Just two weeks after Israeli and Palestinian NGO leaders met with policymakers about significantly expanding U.S. support for grassroots peace efforts, the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace Authorization Act of 2009 (H.R. 1605) was introduced today in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) introduced the legislation, which urges President Obama to work with the international community and the Israeli and Palestinian governments to establish such a fund, which is intended to "promote and support contact, cooperation, dialogue, shared community building, peaceful coexistence, joint economic development, and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, and Muslims, Christians, and Jews" in the U.S. The bill also authorizes the U.S. to contribute appropriate $50 million per year to the new fund.
The fund would focus on dramatically increasing the numbers of Israelis and Palestinians involved in people-to-people, grassroots cooperation. The Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) says that tens of thousands of citizens currently engage in these cooperative projects, in fields as diverse as education, medicine, sports, the environment, and the arts.
The legislation is introduced just two weeks after dozens of Israeli and Palestinian civil society leaders gathered in Washington to promote the idea of such a fund, which ALLMEP first proposed. The Middle East non-governmental organization (NGO) leaders held over 75 meetings with U.S. policymakers in the Congress and the administration. ALLMEP also hosted a day-long Summit on the International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace, including a closed-door meeting with Israeli, Palestinian, Jordanian, and Moroccan ambassadors.
The bill introduced today recognizes that the success of any renewed diplomatic efforts requires "broad popular support" among Israelis and Palestinians. "Indeed, political agreements may never arrive or endure without substantial public support," it says. "Working together, the United States, nations around the world, and the private sector can catalyze widespread support for peace with the establishment of" this fund, which will help "mobilize . . . silent majorities into active and vocal consituents for peace," according to the bill.
Significantly, the bill was introduced during St. Patrick's Day week, when Northern Irish leaders descended on Washington to reflect on the progress towards peace in their own region and the possible implications for the Middle East. ALLMEP said the proposed fund was inspired by the International Fund for Ireland (IFI), which has spent over $1.2 billion during the last 20 years on grassroots reconciiliation. During the recent ALLMEP summit, the director general of the IFI spoke at length about the promise for bringing the IFI model to the Middle East.