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CHILDREN OF PEACE INTERVIEW: JOEL BRAUNOLD, ONEVOICE
In the latest of our regular series of interviews, Professor Sarah Brown talks to
Joel Braunold, Director of External Relations for the OneVoice Movement - an affiliate
of Children of Peace. He has worked across the business, government and NGO sectors
providing analysis and insight into the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Now in New York, he is the project director for the PeaceWorks Foundation (the parent
of the OneVoice Movement) where he manages the new economic ventures of the foundation.
A blogger for Ha'aretz.com, his work has been published in numerous national and
international publications including; the New York Daily News, the Guardian, the
Huffington Post and the Daily Beast. Joel is an alumnus of the Harvard Kennedy School
of Government and holds a BA(Hons) in philosophy from Bristol University. He is the
recipient of the Avi Schaefer Peace Innovation Prize, is a senior fellow for the
Alliance for Youth Movements and holds Honorary Life Membership to the National Union
of Students (UK).
Sarah Brown: How did you first get involved in OneVoice?
Joel Braunold: During University I was a member of the National Union of Students
National Executive Committee. While an office holder the war in Gaza (Operation Cast
Lead) broke out and I saw the effect of the conflict spill over into UK campuses
and made me wonder what people in the region thought of their advocates abroad. It
was during this time that I met Jake and Sayeeda from OneVoice Europe who were attempting
to hold the advocates of Israelis and Palestinians accountable to what people on
the ground actually thought. I had spent two years studying Talmud in Jerusalem and
thought that I knew the region well, but meeting OneVoice allowed me to actually
speak to people living under occupation and within the conflict.
When I graduated I won a fellowship with the Legacy Heritage Foundation (out of the
US) and convinced them to allow me to work for OneVoice Europe as a fellow. Now almost
five years later (with a little break for some grad school and private sector work)
I am still with the movement.
SB: Could you tell our readers about any experiences that you found particularly
striking or surprising during your involvement with OneVoice?
JB: Despite the asymmetry with the conflict the populations, Israelis and Palestinians,
are mirror images of each other. Before starting at OneVoice I had spent a significant
amount of time in Israel and knew the Israeli psyche very well. My first time travelling
to the West Bank, to work with our Ramallah office, I encountered Palestinians who
spoke about Israelis the same way that Israelis spoke about Palestinians. The populations
are so similar in their outlook of the other, both positive and negative, that it
is a tragedy that they cannot recognize themselves in the other.
SB: I recently heard Moshe Amirav give a talk in which he suggested that the Arab
League and the European Union should replace the United States as the key intermediary
in negotiations between Israel and Palestine. What is your view of that proposal?
JB: It's interesting. While I was at grad school I wrote a paper about the challenge
of the mediator being perceived as impartial. After twenty years of attempts, the
US is seen as flawed as an honest broker. Yet there are two very important points
when considering this view point.
1) It is the US's relationship to Israel that makes them a valid broker at all. The
Palestinians' main complaint is not that the US has a unique relationship with Israel,
but is that they don't use it to motivate the Israelis to achieve a two-state solution.
Seeing that any solution would require the Israelis to make the main amount of sacrifice
at this point (the Palestinians made their compromise with their acceptance of two-states),
the Israelis are the ones who need to move from the comfort of the status-quo. If
the US could use its influence to affect that, then I think that their relationship
with Israel would be seen as an asset rather than a liability.
2) There is a tendency to blame the mediator when the talks fail. The US is not involved
enough, or they are obsessed by it. They need to want the deal more than the parties
or they cannot want it more than the players involved. Whatever happens, the US is
the easy party to blame, as by blaming the party in the middle, the Israelis and
Palestinians avoid the responsibilities for their own failures. The biggest issue
is not the US but the belief gap that exists within each population. As long as the
populations are willing to accept two-states but do not believe it will happen in
the medium term, then the conflict will never be solved as those opposing a deal
enter into that incredulity gap and will build 'negative facts on the ground'. Those
opposing a two-state outcome are therefore empowered by this belief gap while those
wanting the outcome are left advocating over a diminishing reality.
Could a different format work? Well as long as the US was present at the Israeli
side and the Arab League there at the Palestinian side I think it could. One creative
idea would be to subject any agreement to a vote in the UN both in the general assembly
and at the security council where each side is ensured support therefore leveling
the playing field. Yet all the talk of different mediation is for nothing unless
the parties start trying to prepare their populations for the reality of two-states
today. If we do not start building it today then we allow the reality on the ground
to be changed by those looking for maximalist positions rather than mutually acceptable
SB: Support for the BDS movement seems to be growing. What is your own view of boycotts?
JB: I think that the first thing to say is that anything that supports non-violent
activism to show one's opposition to the occupation should not be dismissed. The
move from violence to non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation is something
that should be encouraged and supported. Having said that, there is a difference
between the tactic of boycott and the principles of the BDS movement itself.
The BDS movement is principally a rights focused movement that is supposedly agnostic
on solutions to the conflict. The rights they endorse they see as inalienable and
concern equality, right of return and end of occupation. The rights approach maintains
that nothing can mitigate these rights, they can never be balanced or negotiated
The implementation of these rights removes the ability to achieve a mutually acceptable
two-state solution. The reality of conflict resolution is that it is a balance of
rights. The right to self-determination versus the right to security. The right of
return versus the right of sovereignty over one's own population. [This should not
be interpreted that I support the current trajectory of laws in Israel around minority
rights. I do believe that you can create a state with a stable majority and equal
rights that might one day reflect changes in its demographic makeup. It is to say
however that no country can be expected to offer a population that is equivalent
to 85% of its current population the right to return and naturalize, if they so choose.]
In many cases, these rights balance individual rights versus national rights. Now
if you reject the concept of a national right then there is no balance to be sought
and therefore you can be an absolutist about the rights of the individuals in this
case. But this conflict has been about two national movements and two peoples. By
reducing it to a contest of individual rights, you remove the concept of the nation
state, something that is at the heart of the conflict for the Israelis.
In addition for many proponents of BDS Israel, as a nation, is not a rights holder.
Their positions in the negotiations are merely impositions on Palestinian rights
born out of colonialism. Reality dictates that you cannot remove the Israelis, but
you should not think of their demands in terms of rights as all of them flow from
a place of injustice.
I do not subscribe to the view that Israel has no rights. I also do not subscribe
to the view that individual rights automatically trump the collective rights of the
nation state. I think for a successful resolution that ends the occupation and achieves
a mutually acceptable two-state solution, rights have to be balanced against each
other. No side will 'win'. This is not to say that I think that the current series
of actors are negotiating in good faith.
I am a solutionist and weigh the various tactics to achieve the outcome that I think
is most realistic, in this case the two-state solution. Do I think that boycotts
make this solution more likely? Well I think demonstrating the unacceptability of
building settlements is essential. My main goal is to get the state of Israel to
stop funding them. Is the best way to get there to boycott the settlements? - I think
that in many cases the answer is yes. Is it true in all cases? No. There is no hard
and fast rule, and it is another reason I don't subscribe to an absolutist set of
principles. I'm a pragmatist looking to achieve a vision of peace that I think both
populations can accept.
SB: Which journalists/analysts on Israel/Palestine do you find most insightful?
JB: I have a rich diet of various perspectives. I think it's essential that everyone
read people that they disagree with if they want a broad view.
I generally read Haaretz, Jpost, Ynet, Times of Israel, Maan, Al-Monitor, BBC, NYTimes
Aretz 7, PNN, 972 Mag every day. In terms of most insightful, Yossi Verter's political
sketch on Friday's in Haaretz is a must read and Daoud Kuttab for Al-Monitor is great
on PA issues.
All Joel Braunolds answers are made in a personal capacity and do not reflect the
views of the OneVoice Movement. All Children of Peace interviews cover a wide range
of views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and do not necessarily reflect those
of Children of Peace.