I was one of 16 women leaders of progressive U.S. organizations on a recent visit to the region who witnessed the power, the wisdom, the commitment and the capabilities of women on all sides of this conflict. The unused tools to involve more of them in Mideast discussions are U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which urges women's full participation at all levels of any peace process; and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international agreement that affirms principles of fundamental human rights and equality for women worldwide.
The United States has acted on UN Resolution 1325, completing its National Action Plan in 2010, but Israel has no such plan yet. Israel has, however, ratified CEDAW, and the United States has not. The next steps are obvious.
CEDAW has been ratified by 186 of 194 countries. Besides the United States, the other holdouts are Iran, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia and two small Pacific Island nations (Palau and Tonga). Washington should be very uncomfortable in such company, enough to ratify CEDAW - if not in time for Obama's trip, then soon enough to help brighten the dismal Mideast prognosis.
U.S. ratification would cost nothing and change no U.S. laws automatically. Instead, it would strengthen the United States as a global leader in standing up for women and girls in the Mideast and elsewhere. It would make the U.S. voice more credible in declaring that women's rights are human rights, and that women deserve a greater voice in Israel and other Mideast countries during any peace negotiations.
Conversely, if Israel's overwhelmingly male-dominated government approved a National Action Plan for implementing Resolution 1325, it would open the doors to more creative women like Tzipi Livni. Her centrist Hatnua party has joined the governing coalition of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and she will head negotiations with the Palestinians. Action on Resolution 1325 would also galvanize the region's International Women's Commission for a Just and Sustainable Peace Between Israel and Palestine (IWC), a coalition of Israeli and Palestinian women that has been working to implement the resolution since its inception in 2000.
President Obama has said CEDAW is high on his priority list, but he has yet to ask the Senate to act. Israel was the first country to formally incorporate Resolution 1325 into its national legal codes, but the country has honored it in the breach, ignoring the requirement for a National Action Plan to put the resolution into practice.
Thirty Israeli women's organizations, both Jewish and Arab, funded in part by the U.S.-based National Council of Jewish Women, are working to create a National Action Plan for consideration by the new Israeli government now in formation. A good word from President Obama to Israeli leaders during his trip could boost chances for its adoption.
Both countries should move now to put muscle behind their rhetoric in support of women's rights, by taking up these neglected tools. It's not too late for women to help forge a possible breakthrough in the long-stalled hopes for a Mideast peace.
Kaufman is the chief executive officer of the National Council of Jewish Women, Inc.