OneVoice launches grassroots referendum

OneVoice, a grassrootds initiative of Israelis and Palestinians to arrive at a consensus for a final status end to the conflict, was launched in February with the help of American actor Jason Alexander. This show of democracy was covered by …

OneVoice, a grassrootds initiative of Israelis and Palestinians to arrive at a consensus for a final status end to the conflict, was launched in February with the help of American actor Jason Alexander. This show of democracy was covered by scores of media outlets throughout the U.S.

Middle East citizenry to be asked to refine a mandate for their leaders

By Matthew Kalman, San Francisco Chronicle
February 28, 2004

Tel Aviv — How would the hapless George Costanza from the “Seinfeld” comedy series solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

That improbable question was being asked this week as actor Jason Alexander arrived in the Middle East to launch One Voice, a grassroots peace project backed by U.S. businesses, foundations and Hollywood stars.

The project, which has already attracted more than 25,000 participants and the support of celebrities including Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, aims to involve both Israelis and Palestinians in renewing the stalled peace process.

“Even though it is a pretty dark time, I see resolution as something that is really achievable,” Alexander said.

One Voice is asking ordinary Israelis and Palestinians to record their opinions on a list of 10 proposals — including the contentious issues of settlements, borders and the status of Jerusalem — by casting votes on the Internet, in newspaper ads and in voting booths throughout Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. The process, overseen by One Voice members, is open to anyone over 15.

After a rolling process of voting, redrafting and voting again, a “Citizen’s Mandate” will be presented to the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“This initiative makes more sense than anything I’ve ever heard of in relation to this conflict,” said Alexander, 44, sporting a beard that he said indicated he was unemployed at the moment, not an observant Hasidic Jew.

Alexander met with Israeli students, politicians and business executives in Tel Aviv on Tuesday and then traveled to Ramallah on Wednesday to meet their Palestinian counterparts.

Trying to enter Ramallah, his convoy was held up for two hours at an Israeli military checkpoint as the army staged raids on several Palestinian banks and seized $9 million they said had been sent to armed Palestinian groups by Iran, Syria and Lebanese guerrillas.

But the setback did not curb Alexander’s enthusiasm.

The Palestinians “were very excited about One Voice,” said Alexander, who was born Jay Greenspan. “None of them seemed to have given up hope that they had a potential partner for peace on the Israeli side.”

Earlier, he told an Israeli audience that he had become involved after meeting Mohammed Darawshe and Daniel Lubetzky, the Palestinian and Jewish co-founders of the project, at the Los Angeles home of actors Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman. At that gathering, Darawshe said he had been watching the news one evening when his son asked him to play football.

“It’s the same news as yesterday,” said his son. “It’s always the same news. Has it always been this way?”

“I realized that in recent years it had always been this way, and I promised him the news would not be the same in future,” said Darawshe.
As a father of two sons, Alexander said, the story “touched my heart.”

One Voice is supported by businesses and foundations, including IBM, Office Depot, the Rockefeller Brothers Trust Fund and charitable foundations created by the founders of Revlon and Sara Lee.

A panel of experts from the Israeli and Palestinian sides hammered out the 10-point list of proposals by sequestering themselves in the Rockefeller estate on the Hudson River in upstate New York; Jim Wehrle, an expert in conflict resolution who is vice president of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., supervised the meeting.

“This could become the framework for approaching conflict resolution around the world,” said Wehrle. “It’s like returning to Athens in ancient Greece, where every citizen had the vote. Now, it’s the people’s turn to tell the politicians what to do.”

But some skeptics remain unconvinced, saying the plan had no more chance of success than two other projects — the Geneva Accord and the People’s Voice — that are trying to win popular support for a peace pact. Neither Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon nor Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has endorsed the plans.

Jerusalem Post commentator Caroline Glick went further, attacking Alexander directly. “It’s interesting that Alexander, who made a name for himself playing one of the most selfish characters in the history of television, is telling Israelis that we should bend over backward to make room for a terrorist state,” she wrote. “It’s so sad that every time foreigners come here claiming to try to help us, they equate terrorist leaders with a democratically elected government, and the murderers with their victims.”

Alexander, however, remained optimistic.
Speaking to the Israeli audience Wednesday, Alexander likened the people of the Middle East to a couple in a failing marriage, in need of therapy.

He said his own marriage to his teenage sweetheart Daena had almost broken down seven years ago and had been saved only through “intensive, very expensive, therapy” that helped them deal with the past.

“You can never, ever correct the past,” he said. “You will not be able to figure out truly who did what, who was right, who’s to blame, what went wrong, who owes who an apology.” What is important is whether you want to build a future together, he said. “If you do, you will make a new contract, starting from today.”
Earlier in the week, he told a news conference: “I have a dream that a year from now, I will bring my sons without fear to Jerusalem and Ramallah.”

One Voice website: www.silentnolonger.org.