An open letter to Ambassador David Friedman about the occupation

In 2003, Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the following:  “You cannot like the word, but what is happening is an occupation — to hold 3.5 million Palestinians under occupation. I believe that is a terrible thing for Israel and for the Palestinians.”

Last week, in your role as American Ambassador to Israel you referred to what you called an “alleged occupation” in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

I had the opportunity to have a brief conversation with you Ambassador Friedman at the U.S. Consulate’s Independence Day reception in Jerusalem back in July.  At the time, you told me that the Trump Administration was serious about trying to seek what the President calls “an ultimate deal” for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.   You also said to me that in the process “we will try not to repeat mistakes made by previous administrations, though we make some new ones.”

A mistake to be avoided at all costs

One mistake that the current American Administration, and you as Ambassador to Israel, should avoid at all costs, is to ignore the fact that since 1967 the Palestinians living under Israeli rule in the West Bank,  are not Israeli citizens, and have been living under an occupation.  There is an international consensus about this, and it has also been the consensus of all recent American administrations, both Republican and Democratic. The American and international consensus has also been that the way to resolve the conflict is based on the achievement of a two-state solution which would end the occupation, while ensuring the State of Israel’s right to live in peace and security alongside a sovereign Palestinian neighboring state.

That’s the “ultimate deal”, which is in the best interest of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and which also serves American interests.

How many Israelis will accept President Rivlin’s proposal?

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has proposed annexation of the West Bank by Israel, while giving full citizenship and voting rights to the Palestinians.  You, Ambassador Friedman, and President Trump’s envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, have been meeting with a broad cross section of Israelis and Palestinians to try to revive a peace process.  You may have heard some Palestinians ready to accept such an arrangement, since they will soon be a majority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and would then dominate such a one-state solution. But how many Israelis have you met who would be willing to accept such an arrangement?  And annexation without granting equal rights is a  recipe for ongoing conflict, which would lead Israel into an apartheid-like situation.

Israeli government representatives who you have met, and undoubtedly you yourself as well, were upset by UN Security Council Resolution 2334 which was passed in December, 2016.  But if you look at the resolution from a broader perspective, you will realize that it was actually a very pro-Israeli resolution.  After-all, the resolution was an expression of the international community’s concern about the continuation of the occupation, the fact that “the status quo is not sustainable” and the fact that time is running out on the two-state solution, the only viable resolution for the conflict. It condemned “all acts of violence against civilians, including acts of terror, as well as acts of provocation, incitement and destruction.”  And it reiterated the international community’s support for “its vision of a region where two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders.”  What could be more pro-Israel than that?

Struggling against the occupation is true patriotism

Israelis struggling to end the occupation over the Palestinians are acting in Israel’s best interests. We see that the continuation of the occupation not only deprives the Palestinians of democratic rights, but it also erodes the very fabric of Israeli democracy. We are patriotic Israelis, concerned about the fate of the Zionist enterprise, and the future we are leaving for our children and grandchildren.  After-all, the original vision of Theodore Herzl and the other founders of modern political Zionism was to create a safe haven for the Jewish people who have been serially persecuted over the centuries since their original exile from their homeland 2,000 years ago.  Is  a situation of perpetual conflict a safe haven? Is the continuation of the occupation, and of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a recipe for security and prosperity, for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, that beautiful aspiration that appears in the U.S. Declaration of Independence?

Ending the occupation will mean that certain locations of historical significance to Jews, such as the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Rachel’s Tomb and perhaps the area of Beit El that you are familiar with, will be transferred to Palestinian sovereignty.  However, in a two-state situation of peace and cooperation, they will remain accessible to all Jews and Israelis who want to visit them.  Just as Jaffa and Haifa which were centers of Palestinian cultural life during the Ottoman and British periods will remain accessible to Palestinians under Israeli sovereignty.

In the spirit of Theodore Herzl

I am a member of the Policy Group that emerged from the Israeli Peace NGO Forum, a group of about 20 men and women, former diplomats, academics, civil society activists and media people, who are struggling to end the occupation and to achieve a two-state solution.  The group is chaired by Ambassador Ilan Baruch, and we all fought for Israel on the diplomatic, military, academic and civil society fronts, sometimes paying a serious price for it.  We are also working together with Palestinian colleagues who are seeking the same goals, an end to the occupation based upon the two-state solution.

One of our members, Dr. Dimitry Shumsky, who lectures on Jewish and Zionist history at the Hebrew University, recently published an article entitled “The New Political Zionism”. The subtitle reads “NGOs’ struggle against the occupation continues Zionism’s path because it seeks legitimate borders for Israel and the political normalization of the Jewish people — à la Theodor Herzl 120 years ago”. I recommend that you read it, and share it with your colleagues at the Embassy and in the Administration.  Hopefully it will give you some insights which will help motivate the Trump Administration to seriously engage in the quest for realistic progress towards a resolution of the conflict, based upon a two-state solution.

I also recommend that you think seriously about what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said back in 2003.

About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv