The tri-lateral women's group, consisting of Palestinian women, Israeli women and female political leaders from around the world, was founded in 2005 under the auspices of UNIFEM in New York. Its mission was to implement and strengthen U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, passed in 2001 and requiring parties in a conflict to respect women's rights and to support their participation in peace negotiations and in post-conflict reconstruction.
"It is sad, but we agreed to the end of IWC because we were not able to work altogether anymore," said Susskind. "There were tensions linked to the 2008 Israeli military operation against Gaza. It was extremely hard because 80 percent of the Israeli population approved the military intervention, including women who were members of the international commission of IWC. For the Palestinian women there was no way to work with partners who justified the Israeli attack. Again, last year the Gaza flotilla raid raised tensions and provoked crises."
As widely reported on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for a meeting in New York with Abbas to resume "direct negotiations." Susskind believed it possible that women within Palestinian society can play a united role in peace talks, given their agreement with their political leadership. In Israel, however, she said that was more challenging. "There is a growing gap between the feminists who fight for a fair peace and the authorities and the political system in Israel," she said.
"Up to this point, there have been a few women involved," said Rebecca Miller, senior program officer at The Institute for Inclusive Security, based in Washington, D.C. "Most of them have been involved in technical committees, other than Tzipi Livni, but there have been no women at the highest levels." Livni, leader of the Israeli opposition and the Kadima, the largest party in the Knesset, served as Israel's foreign minister from 2006 through 2009. The Palestinian negotiating team included several women during the first rounds of negotiations in the early 1990s. The current delegation, however, has no women at the highest levels.
Last year, Netanyahu announced that, consistent with Israeli law mandating women's inclusion, the delegation will include a woman. However, Miller said the identity of this woman has never been revealed. "Others and I inquired several times and we never were told whether the person has been appointed and, if so, who she was."
Since the 1980s, women have been extremely involved in groups that promote peace and mobilize communities and society to demand a negotiated peace settlement. That informal but crucial role needs to be protected and supported, says the UN Women report. "When individual women are placed in formal, official roles at the peace table, their impact on the language of the text and the inclusion of provisions specific to women is frequently very high," the UN Women report adds. The marginalization of women in Palestine-Israeli peace talks is mirrored around the world. In a sampling of 24 major peace processes since 1992, UN Women researchers found women composed 2.5 percent of signatories, 3.2 percent of mediators, 5.5 percent of witnesses and 7.6 percent of negotiators.