Joel Braunold, executive director of Alliance for Middle East Peace
Joel Braunold, executive director of Alliance for Middle East Peace

‘It’s never been harder’ to work for peace in Israel, says NGO head

Collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians is facing a funding crisis because of an underreported U.S. government action, the head of the Alliance for Middle East Peace warns, and things will only get worse as Israelis near national elections.

Joel Braunold, executive director of ALLMEP, wrapped up a week of West Coast appearances with a talk Jan. 31 at the Peninsula JCC in Foster City by predicting it will be at least 20 years before there can be any solution to the Middle East standoff.

And the short-term prospects for cross-cultural contacts and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians, from youth soccer to ecological and business partnerships, also will prove extremely challenging.

Braunold gave his talk to about 30 people at the PJCC a day before the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act took effect, virtually eliminating funding for such collaborations.

The ATCA originally was envisioned as a way of forcing the Palestinian Authority to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to victims of terrorism if it were to accept any U.S. funds. The PA responded by saying it no longer would accept any U.S. money, including funding for Israeli-Palestinian collaborations.

Braunold said U.S. taxpayers have been by far the largest source of funding for reconciliation efforts, with Congress approving $100 million for such collaborations over the past decade.

Much of that money has gone to the 110 nonprofits and other people-to-people organizations that make up ALLMEP, a trade association that Braunold said is “focused on building relationships between Palestinians and Jews. We act as a platform for cooperation. We grow the market.”

This work is not nice. It’s necessary.

In urging PJCC audience members to contact their House representatives and Senators to push for changes to the ATCA, Braunold warned that threats to collaboration are about to get much more substantial because of impending Israeli elections — in which he says most candidates will try to show how tough they’ll be on the Palestinians.

“This work is not nice. It’s necessary,” he said. “It’s never been harder to do this work. It’s just a fact. When bad things, such as violent attacks, happen, it has a direct impact on the social cohesion of Israel. And the worst things are elections.

“The work is not rejected in Israel, but it’s definitely seen as a very leftist thing. This work is countercultural and is extremely brave.”

Braunold’s visit was part of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council’s “Invest in Peace” series. Co-sponsors included Congregation Beth Jacob of Redwood City, Peninsula Sinai Congregation in Foster City, Peninsula Temple Beth El of San Mateo and Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame.

ALLMEP has proposed a $200 million annual International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, of which about 25 percent of the money would come from each of four entities — the United States, Europe, Arab nations and the private sector. It would be modeled on a similar fund that helped bring about peace in Northern Ireland two decades ago after centuries of sectarian strife.

Braunold said such a fund is crucial because there’s so little traction among young Israelis and Palestinians for cooperation or peacemaking efforts. People over 65 represent the biggest group of peace activists in Israel and “the youth are the least optimistic and the most fearful,” he said.

“Older people are much more pro-peace [but] their kids have no experience of collaboration,” he said. “I think we’re at least 20 years out [from peace]. There are consequences of 25 years of failure, and that’s that we’ve lost this generation.”

Rob Gloster

Rob Gloster z"l was J.'s senior writer from 2016-2019.