?”

For now, all this is not yet a new wind. But it is more than a wisp, and One Voice is planning what it hopes will be a huge demonstration in early September, an endorsement of its grass-roots approach to conflict resolution, a demonstration that will take place simultaneously in Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Jericho and Gaza City.

What lessons can we derive from what has so far happened?

First, there really are few limits, others than those we impose on ourselves, to what one person can achieve. In this instance, one person can initiate and build a mass movement — if others are prepared to listen, to take him seriously and hopefully.

Second, and more startling: There is someone to talk to. There is a partner.

There is no reason not to believe that for every 1,000 people who have so far signed the framing pledge there are 5,000 more who would — and will — gladly add their signatures. There is no reason not to believe that for every 1,000 youth leaders who have been trained to lend an active hand at mobilizing a voice for peace, there are 10,000 more who have the will and can muster the courage to add their hand to the effort.

Those signatures, those hands, are not sufficient to make peace. But they are sufficient to say to the leaders of both sides, “What are you willing to do to end the conflict? Do it, and we will be with you. That is what we can do. That is what we are doing.”

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