Women and the Peace Talks

Two important issues to gain traction in Israeli civil society this past year are gender issues and the peace process. And while neither is new, there has been movement on both. Gender issues exploded onto the scene in 2011 with the ultra-orthodox fanatical takeover of public space in the Israeli town of Beit Shemesh by terrorizing young girls and women as they walked city streets. Women of the Wall, now celebrating its 25th anniversary of challenging the use of the "public space" at the Kotel, became front and center recently with extensive media attention.

And then there is the peace process, a stop-and-start challenge, which has become the single most omnipresent issue for Israeli and Palestinian civil society -- and not just for the politicians and religious leaders among us. One might argue that with Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni as chief negotiator for the Israeli team as well as the recent nomination of Karnit Flug as chair of the Bank of Israel, the gender issue might go away. Unfortunately, not so.

In August of this year I wrote a blog about UN Resolution 1325 and the work being done in Israel on the issue. On Oct. 31, the 13th anniversary of UN Resolution 1325, a comprehensive national action plan for Israel was finally launched by three outstanding Israeli human rights organizations: Itach-Maaki, Women in the Public Sphere (WIPS), and Agenda. With Israeli Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni and Robert Serry, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, in attendance, five women members of the Knesset (MKs), many prominent Palestinian women, hundreds of Israeli women -- and yes, some men -- heard about the launch of the plan. Israel is now one of the 43 countries around the world to have introduced such a plan. Now we need the government to adopt it and to implement it.

So, what is the problem? I have two of them. First, only one journalist chose to write about what I see as one of the most relevant issues today facing Israel -- including women in all decision-making bodies. It is disturbing to see that no one else seems to think this development is important, interesting, and/or significant enough to write about.

The frightening news that came out only last week from the talks is that the Palestinian representatives almost walked out and the Israelis were non-committal. Only John Kerry's diplomacy brought them back to the table -- or maybe not. I say "or maybe not" because no one really knows. And with this week's blunder around new settlements being built (or not), things are not progressing well around the peace table.

I understand the need for complete secrecy around the talks so that both parties can be open and willing to negotiate, but I do not understand the secrecy about who is sitting at the table. So my second gripe is why don't we know who is sitting at the table? How can we call for more women to represent us if we don't even know who is already sitting there? We know about Tzipi Livni and we know about Yitzhak Molcho, who are leading the talks for the Israeli side, but that is pretty much it.

So my call is for transparency. Both MK Zehava Gal-On and newcomer MK Stav Shaffir are doing their darnedest to call for transparency within the Knesset and in particular on the finance and national security committees that they sit on. Transparency is the first step toward implementing 1325. Yes, we want more women: We want a diverse group of women who come to the table as women with experience, knowledge and a commitment to ending the conflict so that all sides, particularly women, are no longer victims of war.

But first, we need to know if there are any women at all. So if anyone who is on the negotiating team is willing to make that public knowledge, please step forward, so that we women can get on with the business at hand.