For Mideast Peace, Talks Must Be Opened to Women

   •    September 8, 2010

This article, co-authored by Carla Koppell and Rebecca Miller, was originally published by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As the US relaunches Israeli-Palestinian talks, it sorely needs to reassess the negotiation process. Previous talks have suffered from lack of both transparency and inclusiveness. For most of the past 20 years, an extremely small group of high-level political leaders has met behind closed doors, rarely sharing information with or seeking input from their stakeholders. If negotiators are serious about lasting peace, they need to take the time to engage those who matter most – their people, who feel little ownership of talks specifically because they are rarely consulted.

We recently returned from a trip to Ramallah, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where we worked with exceptional women leaders to create recommendations for improving Israeli-Palestinian talks. At that time, President Obama was about to secure commitments to a new round of negotiations. Yet rooms full of smart, educated leaders who want peace knew nothing about their representatives’ positions or plans. Because of this secrecy, a fog of pessimism encircled the meetings. That pessimism persists as the formal dialogue has begun. At best, everyone expects the same old inconclusive process; at worst, they fear the talks will end on September 26, when the settlement freeze deadline passes.

The best way to give affected populations more ownership of the process is to open the talks to women – and not just because women are half the population. Research shows that when women are included in negotiations, they regularly raise key issues otherwise ignored by male negotiators. Women often facilitate cross-conflict talks on the margins of formal negotiations that cultivate public investment in negotiations. When formally involved, women often help talks gain traction.

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