The Women Wage Peace Group ended their 2-week long march through Israel with a triumphant rally in Jerusalem, attended by 30, 000 people. The organisation, which boasts a membership of 24,000 women, started their rally in the settlement Sderot in the Negev desert, which is well-known for its proximity to the Gaza strip. Hosting many politicians, the group was addressed by former MK Shahib Shanan who called on leaders on both sides to “Sit already! Sit already” and to make peace. Alongside political figures, the rally was attended by women from across the religious spectrum and even included Adina Bar-Shalom, the daughter of the late Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef.
The group’s welcoming of women from a cross-section of Israeli society has given the movement an especially prominent place in Israeli society, which is so frequently bitterly divided by both religious observance and political views. Women Wage Peace explicitly excludes both of these considerations from its agenda and merely seeks to persuade politicians to promote peace with their actions.
Their success has been, perhaps, limited more to high-profile events, however, as they face a government who is more right-wing than ever. Facing the Knesset in winter will be the controversial “Greater Jerusalem” Bill which aims to annex 19 West Bank settlements and incorporate them into the municipality of Jerusalem. This extremely significant political move would deal an almost irrevocable blow to the two-state solution; Maale Adumim, one of the largest settlements, comprising of 40,000 people, would be included and it is situated in the centre of the West Bank. As Nahil Shaath, senior adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, insisted, this annexation is “a clear refusal of any attempt to revive the peace process.”
Not only does this bill jeopardise the future of the two-state solution but its main proposer is Yisrael Katz, who has recently confirmed rumours that he will stand for the leadership of the Likud party after Netanyahu finishes his tenure. Netanyahu has himself publicly announced that he will be supporting the bill, and, speaking at a rally in Maale Adumim, he committed himself to further building in the area: “we will add the industrial zone needed and the expansion needed to allow for the advanced development of this place… this place will be part of the State of Israel.” Katz’s political ambitions indicate that Likud’s position is not likely to change over the next few years.
The Greater Jerusalem Bill is not being proposed in isolation. Back in February, the Knesset passed another piece of controversial legislation, retroactively legalising settlement building. The Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog warned that this measure would lead to Israel being tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC). A group of human rights organisations have recently submitted a several hundred page dossier to the ICC, and although senior Israeli diplomats have expressed doubt as to whether the ICC will actually address this dossier, this could be a precedent for the future.
Despite the successes of the Women Wage Peace movement – and their most prominent event yet – the future is not looking bright. The only point of certainty seems to be the US embassy remaining in Tel Aviv – a position disliked by many on the right – which is reflective of a less sympathetic attitude towards the current Israeli government from the US. Whether pressure from this extremely significant ally will act as a moderating force remains to be seen; until now, Israel’s perception of Trump’s administration as being sympathetic has opened up the first settlement expansion in 25 years.
Netanyahu’s government might, therefore, respond to pressure from the US and from the crowd gathered by Women Wage Peace but it does not look likely. The most important action would be to stop the progress of settlement expansion, both in sanctioning physical building and in opposing the Greater Jerusalem Bill. Neither of which will happen under either Netanyahu or Katz. Nonetheless, Women Wage Peace should, at least, be applauded for continuing in the face of this opposition.
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