Building a Constituency for Peace
Nancy Bernstein, Guest Columnist
In Secretary of State John Kerry’s first months in office, he will have visited Israel and other Middle East nations more times than did his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, during her entire four-year tenure. His goal — to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict and possibly the Arab-Israeli conflict with it — is ambitious. But he understands that too much is at stake for Israel, the Palestinians, United States and the region, for failure to be an option.
He knows that in the absence of a peace deal that establishes two states for two peoples, Israel will face increasing isolation from the international community in the form of boycotts and calls for divestment or trade restrictions. The absence of a negotiated peace deal portends a future that threatens Israel’s survival as a democracy and as the homeland of the Jewish people. The absence of progress will weaken the last remaining potential partners for peace. Those who replace them will undoubtedly be far less disposed to diplomacy or compromise.
Kerry’s doggedness and commitment is to make Israeli and Palestinian leaders realize that the status quo cannot hold, and though they do not see perfect partners for peace, those are the only partners they have.
In an impassioned speech to AJC (American Jewish Committee) last month, Kerry declared, “I still believe that peace is achievable, and more than ever, I know that it’s worth fighting for.”
But few others share his sense of possibility. Kerry’s main obstacle is what AJC’s David Harris recently called “the climate of no expectations … almost a fatalistic view that no progress is possible.”
Kerry has tackled this attitude head-on:
“We also all know cynicism has never solved anything,” he said at the AJC annual meeting. “Israel has only gotten this far because brave people were willing to defy the odds and ignore the conventional wisdom, and actually overcome obstacles.”
He cited the overwhelming advantages of a peace agreement, even in the current chaotic environment of the Middle East:
“A stable Palestinian state with assured borders and a flourishing economy will only strengthen Israel’s security and Israel’s future,” he said. He described a future of unlimited possibilities, of economic growth and investment. And he promised an end to the 46-year-old occupation of the West Bank, used as justification by extremists all over the world to perpetuate terrorism against both the United States and Israel.
Why should the Jewish community heed Kerry’s call to publicly support his efforts? Because our voices matter. The American institutional Jewish community has deep ties and connections to Israel through the Jewish Agency, through the partnerships Jewish federations have with Israelis in their sister regions, and in the personal ties many American Jews have with family and friends living in Israel. To say that what we think and feel doesn’t matter to Israelis and their leaders is to deny the power that we have. Raising our voices to support Kerry when he is maximizing his efforts in the Arab world and with Israeli and Palestinian leaders will send just the right message: We believe peace is a worthwhile goal and we wholeheartedly support strong U.S. efforts to help achieve it.
“I believe that if we care about the future of Israel – as I do, and know you do – and if we understand what is at stake, we should recognize that this time is, in fact, a significant opportunity, and it is more than that, it is a responsibility,” Kerry declared.
We must let Secretary of State Kerry know that we care as much and feel as responsible as he does for advancing the cause of peace in the region. Personally, I feel grateful to him for believing in the power of the human spirit to overcome the obstacles that have impeded progress. So far, since Kerry’s speech, Eric Yoffee from the Union for Reform Judaism, Harris from AJC, Abe Foxman from the Anti-Defamation League and Rabbi Steve Gutow from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs have released statements affirming support for Kerry’s efforts and condemning comments by Israeli officials arguing against a two-state solution.
More of us, including the leaders of our local community, owe it to ourselves and to Secretary of State Kerry to publicly laud his effort at fostering peace. Our voices will make a difference. They always have and they always will.
(Nancy Bernstein is co-chair of J Street Pittsburgh.)
Peace: not in the stars
Stuart V. Pavilack, Guest Columnist
“Space: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, its 5-year-mission.”
That phrase was first voiced in 1966 and, with its most recent launch 47 years later, the Enterprise still hasn’t completed its mission.
It sounds a lot like trying to find peace in the Middle East, which has been going on for a much longer time.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is making his fifth trip to the Middle East, with hopes of restarting negotiations. His name will be added to a long list of diplomats and scholars, many with much more experience, who have tried their best.
For more than 30 years, U.S. administrations have been looking for the proverbial “needle” only to almost be sucked into a “black hole.” One would think any administration, much less one in a second term, would be much more cautious. With the Middle East in its worst shape in years, with other issues more critical, and with thousands dying every month, what is so pressing at this time? Please don’t get me wrong; I want peace. I believe Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, Zionists and J Streeters all want peace. Probably the most opportune time for peace was in the decade after Oslo, so what happened? With Oslo, the Palestinians made these commitments (and more) to:
• Recognize the right of Israel to exist in peace and security;
• Accept U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338;
• Commit itself to a peaceful resolution of the conflict
• Renounce the use of terrorism and other acts of violence;
• Assume responsibility over all PLO elements to ensure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators;
• Affirm those articles of the PLO Covenant, which deny Israel’s right to exist are now inoperative and no longer valid; and
• Undertake to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes to the Covenant.
To date, the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) has not lived up to any of its commitments from Oslo. Furthermore, it continues to incite hatred by honoring terrorists, naming streets and sports facilities after suicide bombers, demonizing Israelis and Jews on P.A. television, and encouraging jihad. This philosophy runs throughout the P.A. and Fatah. Recent examples are:
• Senior P.A. official, Jibril Rajoub stated, “All of Palestine — from the river to the sea — it’s all occupied;”
• Rajoub also said, “I swear that if we had a nuke, we’d use it this very morning;”
• P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas decorated an arch-terrorist who planned the massacre of children;
• Abbas stood by a P.A. official who glorified a murderer of an 84-year-old Israeli.
• Abbas stated, “Jerusalem has only Islamic and Christian history and Israel … is stealing [that] history;”
• The Bethlehem governor compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the Nazi occupation of Poland; and
• The Ramallah governor called Israel the “Zionist enemy.”
Examples such as these can fill many volumes. Does any of this sound like a legitimate peace partner?
For the last five years, the United States has been asking Israel to make more concessions. What did Israel get by giving up control of large portions of Judea and Samaria? By pulling out of Gaza?
Some believe problems stem from Israeli “settlements,” many of which are large, modern cities. From 1948 to 1967 there were no settlements in Judea and Samaria, but it didn’t stop Arab neighbors from attacking Israel. And nowhere in the Oslo Accords does it even mention anything about settlements. Only recently did the administration make them an issue.
Abbas’ preconditions for negotiations doom Kerry from the start. Abbas wants Israel to vacate the settlements, pull back to the 1967 lines, recognize East Jerusalem as Palestinian and, only then, will he come back to the peace table. What’s left to negotiate, Haifa and Tel Aviv?
With the present political climate in the Middle East, there is nothing to suggest that Abbas will honor a peace agreement were one signed, assuming he or the P.A. would exist to honor it.
There is already a de facto Palestinian state, it is called Gaza — a place where Sharia law is being implemented and life is worse every day. Children are taught in schools and summer camp to hate and kill. The only thing that has been created is a launching pad for rockets aimed at Israel. For years, the P.A. has been putting off elections in Judea and Samaria because Hamas would stand a good chance of winning and perhaps create another Gaza.
I would advise Kerry to learn from lessons of past administrations and to stay out of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians; they have proven to be no-win situations, and there is every reason to believe it wouldn’t be any different this time. The United States should be focusing on Syria, Egypt, Iran and protecting Jordan. Over 100,000 innocents have been killed in Syria, while more have been executed in other Arab states. Two million Christians in Syria and 8 million Coptic Christians in Egypt are currently at risk from regime change and Islamic radicals. The United States should be doing everything in their power to prevent more Darfurs.
Peace may be the final frontier. Live long and prosper.
(Stuart V. Pavilack is executive director of the Zionist Organization of America-Pittsburgh District.)