Recently President Obama paid a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories and worked hard to repair the difficult relationship he’s had with Prime Minister Netanyahu by saying and doing the right things. This charm offensive has helped to place the two leaders on the same page regarding the Iranian nuclear threat and to cooperate on rebuilding relations between Israel and Turkey which are essential in the midst of the expanding Syria Civil War. The President spoke passionately about the rights of Palestinians. But he approached the acknowledgement of their rights by underlining the security requirements of Israel:
“So peace is necessary. But peace is also just. Peace is also just. There is no question that Israel has faced Palestinian factions who turned to terror, leaders who missed historic opportunities. That is all true. And that’s why security must be at the center of any agreement. And there is no question that the only path to peace is through negotiations — which is why, despite the criticism we’ve received, the United States will oppose unilateral efforts to bypass negotiations through the United Nations. It has to be done by the parties. (Applause.) But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, their right to justice, must also be recognized. (Applause.)
Put yourself in their shoes. Look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own. (Applause.) Living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements not just of those young people but their parents, their grandparents, every single day. It’s not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. (Applause.) It’s not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; or restricting a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or displace Palestinian families from their homes. (Applause.) Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. (Applause.) Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land. (Applause.)”
It appears that President Obama and his new Secretary of State John Kerry have a plan to re-engage and to work publicly and privately to initiate a new round of peace negotiations leading toward a final status agreement and the creation of a free and secure Palestinian State adjacent to a free and secure State of Israel. Many parties are busy cheerleading this effort, like the letter to Netanyahu by a list of 100 American Jewish leaders produced by the Israel Policy Forum:
There are loud voices on the right cheering against concessions and eviscerating the reality of a Palestinian partner for peace, (an old reliable charge with enough truth to allow it to gum up the works more often than not);
It should be added that Bill Kristol can summon some powerful words to help make his case:
“Before rushing to issue new recommendations, we suggest that these oracles of bad advice might pause to reflect on the wisdom of the recommendations they’ve already made.”
I am not a leader of the American Jewish community and represent neither the left nor the right. But I am a Jew who believes that “peace is possible” if enough people work for it and those people work collectively with others locally, regionally and internationally against the extremism that shouts down the efforts of good people and their leaders to seek peace and when that doesn’t work oppose it as violently as possible. A U.S. President called on the young people of Israel to take risks for peace:
“And let me say this as a politician — I can promise you this, political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. You must create the change that you want to see. (Applause.) Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.”
In the aftermath of the Second Intifada, the Gaza disengagement and the continuing expansion of settlements and disruption of Palestinian life in the West Bank it is more than difficult for Israelis or Palestinians to suddenly champion a peace that seems to always be announced but seldom if ever be seen. It is incumbent on American, European, Arab and Asian leaders as well as others to support the peace process concretely in deeds as well as in words by underwriting a National Dialogue on Peace between Palestinians and Israelis that raises the stakes for Israelis and Palestinians alike and brings them together to learn about and from each other and to generate a real collaborative Peoples Movement for Peace in 2013. There have been many well meaning words. But today it is critically necessary to work together to help two peoples and their leaders join together to seek and realize lasting peace.
The writer is President of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO based in Philadelphia, and can be reached at email@example.com. The words represent the beliefs of the author and should not be construed as the policy of the Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace.