February 22, 2004, Updated September 12, 2012

The goal of OneVoice is to seize back the agenda from the minority.Israelis and Jews have for years been calling out for moderate voices to emerge on the Palestinian side in order to bring about an end to the bloody conflict that plagues the region. If only the silent majority of Palestinians were to denounce and isolate forces of terror, many Israelis think, the conflict could be resolved. And yet a growing number of Israelis that have been witnessing the violent intifada equate all Palestinians with terrorism and increasingly doubt that there is a partner to talk to.

The tragedy is not only that a minority of violent extremists have succeeded in overshadowing the majority of moderate Palestinians, but that a symmetrical dissonance pervades the Mideast conflict. For as much as Jews and Israelis may not realize it, Palestinians’ perceptions are diametrically opposite and they also only make out the most extremist agendas on the Israeli side.

The vast majority of Palestinians do not believe that Israelis are serious about ending the occupation and permitting Palestinians to achieve independence and dignity. Most Palestinians cannot fathom that the overwhelming majority of Israelis is willing to accept a two-state solution that will guarantee true security and freedom for both peoples. Most Palestinians equate every Israeli with intentional subjugation and dehumanization.

Forces of terror and violent absolutism have hijacked the political process and dominated the agenda, often amplifying their influence by manipulating the media through coverage of their dehumanizing atrocities, at the expense of the frustrated majority of Israelis and Palestinians that would choose co-existence.

The result is ‘false polarization’, where each side perceives the distances to be greater and the hatreds to prevail on the other side. Positive intentions from frustrated Palestinian farmers to heartbroken Israeli schoolteachers are drowned out by grief of the victims claimed by the conflict. It seems to the beleaguered people of the region – and the world that watches in horror – that there is no way out of this hell.

And yet, there is.

OneVoice is a fast-growing movement whose goal is to isolate the forces of terrorism and violent absolutism and change a seemingly hopeless equation by giving the overwhelming but heretofore silent majority of Israelis and Palestinians the opportunity to have their voices heard and to seize back the agenda from the minority that creates and sustains the current intractable situation.

The OneVoice public negotiations referendum, to be officially launched on February 24th, will help craft a clear popular vision on how to resolve the conflict – a vision derived by offering all Israelis and Palestinians the unique opportunity to cast ballots and offer their positions on the key issues at the heart of the conflict, through an iterative process that allows us to refine proposals based on feedback from experts and from the people. OneVoice provides an unprecedented effort to craft and deliver a grassroots mandate to the political leadership of both sides, to propel politicians to confront the forces of terror and dehumanization knowing they have a clear constituency of support behind them.

The effort is not based on cherishing peace and love but on fostering enlightened self-interest from both sides, recognizing that both Palestinians and Israelis need the cooperation of the other side to achieve their legitimate aspirations for freedom and security. What is remarkable about the movement is the degree to which such parity of effort has been achieved and the fact that those included demonstrate that OneVoice is not just preaching to the converted.

OneVoice is a growing movement: It is backed by over 40 mainstream organizations, from the National Israeli Union of Students to the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee. Fifty-two global business, religious and community leaders serve on its boards, ranging from Ambassador Thomas Pickering to former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Treasury Stuart Eizenstat; from World Jewish Congress President Edgar Bronfman Sr. to American Arab Institute President James Zogby; from Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom Jonathan Sacks to American Sufi Muslim Association Founder Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. In spite of their different agendas, they all join as OneVoice for a non-violent and concrete resolution to the conflict that will bring an end to terror and to the occupation.

Israeli board members transcend political parties and beliefs to support the people in their quest to be heard and seize the agenda. They include Likud Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Mickey Ratzon, Labor MK and former IDF General Matan Vilnai, Meimad MK Rabbi Michael Melchior, Shinui MK Eti Livny, Likud MK Gilad Erdan, Rabbi David Rosen, Ben Gurion University President Avishay Braverman, and a host of foremost business leaders.

Palestinian board members include Dr. Fathi Arafat, the head of the Red Crescent Society (and brother of President Arafat), business leader Yasser Mahmoud Abbas, the Chief Palestinian Islamic Justice Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi, Father Attalah Hanna, and Palestinian Minister for Women Affairs Zehira Kamal. This democratic effort is also personally blessed by Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabeel Sha’ath.

While arm-chair pundits may ponder and wanna-be American radio talkshow hosts may pontificate, so far 25,000 OneVoice members have been taking risks to change the reality on the ground, by standing up and being heard. This summer, over 7,000 people joined in Gaza and 3,000 joined in Jenin, often after heady confrontations and transformational discussions where a lesson about the strength of non-violent conflict resolution prevailed. Within Israel, recruitment efforts saw both Likud and Labor party activists recruit members from their parties. We will not waver nor rest until moderates have seized back the agenda. If enough of the unheard Israelis and Palestinians participate, we will succeed.

This week Jason Alexander will visit Israel in support of the OneVoice referendum. He comes not as a celebrity proclaiming to have the answers, as has been suggested by at least one self-proclaimed analyst that did not have the courtesy to do a modicum of research on what OneVoice is. Instead, he comes as a dedicated and concerned supporter of peace and security using his celebrity to spotlight the opportunity for ordinary Israelis and Palestinians to frame for themselves the only viable solution to the situation, one that is developed based on what they – the unheard, silent majority – think should be the basis for resolution. OneVoice itself does not advance answers. It posits questions and proposals and helps ordinary citizens participate in shaping the answers and establishing a true mandate of the people.

Over the next few months, many other dignitaries, celebrities, religious authorities, scholars, and business leaders will visit the region with the humble if catalytic goal of highlighting this essential undertaking. But in the end the only voices that really count – and the ones that are critically needed to resolve this conflict – are the voices from the ground that will be heard if OneVoice is successful.

May those concerned citizens who are fed up with their lives being taken hostage by a minority of terrorists and absolutist extremists rise up and join them.

(Originally appeared in The Jerusalem Post)

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