Allmep: one Irish man’s plan to salvage Israeli-Palestinian relations

John Lyndon hopes to bring incremental peace to region based on Irish experience

At first glance, John Lyndon's mission to foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians might appear hopeless. But the 35-year-old Dubliner has no illusions about the enormity of the task. He comes to our appointment armed with data showing the concrete results of the people-to-people approach adopted by the Alliance for Middle East Peace (Allmep). He refers repeatedly to Irish experience at conflict resolution.

Lyndon says Brexit and the international leadership of French president Emmanuel Macron prompted him to move from London to Paris recently, to continue his role as Allmep's European representative. The group has only six full-time staff, in the US, Europe and the Middle East: an Israeli, a Palestinian, a Briton, two Americans and Lyndon.

Allmep has two main objectives: to salvage "the remnants of the peace-building community" which "fell off the cliff during the second intifada" and to obtain international contributions for a $200 million International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, modelled on the International Fund for Ireland established in 1986. Though Allmep has campaigned for the creation of the Israeli-Palestinian fund since 2009, it seeks no role in its administration.

The more hopeful era that started with the 1993 Oslo Accord ended with the second intifada (2000-2005). “We have never handed a worse set of variables to an emerging generation,” Lyndon says. “It’s a pretty damning indictment of how it’s been handled by the last generation of leaders.”

Radical Islamists, rejectionists in Palestine, radical settlers and the far right in Israel have done all the running for 25 years now

It is "very unlikely that we will reach a final status agreement in coming years", Lyndon continues. "Leaders in Israel and Palestine are either uncommitted to a two-state solution, or unable to deliver it."

‘Time bomb’

A decade ago, three-quarters of both societies said they accepted a two-state solution. Since December 2016, majorities in both populations say they no longer believe that is possible.

“In every question measuring optimism for the future, opposition to violence, support for democratic norms, respect for the other or a willingness to see the legitimacy of the other to live on this land, the younger the person you ask, the worse the answer you get, and that’s a time bomb,” Lyndon warns.

“The truth is that radical Islamists, rejectionists in Palestine, radical settlers and the far right in Israel have done all the running for 25 years now,” Lyndon continues. “These groups get up every day and do something measurable and incremental to further their goal. The next day, they do it again. That is how you change society. It doesn’t happen because of a big donor conference in a glittering hotel. It doesn’t happen because of handshakes on the White House lawn.”

The UK endorsed the plan for the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace last February. Both houses of Congress are considering draft Bills for up to $100 million in US funding for what they renamed the Palestinian Partnership Fund. It’s Allmep’s blueprint, and is unrelated to US president Donald Trump’s cutting of $600 million in funding for the Palestinians.

You have to take this incremental, long-term approach to change civilians' hearts and minds

At the same time, there are tremors of diplomatic activity. Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said on September 22nd that the Government is considering hosting a meeting in Ireland to re-start the peace process. Coveney will meet his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, in Paris next week. And there are unconfirmed reports in Israeli media this week that Macron told Trump he will launch his own initiative if Trump does not outline his peace plan soon.

If diplomacy does not reassert itself, a plan such as Allmep’s can at least “stop things from boiling over into extreme violence”, Lyndon says. “We have a responsibility to build it as a damage-limitation mechanism and as a catalyst for changing current conditions. We would love nothing more than a real, substantive diplomatic process that is likely to succeed. But just because there isn’t one doesn’t mean we do nothing.”

Conference

The University of Tel Aviv will hold a conference from November 7th-9th on parallels between the Irish and Israeli-Palestinian peace processes. Former tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and former first minister of Northern Ireland Peter Robinson are scheduled speakers. Ireland's ambassador to Israel Alison Kelly has been the driving force behind the conference.

When Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill helped launch the International Fund for Ireland, Lyndon says, "They said, 'We cannot do final status talks now . . . We have populations that massively hate each other and we have political leaderships who won't talk to each other.' They took a generational approach. They said, 'Let's work with 10-year-olds so when they're in their 20s they'll make radically different political and personal decisions.'"

The main lesson of the Irish experience is that “You have to take this incremental, long-term approach to change civilians’ hearts and minds. That’s not an elite project,” Lyndon concludes. “We have done the reverse in Israel-Palestine. Dehumanisation, racism, extremism in both societies are very prevalent, and mean that an elite project cannot succeed.”

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