After the speech: investing in peacemaking

Since the U.S. abstention at the UN Security Council and the speech by Secretary of State John Kerry, much has been said about the prospects for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. I am among those who take issue with the U.S. approach this past week. Nonetheless, for those of us who share the belief that the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state is through the establishment of two states, one Jewish and one Palestinian, we must ask ourselves: What are we able to do today, tomorrow, and in the near term to promote and expand the potential for this outcome?

As we begin 2017 – the year marking the 70th anniversary of the UN partition that envisioned two states for two people, and the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War that reunited Jerusalem and brought the West Bank under Israel’s control – the path to peace is long and difficult. While Secretary Kerry did not offer a meaningful way forward in this moment to help make a two-state solution achievable, there is in fact plenty of activity going on in here in Boston and in Israel that needs our support if coexistence and cooperation are to thrive in a manner that expands the potential for peace:

  • The Middle East Entrepreneurs of Tomorrow (MEET), created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, set out to answer the question: “What if the next generation of Israeli and Palestinian leaders had a history of working together, using innovative problem solving to make positive change in the Middle East?” They bring together young Israeli and Palestinian entrepreneurs for education and empowerment. MEET is incubating and investing in a bi-national cohort of innovators to lead social change.
  • The Yad B’Yad (Hand in Hand) schools are serving thousands of Jewish and Palestinian students in six Israeli cities, offering an alternative to the separate public school systems, thereby building a generation of students and parents who are committed to an environment of co-existence. Their work, including bilingual co-teaching from the earliest years, is paving the way toward a shared society for kids who are “learning together, living together.”
  • Our Generation Speaks (OGS), at Brandeis University, recognizes the deep frustration of both Israelis and Palestinians as extreme voices and opinions dominate public discourse. OGS is identifying change agents amongst youth who have not lost hope, and who want to build shared prosperity. Their high impact ventures are intended to inject optimism back into the public discourse and promote a more productive conversation regarding Israeli-Palestinian affairs.
  • Shorashim (Roots) is a grassroots joint movement in the West Bank focused on building trust and empathy between two peoples – Jews and Palestinians -currently living in that region. In just their first two years they’ve reached 13,000 people as they “endeavor to lay the groundwork for a reality in which future agreements between our governments can be built.”
  • The Peres Center For Peace, founded by Israel’s former President, of blessed memory, seeks to realize Shimon Peres’ vision for a prosperous Israel at peace with its neighbors. The Center builds economic partnerships to deepen mutual interests while encouraging cross border partnerships and interactions including agricultural projects, regional water initiatives, and technological entrepreneurship.

These examples are just a few of the many initiatives I have had the privilege to witness and experience at home in Boston or during my travels to Israel and Palestinian areas in recent years. There are many more efforts like these, each with a different focus, but a common purpose connecting them: The recognition that interaction, mutual understanding, and interdependence will support and strengthen peace when it comes, and that the potential for peace must be fostered by changing the lives of people today.

As concerned and engaged citizens we can, right now, build the foundation for a future of peace by expanding the social capital, the institutional strength, and the political space for these groups and others like them. Instead of demanding that the current political leadership negotiate in the absence of trust, we can support those who are making a difference today by building lasting relationships for accomplishing bigger dreams tomorrow.

We cannot afford to lose the hope and the possibility of a two-state solution. By supporting the vision of groups like these, we can become partners in fostering an atmosphere that will expand the potential for peace. There is no alternative.

May we bring peace in our time.

About the Author
Jeremy Burton is the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC), defining and advancing the values, interests and priorities of the organized Jewish community of Greater Boston in the public square. He has been published widely, including in the New York Jewish Week, the Jewish Forward, Zeek, Sh’ma, and the Washington Post: On Faith. The JTA included him in their 2010 “Twitter 100” list of the most influential Jewish voices on Twitter.
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