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22 July 2020
UNA-NCA Shares Stories of Middle Eastern Young Leaders
By Henry Webster-Mellon, UNA-NCA Program Assistant

On Tuesday, July 7, UNA-NCA and New Story Leadership (NSL), a non-profit committed to bridging the cultural and political divide between Israeli and Palestinian young leaders, convened a panel of four young Palestinian and Israeli leaders as well as over 80 guests to consider the status of Israeli-Palestinian conflict and explore what role of the United Nations should play in the peacebuilding process. 

Welcoming panelist and attendees to the event was John Callaghan, a Co-Founder of New Story Leadership, alumnus of the Washington Ireland Program, and a current employee of Ireland’s Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade. John’s experience participating in the Washington Ireland Program (WIP) – an organization sharing the mission and approach of NSL but with a focus on Northern Ireland and Ireland – motivated him to found NSL in 2008. Not having known any unionists during his youth, participating in WIP gave John the opportunity to build relationships with those across the border and transform his understanding of the conflict. Eleven years on since the founding of NSL, John shared how thrilled he was to see the organization continuing to build bridges between Israeli and Palestinian young leaders and concluded his remarks by saying that such efforts towards a lasting peace must be joined by meaningful, concerted action from the United Nations. 

Following John’s remarks, the event’s moderator and UNA-NCA’s Vice Chair of Programs, Tom Bradley, turned to a conversation between the event’s two Palestinian panelists, Tareq and Mahmoud, and two Israeli panelists, Doron and Meshi. A wide-ranging discussion, panelists discussed such topics as examples of successful international cooperation, what’s missing from the current conversation surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how environmental issues can act as a bridge towards peace. When asked about the role of the UN in helping to resolve the ongoing conflict, participants agreed that while international participation is critical to creating the neutral space necessary for cooperation, it too often results in third parties injecting their own agendas and biases into the process. Through its convening power, the UN can play an important role in mitigating the distorting impacts of third-party agendas and biases. As to what the contours of a final resolution may look like between Palestine and Israel, participants unanimously agreed that the ideal solution would be the creation of a single “binational” state in which all citizens enjoyed equal rights. None, however, expressed much optimism as to the immediate prospects of such a resolution, noting that, among other issues, those in leadership positions are often too detached from daily realities to understand the consequences of their decision-making. Finally, when asked how Americans can play a constructive role in the peacebuilding process, participants stressed the need to first resist viewing one party as simply right and the other as simply wrong, but rather begin by appreciating the inherent complexity of the situation and acknowledging that fundamentally a solution must respect that dignity and worth of all parties involved. 

So often in matters of foreign affairs, discussions remain in the abstract; unable or unwilling to incorporate the perspectives of those living with the consequences of various policy decisions. To learn directly from the young leaders working towards solutions to this conflict and who are able to draw upon their own lived experience was both rejuvenating and enlightening. UNA-NCA was honored to take part alongside NSL in hosting this event and looks forward to many more collaborative efforts in the future.