OPINION: How a Labour Government could advance peace in the Middle East

The latest Jewish News

Read this week’s digital edition

Click Here

OPINION: How a Labour Government could advance peace in the Middle East

LFI's Michael Rubin urges a Keir Starmer administration to bring together the international community to fund peacebuilding projects involving Israelis and Palestinians to underpin any future peace process

Israeli and Palestinian flags
Israeli and Palestinian flags

Amid the horror in Israel and Gaza over the past seven months, there have been few causes for hope and optimism.

While President Biden’s credible and constructive plan for the future is much needed, any new diplomatic effort to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is inevitably treated with caution given the failure of previous peace processes over the past three decades.

As LFI (Labour Friends of Israel) outlines in a new paper by John Lyndon published this week, it is therefore crucial to learn from what has worked successfully elsewhere.

The key lesson from Northern Ireland, Columbia and South Africa is the need to build a broader, deeper process which places grassroots, civic society peacebuilding at the core of a new strategy for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

In each of these instances, it had a vital impact on both the attitudes and political context which are the oxygen that real peace processes depend upon; proved critical for societal resilience; transformed the political incentives within conflicted societies, creating constituencies – and indeed leaders – who support peace and reconciliation; developed many of the ideas that leaders ultimately borrowed and presented as their own; and helped to create a counterweight to the spoilers that exist in every conflict.

Jonathan Powell, the UK’s chief negotiator, has rightly labelled the International Fund for Ireland “the great unsung” of the Good Friday Agreement. Established during the darkest days of The Troubles in the mid-1980s – over a decade before the 1998 agreement – the IFI began its work at a moment that elicited similar levels of pessimism and despair to that which we have seen in Israel and Palestine in recent years.

Through an unprecedented $1.5bn in direct funding and $2.4bn overall – a haul amassed from combining multiple donations from the US, the EU, UK and the Commonwealth – the IFI engaged in a sustained, long-term effort to build relationships, economic development, interdependencies and trust between unionists and nationalists.

Funding more than 6,000 peacebuilding projects, the IFI transformed the civic landscape. Participation in these programmes eventually became a rite of passage for young Catholics and Protestants.

The Oslo Accords, which occurred at a roughly similar time, were, like the Good Friday Agreement, essentially an interim agreement. But, unlike in Northern Ireland, Oslo appeared out of nowhere, with no civic preparation or grassroots capacity ready to sustain it.

And while there is a network of peacebuilding projects – encompassing tech, the environment, health and young people – in Israel-Palestine, they have received nowhere near the funding the international community expended in Northern Ireland. In the case of the latter, this translated into more than $44 per person per year, compared with around $3 in Israel-Palestine.

Despite their lack of funding and scale, we know from rigorous academic studies that peacebuilding projects in Israel-Palestine work: chipping away at participants’ negative attitudes, and bolstering those, such as trust and a willingness to work with “the other side”, which are needed to underpin a successful political process.

Inspired by the IFI, and pioneered by the Alliance for Middle East Peace, there is now a huge opportunity for the creation of an International Fund for Israeli-Palestinian Peace – an initiative bolstered by the success of the bipartisan 2020 US Middle East Partnership for Peace Act which is now investing an unprecedented $250m in peacebuilding work.

Under Keir Starmer, who has endorsed an International Fund, a Labour government could make the realm of civil society its priority, and position the UK as the leading voice, convener and architect for civil society in the region, placing this agenda at the core of a wider diplomatic process, alongside its closest allies.

Upon taking office, a Labour government could take a leading role in bringing together allies to establish a mechanism aimed at effectively pooling and strategically coordinating the combined strengths, resources, and legitimacy of a collaborative effort involving the US and other members of the G7, EU, and the Arab League.

David Lammy, who has also backed the fund, could announce that he would invite this broad and inclusive group of countries for an inaugural meeting in London, within the first 100 days of Labour taking office, to map and coordinate support for civil society in the region as part of restoring a diplomatic horizon for Israelis and Palestinians.

Setting up the International Fund as an institution need not be the first priority. Instead, a more informal working group – which would be easy to assemble, could start its work immediately, and could later be formalised into something more permanent – could be the first, eminently achievable, goal within Labour’s first 100 days in government.

Such a vision and ambition would be a worthy and fitting heir to the last Labour government’s early and pivotal efforts in Northern Ireland.

Support your Jewish community. Support your Jewish News

Thank you for helping to make Jewish News the leading source of news and opinion for the UK Jewish community. Today we're asking for your invaluable help to continue putting our community first in everything we do.

For as little as £5 a month you can help sustain the vital work we do in celebrating and standing up for Jewish life in Britain.

Jewish News holds our community together and keeps us connected. Like a synagogue, it’s where people turn to feel part of something bigger. It also proudly shows the rest of Britain the vibrancy and rich culture of modern Jewish life.

You can make a quick and easy one-off or monthly contribution of £5, £10, £20 or any other sum you’re comfortable with.

100% of your donation will help us continue celebrating our community, in all its dynamic diversity...


Being a community platform means so much more than producing a newspaper and website. One of our proudest roles is media partnering with our invaluable charities to amplify the outstanding work they do to help us all.


There’s no shortage of oys in the world but Jewish News takes every opportunity to celebrate the joys too, through projects like Night of Heroes, 40 Under 40 and other compelling countdowns that make the community kvell with pride.


In the first collaboration between media outlets from different faiths, Jewish News worked with British Muslim TV and Church Times to produce a list of young activists leading the way on interfaith understanding.


Royal Mail issued a stamp honouring Holocaust hero Sir Nicholas Winton after a Jewish News campaign attracted more than 100,000 backers. Jewish Newsalso produces special editions of the paper highlighting pressing issues including mental health and Holocaust remembrance.

Easy access

In an age when news is readily accessible, Jewish News provides high-quality content free online and offline, removing any financial barriers to connecting people.

Voice of our community to wider society

The Jewish News team regularly appears on TV, radio and on the pages of the national press to comment on stories about the Jewish community. Easy access to the paper on the streets of London also means Jewish News provides an invaluable window into the community for the country at large.

We hope you agree all this is worth preserving.

read more: