By: David Matz
Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salaam (Oasis of Peace) is an intentional village of Arab and Jews in Israel. In recent years the village (through its School for Peace) has been conducting extensive training for young environmentalists, urban planners, mental health workers, and other professionals. Each training group is composed of Israeli Jews, Israeli Palestinians, and West Bank Palestinians. The goal of these trainings has been to build good relationships among young leaders and to help them develop leadership skills.
Currently there is a training underway for “up and coming politicians.” There are 60 participants in the training, which is being done in three groups of twenty each. One of those groups has been meeting once a month for several months, and in October they participated in a five-day training in negotiation. The core of the training was a role-play in which Palestinians and Jews negotiated about Jerusalem, settlements, water, and refugees. Yael Ephron, an Israeli trainer, and I were present and we had the opportunity to respond to each negotiating session with comments about negotiating technique.
The training took place in Aqaba, Jordan, because it is close by and is legally accessible for all the participants. (Even so, three Palestinians from Israel were not permitted to cross the border, reasons ungiven.) Among Palestinians, particularly on the West Bank, there is a cultural rule (not a law) forbidding Palestinians from engaging in activity with Israeli Jews, as it is feared that this will have the effect of “normalizing” the occupation. Nonetheless all the participant slots have been filled, though several Palestinians asked to not have their picture taken for any of the publicity photos or videos.
The goal of building relationships among young leaders is clearly going very well judging by their obvious interest in each other and the many Jewish-Palestinian conversations one could see. The skills training, in my judgment, needs honing, and the question of whether more negotiation training will interfere with building good relationships is the subject of on-going discussion.