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Alexandra Bro, research associate of the Women and Foreign Policy program, contributed to the development of this blog post.
In decades of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, women have mobilized civil society efforts to build peace, yet few women have managed to achieve official roles in peace negotiations. Tzipi Livni notably served as Israel’s chief negotiator in multiple rounds between 2007 and 2014 (one of only two women in history to have served in this role) and Zahira Kamal was a negotiator for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1990s.
I conducted two separate interviews: one with Livni, the former foreign minister of Israel and the first Israeli woman to have held eight cabinet posts, and one with Kamal, general-secretary of the Palestinian Democratic Union Party (the first woman to lead a Palestinian political party) and former minister of women’s affairs in the Palestinian National Authority, in which they both reflected on their careers and how women around the world contribute to peace and security.
Why do you think women’s representation matters in foreign policy and national security?
Tzipi Livni: These decisions are of life and death because they will determine what the future of the state will look like. Women are more than 50 percent of the population, and we should be represented. But it is more than that. I saw while working with international leaders—the decision-making process of women is based more on values and less about politics, and less ego is involved in the discussion. During negotiations, it is not just about explaining to the other side what you want; it is also about listening and understanding how we can achieve a common denominator during the discussions.
Zahira Kamal: Women see different paths—they test where the root problems are and how we can solve them together. And they usually focus on the details—in the details, you find a lot of things to be done, to be repaired, and to be changed.
Yet women are underrepresented in politics because many believe that politics are for men. But when we talk of the idea of women’s issues, it’s also society’s issue, since women make up half of the society, and they raise the other half of society. Women should put the issues they care about on the table. Since United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, more women have been calling for a chance to be at the negotiating table, and to contribute—especially on security issues. We want to be part of the process, to be in politics, and to be active behind the scenes too, since that’s where many decisions are taken.
You have been party to high-level peace negotiations: what was it like to be one of the few women at the pinnacle of decision-making?
TL: It took me some time to realize that it is a unique situation for a woman to be in, because for me, it was obvious. I joined politics because I wanted to achieve a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, and I knew that it was something that I am good at. I did not understand that some people would look at me and say “okay, she is a woman, what does she understand about security?” For me, however, it was the place that I wanted to be as a person, as a mother, and as a decision-maker in Israel.
ZK: It is not easy. Women are all the time under the microscope: people want to find something wrong that they can point to as proof that women are not able to do something, so they can tell us, “we said before that women cannot do that.” So women work and work and work in order to be successful, and to be a role model for other women.
How do you think that Israeli and Palestinian women can contribute to the peace process?
TL: First, we can have more women in decision-making positions in the Israeli cabinet. Second, we now have grassroots women’s movements, such as Women Wage Peace. These women have decided to take their future, and the future of their family, in their hands. It is wonderful to see them taking to the streets and demonstrating for peace.
ZK: If there are more women at the table, then we can have a more visible impact. With just one or two women, it is like a decoration, with little chance for effect. The media has a role to play too—it can help raise the voice of women, and draw attention to their message.
And beyond that, there is a lot to be done towards peace through non-violent resistance. We can organize demonstrations and conferences, and we can document the situation that we are living in and talk about what peace can bring.
For a two-state solution, we have to be able to live alongside each other, we have to have a common relationship. I believe it is important that Palestinian women understand the other side, understand that Israel is more than what we are witnessing where we live. So when we were getting started in the 1980s, we went from home to home, talking with Israeli women about our cause, about ending violence in any form. And when the first intifada started in 1987, Israeli women came to my home to show their support for me. When the negotiations began [in the 1990s], we had formed different kinds of organizations that demonstrated how a two-state solution could be. One example was Jerusalem Link, which had one organization in East Jerusalem and another in West Jerusalem. They each worked independently in their areas but they shared common principles and would coordinate.
I saw that women are able to build different connections and different ways of communicating with each other. They can find common issues to work together on.
How have you seen women support one another in politics?
TL: When I ran for office and saw all these women supporting me—it gave me strength. When one woman is in a high position, this gives strength to other women, young women, to take high positions in the future.
ZK: Women in politics represent not just themselves, but all women who are not able to raise their voices. And the more women who raise their voice together, the louder we will be and the more people will hear us.
What advice do you have for those women who are looking to pursue careers in national security and foreign policy?
TL: Do not take no for an answer. Do whatever you believe is right for you and for your country. The sky is the limit.
ZK: The more women that are at the table, the more we can achieve.
For more interviews with female leaders who have been integral to peace processes worldwide, explore the interactive report at cfr.org/women-peace.