Webinar Transcript- Building People-to-People Foundations for Israeli-Palestinian Peace: A Conversation with ALLMEP’s Avi Meyerstein

Ori Nir  00:00

 Hello, everyone, welcome to this Americans for peace now webinar. Thank you for joining us. I m My phone is ringing here and I'll have to sorry about that. And so I'm Ori Nir and with me is APN's Maxxe Albert-Deitch. And our guest today is ALLMEP's founder Avi Meyerstein, who will introduce in a moment. Before we introduce him, I'd like to remind you that this webinar, like our webinars, all our webinars, is recorded, the audio will be uploaded to our podcast podcast, and the video will be will be available on YouTube, our YouTube channel, sometime later today or early tomorrow. We'll be talking today about Israeli Palestinian People to People initiatives, you may raise an eyebrow at our decision or choice to talk about this topic when violence and enmity are surging yet again on the ground in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. But, you know, we are a solution oriented organization. And we seek we seek a diplomatic solution to the conflict, we seek a peace accord. And we strongly believe that dialogue, better understanding and a sense of common cause between Israelis and Palestinians, even in the absence of peace seeking diplomacy, or maybe particularly, in the absence of such such diplomacy is vitally important. We are therefore very happy to have with us Avi Meyerstein to talk about this topic. His focus would be the legislation that Congress passed two years ago or so, which authorized $250 million over the course of five years to advance peace coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians. The initiative was put into motion last year. And we asked Avi to help us take the vitals if you will, of this program and assess it in in you know where it stands at the moment. So, to introduce Avi, he is a Washington DC lawyer. He's the founder and the president of the Alliance for Middle East peace ALLMEP. The coalition of over 150 Israeli Palestinian, Israeli and Palestinian People to People, peacebuilding organizations, whose campaigned to create an International Fund for Israeli Palestinian peace led to the passage of MEPPA in Congress. I, you know, I was telling Maxxe before we started that I first met Avi, almost 20 years ago, when he and other American volunteer  lawyers here in Washington, offered their pro bono services to Israeli and Palestinian People to People organizations, by making an effort to attain a considerable chunk of a $10 million congressional fund at the time, this was in the around 2003 or so to support people to equal programs internationally. And the idea was to try to secure a large chunk for Israeli Palestinian issue initiatives of that of that fund. I was a reported reporter at the time and I attended a somewhat chaotic if I remember it correctly, conference on Capitol Hill in 2004. But that kind of small effort grew into the Alliance for Middle East peace ALLMEP. It's the largest and fastest growing network of Palestinian and Israeli peace builders. And we're really, you know, we supported they've been supportive from the beginning, the work that ALLMEP is doing, and particularly the past the passage of MEPPA. So with this rather lengthy introduction, sorry about that. Welcome, Avi. Thank you for joining us.

Avi Meyerstein  04:29

Thank you, Ori, it's great to be with you and Maxxe and all of your audience.

Ori Nir  04:34

Thanks. Maxxe, do you want to go ahead?

Maxxe Albert-Deitch  04:40

Yeah, sure. So Avi,  following up on Ori's wonderful introduction. Would you mind telling all of us a little bit about what ALLMEP is, what it does, and then make the connection to the legislation that Congress passed back in 2020 and discuss the relationship between ALLMEP and that piece of legislation known as MEPPA,

Avi Meyerstein  05:03

Sure that's a lot there, you'll have to keep me honest, if I if I don't get to all of those you can follow up.  And let me just say, it's super cool to be with you again, Ori. I mean, we've seen each other since 2004. But since you have seen the whole arc of this, this process that I've been through with my colleagues and friends at ALLMEP  and, and especially APN, I just want to underline, you know, APN wasn't just there, as the coalition grew over the years that I'll describe as we were campaigning for this fund, but actually, APN was a co sponsor at the launch of the of the campaign in 2009, with a number of other organizations. So we're really grateful for that partnership, that's, that goes back so long, and has continued over so many years. In fact, Lara Friedman and Deborah Dilly were some of the first to, to be super, super helpful to me as I was starting to put this coalition together. So in that spirit, I'm glad to have this conversation with you all now. ALLMEP as you said, Ori is a network of Israeli Palestinian peace builders, and it's really a network of organizations, we have more than 150 organizations. And so while the organizations ,our members are on the ground, doing the really difficult work of improving daily life for Israelis and Palestinians by bringing people together, and they take all kinds of forms, from the schools of hand in hand, to the village of Wahat al Salam, Neve Shalom to the environmental work of eco peace, the sports programs, in sports for social change, and peace players and on and on and on. They're doing that work on the ground, we as a coalition are doing everything we can to strengthen them to support them to make sure people know about their work to, make sure that they have the most resources possible to expand. And what's interesting, and I think this is very relevant for the APN audience is, in a sense, the way we started from from the diaspora from Washington is very reflective of what we're trying to do. Even though now ALLMEP, we have a team of a dozen people around the world, and most of them are now in the Middle East. What we really aspire to do is to bring the strength, the resources, the good vibes, the support of the diaspora communities and governments around the world to expand this work. And so we do that in a number of different ways. One is, as Ori mentioned, advocacy, that's really how we got started. It started by advocating for this annual funding from Congress. Actually, the funds started as a as a global one where the Middle East was getting most. And over time, the Middle East got less and less. And so we proposed a new fund that would that would focus on Israeli Palestinian peace building, because believe it or not, ISRAEL PALESTINE is an epicenter of this kind of people to people work around the world. And so that works been going on there for 20-30 years. And, and so there's a lot of it that needs support. And that's what I learned when we started ALLMEP that was from talking to 1234 organizations just reaching out to see how maybe we could help them from Washington, I kept hearing the same thing. I heard from each of them that they were doing incredibly impactful work, they were taking people who never met each other Israelis and Palestinians, in their normal lives, as sometimes very difficult views of the other, but were open to engaging with each other. But they needed help they needed facilitation, they needed a reason they needed to get something out of it. And so then the program gives them all of those things, and they come out and the statistics over the years are quite remarkable. You end up with not every single person but 70. And 80% of people that come out of these programs report significant changes in their attitudes and their behaviors. And so the programs are super impactful, even back then, but what they told me was, nobody knows we exist. If you're not shooting someone or blowing up a bus, you don't get news coverage. Nobody knows we exist. And even back then, I mean, this was the tail end of the Second Intifada, which really was the reason that I felt the need to do something about this. And and feel like I was somehow doing something from from the United States to help. Even in those days, they had waiting lists of Israelis and Palestinians who wanted to participate, but that they didn't have the resources to do it. And so as we put all of that together, we felt like engaging with policymakers starting in Washington, but ultimately all around the world was really important to make sure that these peacebuilders a could find their voice and could come together because they were all disconnected at the time doing this very difficult work each alone, so that they could come together as a strong unit. And for the policymakers to hear about this so they could support it. And so for 15 years or so, Congress funded Israeli Palestinian work along these lines, specifically, as a result of the initiative we put forward. And it totaled about $130 million over those years. Which is, you know, for you and me going to the grocery store, obviously, a lot of money. But when you're talking about trying to create change people's attitudes counter to everything they've heard, and seen and experienced in their lives, and active violence around them. Unfortunately, it's not enough. And we early on, looked at models for how we could do more, which I'll touch on in a second. So that's our advocacy. And we make that case about supporting this work all around the world. We do it in Washington, we do it in Canada, we do it in Europe, in the Arab world, and certainly in the Middle East. The second thing that we do, and we do more and more of it now, and this is what our amazing team on the ground focuses on is we have active programs to actually support the work of the members on the field. I spent the last year living in Israel, with my family and working with our team and our members and our partners. And one of the cool things about that. There were many cool things about that for me personally, but one of them was I got to be there when we had our annual conference, which was the first one since COVID. There were 450 peacebuilders, and diplomats at that event in Jerusalem outside Jerusalem. And the energy in the room as people came together to talk about their shared challenges to talk about best practices to learn new things. We do that kind of support for the network that convening. We have a scale hub program that works to help organizations increase their abilities to do all the things they need to do in their daily lives. Whether it's raising money, running, designing and running good programs, measuring how their programs are working. That scale HUD program works with cohorts of organizations, we actually started with Palestinian organizations in our first cohort because they need the most support and have historically had the least support. But scale up is one thing we do. Another thing we've got is alumni hub, which is really living a vision on two levels. One, we we convene about two dozen organizations that are working with alumni or want to, because we found that most of these organizations, after people go through their programs, they actually don't have continuing contact and engagement, which is a huge challenge we need to overcome. So we convene the organizations to figure out how to do that better each with their own audiences. And where we're working towards is connecting all of the people that have gone through all of these programs. So we help them feel like they're a part of a community for change, that they're not alone, having gone through one program, knowing a few people, but actually knowing that they're part of, at this point 10s of 1000s of people who have gone through these programs at one time, and having a continual engagement, because ultimately, we're not just doing this to make people's water cleaner, or their schools better, or, or have better skills for jobs. Those are immediate takeaways. But we're doing it because we want to empower a community and constituency that will support diplomatic and political solutions. So that's a really important part of connecting the dots. So we do the advocacy, and we do the capacity building. That's that's ALLMEP. You asked about the Middle East Partnership for Peace act of 2020. And where that comes from, I alluded to before. In 2009, we launched a global campaign to create an International Fund for Israeli Palestinian peace. And actually, this is super relevant to why I'm in Belfast right now and Northern Ireland, spending about a month here with generous support of Fulbright and being hosted by the International Fund for Ireland. So when we started doing research way back in 2004, about where Had this been done effectively, where had peacebuilding at the grassroots level been applied to support political solutions to help peace arrive and survive. Basically, the Northern Ireland example pops off the page. I'll say the preface no two conflicts are the same. There are many things that are different, but the dynamics that you get into with the tit for tat violence with the way that more moderate voices and governments relate to each other and relate to extremist groups with the way that the the media plays a role. And the way that young people and vulnerable populations get sucked in the cycle of violence and the difficulty of getting yourself out of it. The intergenerational trauma, which is something I've been hearing a lot about here in, in Northern Ireland, and certainly applies in Israel Palestine as well, where you can have people grow up, who have never themselves personally, ever been the recipient of a violent attack, never been on a bus that was blown up, never seen one. And yet, when something happens, and they see it on TV, they feel it in their guts, the fear and the trauma, and too often the hate. For the other side and the desire. I heard, you know, one Israeli politician on the radio today talking about, you know, avenging people's deaths and things like that, you know, ideas about revenge and blood lust and so forth. So, I mean, you can have those feelings, even if you never personally suffered an attack and and that's something that they're still working on here. And so, we found this example of Northern Ireland. And what was most interesting was in the 1980s, well, before that peace process was really taking off 12 years. In fact, before the Good Friday Agreement, the the British and the Irish came up with a very framework kind of basic agreement, the Anglo Irish agreement, 1985. And it said, very generally, we want to support reconciliation, it didn't have a lot of detail. But there had been some talks with the United States. And there was a bipartisan effort with President Ronald Reagan and speaker, Tip O'Neill, who both wanted to support something to help the people of Ireland and Northern Ireland. And so they created this international fund. And it started working 12 years before the peace agreement. And it was it started in all kinds of economic programs and things along the border areas, things that made people's lives better, but also connected them with each other and gave them a vested interest in their shared success. And by the time you got to the peace agreement, you had this constituency, you had the support. The the the fund, the International Fund for Ireland was not the only actor on the scene. But it was a really important catalyst, it would come in and put money on they like to say first money on the table, they would come in and do risky stuff that nobody else was willing to do. And then others would come in invest. And you had things like a yes campaign that that campaigns to support the the peace agreement in a referendum when it was put to a vote, and it it thrived in the vote, you know, 70 plus percent on one side 90% On the other side. So when we looked at that example, and the fact that the US had been funding it since the beginning at $50 million a year, and had managed to multiply the US investment by getting others to invest as well, and create this institution that was that was humming along before peace arrived at the critical moments of diplomacy when they needed public support. And equally important, I can certainly say being here today, all the years since to help it to help at last. This seemed to us like something that that the Middle East was desperate for. And we tried, it didn't take long to imagine the Oslo process with a similar kind of engine, working at the grassroots at the same time in the years before, during and after the diplomacy taking place. So we launched in 2009, a campaign to create an International Fund for Israeli Palestinian peace. legislation was introduced within a couple of weeks of this event. And then we started a very long effort of persistent advocacy. You know, every couple years, the Congress would end and the bill would not have passed, which which is the which is the fate of most legislation that gets introduced each Congress. And every time we would come back, and every time there would be more co sponsors, and there would be more bipartisan co sponsors, and there would be more people on the community coalition. You know, by the end, we had people on this coalition that don't agree on anything almost with regard to Israeli Palestinian issues, but they were all supporting this. And ultimately, we were very fortunate that Congresswoman Nita Lowey, who was the chair of the Appropriations Committee and was looking to her retirement and legacy decided to take this up after for many, many years being a Lead Champion of that annual funding that I told you about. She saw this as an opportunity to really do something big and, and her colleagues wanted to honor her and so the bill was called the Nita M Lowey Middle East Partnership for Peace act of 2020. So it started as this international fund effort. The bill creates a $250 million at least five year investment in these kinds of projects that that create better relationships between Israelis and Palestinians at the grassroots level that improve the Palestinian in economy through partnerships, and it commits that $50 million a year. And this is really important from my perspective, it preserves in there the ability and encourages the US government to bring in other partners so that we can create a lasting and much more impactful program. Because even as I said, you know, 10, or $15 million a year was not enough. Sadly, $50 million a year is not enough. If you compare what was spent in the Northern Ireland context where they have a smaller population, but ultimately, what was invested was about two and a half billion dollars, over 35 years, which works out to over $44 per person per year. In the Israeli Palestinian conflict, we've spent a couple dollars a year per person. So we have a ways to go. And we had ALLMEP  has been working in partnership with APN, and many others around the world to to encourage this fund, which already, as you said, got started. And in some of the one of the interesting things that developed by the time the final legislation passed was it sort of had the potential for two phases. Once the bill passed, it immediately became a program that the US government would implement, which is great, it doesn't have to wait for some international agreement in order to set something bigger. And as a potential second phase, it calls for the for trying to do something bigger. And we were delighted to see that when the MEPPA as we call it. Advisory Board met in the spring, the one thing they voted on and they agreed on with unanimity was a desire to explore that international aspect. So MEPPA. You know, it's a little unfair, you asked me a lot of questions. So people have the impression that I'm just talking and won't shut up. But I'm just trying to cover what you asked me. But feel free to interrupt please. So MEPPA  basically, with this money, it sets up two parallel US government programs. USA, USAID, is managing people Partnership for Peace Fund. It's called, which is focused on people to people partnerships, and the Development Finance Corporation, which generally works around the world. making investments and loans and other kinds of financial support for development projects and economic projects, is responsible for the joint investment for peace initiative, which is focused on improving the Palestinian private sector, especially small and medium sized businesses, with an emphasis on things that improve cooperation. So imagine, you know, hypothetically, a small Palestinian computer programming company that has an opportunity to partner with an Israeli firm and together they can go market their services to the world, something like that they could get funding for a project like that. In practice in the first year, and the how much money goes to USAID versus to the DFC is something that seems will be negotiated each year. In the first year, the overwhelming amount of the money went to USAID, about $47 million dollars. The rest went to the DFC, the DFC says that they've got lots of other funding they can bring to bear and because of the way they work, they're so leveraged that they don't need $30 million to do $30 million of impact. They they can, they can leverage a smaller amount to do larger stuff. And USAID is dividing their program into two parts. This year, they spent about $25 million on nine different projects in the people to people's space. And they have put out a call for proposals put out for bid a five year program for economic projects, basically, that are the economic side of the people to people thing with a goal towards building a pipeline that can then go into the DFC program, because the DFC works on bigger dollar amounts. And so if you look at the Palestinian economy, a lot of people see that there's a need to help smaller entities muscle up a little bit so that they can then work with a bigger entity like the DFC. So USAID has not yet they've announced these nine grants and the people to people space, they've not yet, as far as I've seen, announced, who's going to manage this $90,000,000. 5 year economic program called Building regional economic bridges. So that's the rough overview. One other small point I'll make is, there is an advisory board from MEPPA , which some people have heard about, and it's basically 13 seats plus two potential international seats. 12 of those seats are appointed by different leaders in Congress, bipartisan so the Speaker of the House them authority leader, the head of Foreign Affairs, the ranking member, so on and so forth. They each appointed people to that board. And then Samantha Power, the head of USAID appointed a chair George Salem, a well known advocate for a two state solution and helping Israelis and Palestinians. And international seats have not yet been filled. And so that board, it doesn't decide on particular grants, but it does advise USAID generally on directions to take the program things to explore further, how they think the program should proceed in the years to come.

Ori Nir  25:41

Thanks, Avi. This is this is very interesting and very helpful in our trying to lead the conversation toward an analysis and an evaluation of MEPPA . And its efficacy so far. We'll get to that later. But maybe before that, just to further explain. Who does so who who does make the decision? Which programs will be funded, then what's the procedure? And also it's a question that particularly interests I think, our listeners or viewers, who are APN supporters,  How is the how are the criteria harnessed to the goal that is stated in MEPPA in the actual language of the of the legislation of paving the way toward the two state solution? Before we answer those two questions, just a reminder to our viewers, which I neglected to say when I when I introduced, please use your q&a Tool to ask questions. We already have a couple of questions there waiting, and we'll address them later. So type in a short as a short question, and we'll make sure we answer it. Go ahead.

Avi Meyerstein  26:56

Okay, so I'll focus mostly on the People to People fund. The DFC has a team that's that's working on Grant on investment opportunities that it finds. And as I said, this building regional economic bridges or BREB, that USAID is going to hire someone or subcontract out someone to manage. We don't know who's going to manage that yet. So focusing on the people to people fund, those decisions are made by USAID, and they have a a very carefully crafted, intensive process for, for going through that they published a little over a year ago, a what they call an annual program statement, which is their version of a call for proposals. It was a, I don't know 80 or 90 page, some document that explained what they were looking for different kinds of programs. They basically threw the doors wide open. And people ask how was MEPPA going and you know what, what impact has happened already. And I think it's really important for people to understand where we are in the in this in the arc of the process and how long it takes and what's going on. You know, a year ago, they put out this this APS inviting organizations to submit concept notes for projects they wanted to run, the organizations would submit a seven page Concept Note, if USAID thought it was promising, they would invite them for what they called co creation, which is when the the the NGO would come and meet with USAID. And together, they would talk through the different aspects and basically build a proposal, full proposal from from that meeting. And then that full proposal would get considered for whether it would get funded. USAID had a technical committee inside I understand it's mostly inside of their West Bank, Gaza mission, which is located in Israel. And the technical committee would score each proposal based on various criteria before ultimately deciding so that's the process. If it sounds like I'm a little hazy on it, it's because, you know, the USAID regulations that that are there to ensure that people are playing fair. They sort of make it a bit of a blackbox process. They they make sure that the people involved in that process aren't revealing, you know, what's going on in the room. And we don't exactly know, but proposals go in and decisions come out. Organizations, one thing USAID did, which we thought was great and really encouraged people to take advantage of. They gave feedback if an organization did not succeed in its proposal, and of course, they had 100 to 150 proposals submitted and nine grants came out. So most were not successful in this first year. But they had an opportunity to give feedback so that the organization's could could improve, resubmit and so forth. So that technical committee makes those decisions, like the prior annual funding that went through USAID and There is a congressional notification process I understand. So key figures in Washington do do see the proposed list and and essentially give their approval for it. But the decision is really made in the region by USAID. You asked about how it how it holds to the two state solution piece. And I want to emphasize there are some people who look at this and have a skepticism about the role of the people, two people work. My experience, it's often people that don't understand it, and haven't seen it in action. Because once you've seen it, there's no going back. You can't help but it But see, and this was another thing I had absolute pleasure to do. Last year when I was in the region for so long was to see some of these programs and watch actually the process from beginning to end. I actually have a times of Israel piece this week that talks about one of the programs I visited and what I saw inside that room. And so there are people who are skeptical about it and say, Well, what does this have to do with getting to a two state solution? What does it have to do with politics? What does it have to do? Is this basically a distraction? Is what some people think, or is this is this a way that the government is avoiding the hard stuff and and doing the easy stuff, just so it looks like they're doing something and I want to emphasize the extent to which MEPPA represents a huge step forward. It was the first bipartisan legislation in I don't know how long a decade or two or more that actually endorsed a two state solution. We had this incredibly broad coalition, so delicately comprised and maintained. And yet that was the outcome. So I don't want to jump too far ahead of of the premise of your question without mentioning that that's a really big deal, that the two state solution was in there as an aspiration as a goal. And when it came time to put their call for proposals together, it was very interesting USAID had language in there that said that they were interested in seeing programs that would lead to policy change, they wanted to hear how a project would ultimately lead to policy change. That's, it may not sound that exciting to people. But that's groundbreaking too. The idea that, that it's not just, as I said, giving people jobs and skills and education, and clean water, and so forth. Although those things are hugely important. And if you don't do them, they only make conflict worse. But it's not just that it's that for a purpose. It's a purpose of bringing people together. And not just to come together at some people like to dismissively say, for hummos and hugs, it's, it's coming together to deal with issues to confront the toughest issues. I mean, these, these encounters between Israelis and Palestinians, through the people's people projects are virtually the only place where Israelis and Palestinians are actually meeting and confronting the issues. They're not avoiding the issues. In order to do these programs, they have to confront the issues. So this is a Vanguard, it's not an it's not a substitute for diplomacy, for sure not, you know, people on the street can't sign binding agreements. But I think if to me, if there's any lesson that really leaps off the page about Oslo, it's that you can sign agreements, and they're worthless, worthless if the people on the streets aren't behind you. And they're not mobilized, and they're not strongly supportive and resilient. And they're not bracing together for the backlash, because there will always be backlash, there will always be spoilers, there will always be at least one to 10 people, which is obviously not very many willing to blow up buses and shoot people. And, of course, they're more than that. But that's all it takes. If everyone else doesn't realize they're all on the same side. And that's what these programs do. So the the language in the law was groundbreaking. The language in the probe, the call for proposals, I would argue was also groundbreaking. And I think it sets everyone's eyes on the prize, which is that we're not just doing this to make people's lives better, or to introduce them to each other. We're doing it because we want to create change.

Maxxe Albert-Deitch  34:20

So you've recently published a short paper through the Israeli Think Tank MITVIM, or the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, in which you lay out MEPPA's accomplishments so far, and you make some recommendations for further meta investments. Viewers, you will hopefully be able to see a link to that in the chat. So let's talk about both of those things, the accomplishments and the recommendations. What I'd like to ask you Is this how do you evaluate MEPPA's funding strategy judging by its first year or so and what are some of those future directions that you'd advocate for it?

Avi Meyerstein  35:00

Okay, great question. So as I said, in the end, and the last grants were just announced in the last few weeks, they decided to give out $25 million in nine grants, to the people to people projects, a variety of projects. There are a couple in the health space, connecting doctors and hospitals for training and care, basically, bringing the health care systems to work together more and to integrate them, which has obvious benefits for health. But it also it creates some of these channels of communication that are critical, especially in a place where where health and trauma is part of the daily daily life. There are there's a program involving eco peace that works on clean water, and it, it first brings experts together to come up with new methods of collaborating on equitably sharing clean water, but then it also trains teachers who can then train their students, it provides classroom materials, and it trains, I think 300 young professionals to be advocates for being good stewards of the water in both their societies working together. There are high tech projects for training young people to have the skills they need to go into the marketplace. And to have these connections to each other as they go into the marketplace, which will allow for more integrated connections in in business. And there are a couple projects with with women and women entrepreneurs. So they've really touched on many different areas of life in these programs. The grants by virtue of being only nine of them, they are fairly large. I mean, that's that's something that stands out, the grants are between two and $5 million to be spent over a period of between two and three years generally. And so that's one thing to know, the other thing I would just make a comment about is when people ask me, you know, okay, what, what's the result? You have to remember, they've just announced these grants, we spent the first year of going through essentially the competition of what would be selected. And you know, the ink is probably just drying on the grant agreements. And so they have to hire staff, they have to develop their materials, they have to do all the logistics to get the program up and running. So it's too soon to be judging these particular projects, because they're just barely getting started if they've even started yet. So there is a bit of a lag. And of course, we're all impatient, but we have to keep that in mind. So I would say, you know, one of the things and I've said this in a variety of places that we're very grateful for as people that have invested so much in in coming to this moment of having this legislation, we're very grateful that it landed in the hands that it did. I mean, when the when it basically MEPPA passed, the timing was insane and passed. At the end of the Trump administration. There was a there was a brief moment where it was uncertain if he would even sign the appropriations bill. And so after all of that, it might go up in smoke. And so it was a new administration, new people that were coming in who would be implementing this new program. And the the team in Washington that's leading it up is an impressive group of people. And they've, they've really thrown themselves into it. And so I think one way that I read this first year of MEPPA, and especially as I look at how wide open that call for proposals was, is they wanted to start with an assessment of where we are, what's out there, you know, you put out this very broad call that encourages just about anybody with a good idea to submit and you get 150 ideas in the door, you're going to you're going to be sampling some of what's out there at this moment, so, so that they can have a sense of where there are opportunities. Another thing to remember about the background is the Trump administration cut not only the aid to the Palestinians, but also the people to people programs that were cross border. We worked pretty hard to ensure that at least the the programs inside Israel for shared society between Palestinian Israelis and Jewish Israelis that those programs stayed on while the Trump years went on. But it has been some years since USAID had funded cross border projects. So it was new to the new team. It was new to everybody. And so I think the best way that I look at this first year of MEPPA is this is in some ways, getting a baseline of of what project ideas were out there, what opportunities were out there. And, you know, they're gonna have to come forward with their second year of calling for proposals and decide how they want to focus if they want to do something different, you know, they may decide I heard that they want to focus on a particular sector or a particular age group or a particular geography, you know, those are the kinds of things they could do. I don't know what they're going to decide, I suspect that we'll probably see something in the next couple months, maybe two, three months, in terms of at least a draft last time, I think they put out a draft for public comment before they did the official one. So that's sort of like where we are in the process. In terms of recommendations, you know, in this review paper, I tried to look at where we were, I tried to be fair to where we were to the people who are running this program, as I said, given all that background and where we're at, and, and to write some things that are really not just for USAID, to be honest. It's for all of the stakeholders. You know, I was in New York a few weeks ago with our US director, Karry Reed, and we spoke to the Social Venture Fund, which invests in in Arab Israeli issues, and shared society historically. And we went there with USAID, and we're talking about MEPPA and what it does, and so forth. And our message, ALLMEPs message to those philanthropists was you have a role to play in this, we all have a role to play in this. We've done a lot of outreach to private philanthropy, we have white papers on our website about what funders can do to get the most out of these years, when the US government's putting in all this money, how you, our funders can get the most out of it. So we're sort of looking wholistically at the ecosystem, not just at USAID. With that said, you know, the recommendations are broad, you know, and go to many different corners, there are recommendations about what kinds of grants to give. So we saw some large grants this first year, that is great, but it leaves a lot of people out. And the vision for MEPPA, I can speak at least to the vision that we had at all that when we got the whole thing started in our original campaign was to scale was to take so many great ideas that are operating. And some of them are two people organizations with lots of volunteers, some of them have staffs and all kinds of things. But there are so many organizations out there, and we've got 150 in our network, doing great stuff. And a lot of it, a lot of it doesn't need to change all that much they've been working in evolving over these years, they just need to grow, they need to reach more people, they need to be able to have more seats at the table. So one thing we're hoping is that in the future, there will be more small and medium sized peacebuilding grants. Because most of the organizations in the field are too small to manage a two or $3 million grant. One day, I hope we'll be at a place where that's not the case where they've all grown to a point that they can take that kind of money. But for now, we need to spend some concerted effort to make sure that we're not only focusing on large grants, but also distributing money so that the many, many more projects that are out there can start to really grow. At the same time, one of the needs that these smaller and medium organizations have is capacity building. And as I said, all that we have our own scale hub program that helps with capacity building, we're not the only ones there are actually three or four other organizations out there. Amal-Tikva, via Search for Common Ground shots, you that are out there helping organizations to be better organizations. And that's something in my opinion, that should not be divorced from the big grants that MEPPA was giving out. There's a role that the funder can play in the capacity building. And some of the things we've suggested are, you can give grants for capacity building, not for the actual program, but just to strengthen the core of the organization. Or you can give a two stage grant where the first three to six months is capacity building, you know, training for the people. One of the things that organizations struggle with is USAID because it works on billion dollar development projects around the world has really intense reporting regulations and compliance regulations. And it's a lot for a small organization. Sometimes they need training on how to do that. So give them three to six months of getting up to speed of getting their books in order of being ready. And then if they if they prove that they're ready, then you can go on to the substance, the meat of the of the grant. So those are a couple of things with capacity building, but I think it should be integrated more and more into this process.

Ori Nir  44:31


Avi Meyerstein  44:32

So evaluation and monitoring is another piece. This is something that, you know, 20 years ago, this field was much newer, and I think people sort of judged whether it was working by if it felt like it was working, but that's not that's not been good enough. For a long time. Organizations have had to develop rigorous programs of measuring whether their programs are actually creating change. Are they improving people's lives? Are they changing people's attitudes? Are they driving new behaviors? And so that's already happening. But we have some ideas for how a big funder could come into the space, and really revolutionize it. Because that stuff is not easy to do. Imagine if there was a an app out there, where it basically was like the MailChimp of evaluation and monitoring, every small organization could sign up. And it makes it easy for you to send out surveys and polls of your participants and how their attitudes are and so forth, and to do follow up and all of that. And then the nice nugget is if you have this kind of tool across the field, then you get a field wide view of all the activity taking place and where it's working, and where it's not where there are gaps, and where you need to invest more. That kind of strategic coordinated investment is one of the things that we've been encouraging for a long time. So that's the kind of thing we'd love to see whether it's from MEPPA or the bigger ecosystem. Investing in program graduates, I talked about how all map has started an alumni program. This is again, if if we're going to really move the needle on the conflict, if we're going to create real communities and consistent constituencies for change, that are going to support that diplomacy, they're going to support the power of the politics of tomorrow, then we need to make sure that whatever investment we're making in these people as as community leaders, is taken to the to the max and that we're connecting them with each other, that we're finding them increasing and new ways to engage as they go through life. And so the program graduate piece is again, another part and if you were a big funder, USAID, or otherwise, you could start to think about because funders don't always do this, how each grant should have a component where 20% of the money is going to be for what happens after the program, you know, what's your continual engagement program, something to think about, then there are a couple sort of bigger picture things. We, you may have noticed, we certainly did that. Even in the people to people side of the grants, there is a lot of economics in it. And I think there are good reasons for that. And actually, the Northern Ireland example, involved a lot of that kind of investment, it's economics runs our lives, your job, the things you buy, the places you go, it's, it's really intimate, in a sense. And so it's a good way to embed yourself in people's lives. But we have to be very careful that we don't run in the direction of sort of the economic peace that some people talk about, because that's really not peace at all. And, and so it's really important that all of the programs, economic and otherwise, have a layer of conflict transformation in them. You know, that means you're not just bringing the entrepreneurs together to talk shop, that's important. But you're also helping them confront the conflict and develop ways that they can be productive members of society in advancing change with respect to the conflict, the very best of our programs within ALLMEP they do that, you know, these are things that I got to see in person. When I was over in the region, programs that combine, you know, half your time is, is engaging on the conflict itself. And then half your time is learning your IT skills and building your business. And what's amazing to see is the the time you spend on the conflict, first of all, a lot of the people come to the program in order to get the job skills, you know, that's the sweet, that's the sweetener that brings them in the door. But when you talk to them at the end, they'll say, Yeah, I wasn't really here for that conflict stuff. But actually, that was the best part. And when you get to the end, when you get to the end, where they're actually, you know, I'm thinking of tech , for example, when they're doing a competition like a shark tank thing for their business ideas. You see these these program participants, young Israelis and Palestinians in their 20s. And they're not talking about conflict at all, because they've, they've been dealing with that. Now they can talk about business in a real partnership kind of way. So that's, that's the conflict transformation piece. A couple other things, systemic change, we have organizations that have learned how to leverage themselves, what you can do as a $2 million. NGO is one thing. But if you can infiltrate the system, you know, then you can leverage much greater change. And we've got organizations in our network that have done that, by changing policy by getting transportation to Arab communities in Israel by developing a curriculum that goes out to 40,000 students. That's systemic change, and when you make that change, it tends to stick so it's really high impact stuff. I'll touch on two more things. One is religious and non traditional audiences. And this is something, I think, again, the Northern Ireland example is very telling. And very different, I think, from what happened in the in the Oslo days with the Israeli Palestinian situation. Ultimately, you need to empower the moderates. That's really important. And I, and I think we can look at policies of the last 15 years or so in the region, that we're not empowering the moderates. You know, Hamas is the one that gets the suitcases of cash, and the PA is the one that gets all the criticism, as an example. But it's not just empowering the moderates. Ultimately, you have to bring the extremists in from the cold. You know, ultimately,  the extremist became a part of the process here in Northern Ireland, and that made all the difference. And so does that mean you're dealing with terrorists? You know, that may be a bridge too far. For a lot of funders, understandably, however, it means you need to operate in the communities and in the places and with the populations that have the most extreme views, to be honest, I mean, and the places that are susceptible to those views. You can't write those people off, you can't be like, well, those people are, you know, they're hopeless. This last cause I'm just going to focus on the lefties and Tel Aviv. That's, that is not what a peace process requires. And so we have some organizations that over the last few years, it's really a budding space, have started doing more work in those kinds of corners. And it's very sensitive, you can always talk about it and shouted from the rooftops. Sometimes it puts people off because they say, Wait, you're talking to those guys. That's not cool. So it definitely takes care and thoughtfulness. But it's an important part of the puzzle. The last thing I will say, and this is really the ultimate conclusion and it makes me sound like a broken record. But I'm I have to apologize and say that literally everything that I've seen since we originally put this proposal on the table has only redoubled my belief, that is what we need. And that is to create an International Fund for Israeli Palestinian peace. It's what we set out to do in 2009, we are still working on it. We have the wall to wall support of the United Kingdom government and opposition. Whenever the politics in the UK settle down again, that support is there. We've got other countries in Europe, the parliament, the parliamentary members that support the Israelis and the Palestinians who don't agree on the color of the sky, I have both written letters to the EU foreign representative asking that the EU support an international fund. And very recently at the at the last g7. We know that it was put on the table among the seven leaders to discuss. Now, it didn't rank above the war in the Ukraine, and it didn't rank above the pandemic and the economy. So we will always have the challenge of getting high on the agenda. But we know it's being considered at the highest levels. And that USAID is exploring it thanks to the recommendation of their advisory board, and we're advocating for it. And I will say you know, I'm spending the better part of a month in Northern Ireland being hosted by the International Fund for Ireland, for which I'm incredibly grateful. And, you know, I don't even have my thoughts together to be able to really put it out there in an intelligent way, I have a lot more to learn. I'm just at the beginning of this. But I've already seen in the last few days, just how impactful that model is. And I will say the model is not just the scale, it's not just that you take $50 million from the US and you turn it into $200 million from around the world by bringing in other money. So that is a big piece of it. But it is creating an institution whose job it is to wake up every day and say there are people whose job is the diplomacy, that's what they're gonna focus on. My job is to wake up every day and say, What am I doing on the grassroots to create the environment and the conditions so that diplomacy can can thrive? And, you know, I've been I've been beating down the door at the State Department and other places Foreign Ministries for many, many years. And I long ago realize that as diplomats, their number one job is diplomacy. And that's fair enough. But that's why we need an independent institution whose job is the grassroots diplomacy and creating those conditions and those partnerships that ultimately can make a future peace process looks different than the one that we saw in the past.

Ori Nir  54:35

Thanks. We have quite a few questions in the q&a. Fortunately, I think that you actually answered quite a few of them. I'd like to take two that you have not answered or that you have not related to and maybe put them together and those have to do with normalization anti normalization. So one question coming from our friends Elan Shankar is how do you deal with with anti normalization on the Palestinian side, which obviously hinders, you know, hampers the attempt to, to mobilize Palestinians, for people to people activity. And then the other question comes from Martin Raffled who I'm sure you know, as well, who's asking about normalization? In other words, the normalization agreements that Israel is signed with Arab countries, is there a way to try to harness them, maybe make them a component, maybe a major component of an international fund?

Avi Meyerstein  55:34

Yes, so two kinds of normalization. Very, both very important. And I should have known that all my friends would be on this on this call. So, you know, anti normalization is sometimes I think the bark may be louder than the bite. There, you talk to Palestinians in the West Bank. And sometimes you can hear an earful about how people in the diaspora are making a lot of noise about them cooperating on solving problems, you know, when they're in the pressure cooker, but the people in the diaspora are shooting at them for for doing that when they're safe and comfortable in Canada or wherever. So I think that's part of it. I don't want to be completely dismissive of it, it definitely is a factor. And I think it you know, regardless of, of how many they number, it definitely can hinder the willingness of people to participate certainly publicly in things. You know, the organization's in our network, and our own team, led by our regional director Huda Abuarquob , really have become quite adept at figuring out how to how to do the work that needs to be done in the environment where, where there are people who are who are calling for anti normalization, I think, at the end of the day, you know, action talks, and progress talks. And I'm not sure how much progress and success the anti normalization folks can claim in terms of how they've made people's lives better. But there are people whose lives are improving and whose opportunities are expanding. And who can see, you know, it's not quite a political horizon, perhaps, but who can see a little bit of a horizon from doing this work. So it's, it's delicate, but it can be done. And I think the biggest examples are you show people how it leads to action, how you're creating allies, you know, how you're bringing, if you're Palestinian, and you're bringing Israelis, to understand your situation and to be allies with you and fighting for change. We have organizations like Combatants for Peace, that are on the frontlines of doing that. Very quickly on the Abraham Accords, because I know we're running out of time, you hit on one of our big selling points, which is, if the Abraham accords were initially conceived, at least by some of their parents as a way to avoid the Israeli Palestinian conflict and to sideline the Palestinians than a that's not the world we're living in right now. Because those people aren't in power anymore. B that was never going to work as as much as they would have wished it. C, it creates an opportunity, because a lot of people want to see the Abraham accords succeed. But they also want to see that the Abraham accords finally get that missing piece, and I would argue, actually can be a driving force for progress on the Israeli Palestinian front, if done right. And one way to do that, is to use the international fund concept as a gateway for countries that are part of the normalization, and maybe even some countries that are not yet part of the normalization, to say, Okay, you're not signing a peace deal with Israel today. But you can do this you can vote for you can support you can fund, you can officially align yourself with this effort to create a two state solution by partnering Israelis and Palestinians by investing deeply on the ground to improve their lives. So we're that's a case that we're making, and certainly welcome lots of friends and allies and making it to all the parties about how the Abraham accords can be leveraged towards Israeli Palestinian peace, perhaps through an international fund.

Ori Nir  59:18

Great, thanks so much, Avi. i So we have quite a few other questions that we have not addressed. What I'd like to ask people to do is to email me with any questions that they may have. Following up on our discussion today, I will share them with Avi with his permission, and he can then address some of them at least in the in there are some technical ones that I can definitely address as well. I mentioned earlier that the recording of this webinar will be on our podcast, PeaceCast. There is an episode that we just uploaded today that has to do with another people, two people program that I think people may be interested in. And that is the Jewish  youth chorus. And we've we spoke Maxxe and I with the founder, Mica who I think, you know, I very interesting conversation, I think people will enjoy it. So quite a quite a bit to chew on in terms of people to people programs, programs that I feel always, you know, really instill a sense of hope and positivity, which we need, we need quite a bit of a dose of these days. Thank you very much everyone who joined us. Thank you, Avi.

Avi Meyerstein  1:00:35

Thank you, Ori and Maxxe. This was a real pleasure.

Ori Nir  1:00:38

We'll see you soon. We're going to have another webinar next week that will deal with Israeli elections. So we'll we'll send out the invitation shortly. Thanks, everyone, and goodbye.