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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Chapter Activities

St. Louis, MO

Jewish Light

Central Reform Holds Public Forum on Israel
By Mitch Schneider
October 20, 2004

The possibility of peace in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the role that the United States and its president will play in that peace was the topic of a public forum and panel discussion held at Central Reform Congregation (CRC) last week.

On Oct. 11, CRCs Israel Circle held the forum to discuss the Open Letter from American Jews to the Next President, that has been drafted by the organization Brit Tzedek vShalom.

Carinne Luck, a representative of Brit Tzedek, and one of the panelists at the event, described the group as pro-Israel and pro-peace. According to Luck, the group has 20,000 members and supporters in 30 chapters and was started as a safe place to discuss views and provide an alternative to the traditional view of Israel right or wrong.

The letter initiative was started in late spring and addresses two main questions, of re-engaging conflict negotiations as a top priority, and appointing a high level envoy, Luck said. We need to reach out to reformers in the Palestinians and recognize that there are some speaking for peace, and we need to validate voices of reform on both sides.

In the letter, which will be sent to the winner of the Nov. 2 presidential election, Brit Tzedek, which is working with several other groups, calls for the president, in the first 100 days of his administration, to appoint and send an internationally respected envoy at the highest level to signal your intentions to pursue full implementation of the disengagement plan and a renewal of negotiations leading to a final status accord.

Other members of the panel were Rabbi Susan Talve of CRC, Rabbi Steve Gutow of the St. Louis Reconstructionist Minyan, Rabbi Mark Fasman of Shaare Zedek and Bob Cohn, editor-in-chief/publisher of the Jewish Light.

According to Talve, CRCs Israel Circle, which sponsored the forum, was formed two years ago with the intention of providing an opportunity for diverse voices to comment on the conflict and in the letter, she sees something that while not a final answer, does provide another view.

This letter is not the perfect solution. It is little more than a drop in the bucket, but I am a supporter of it and I think it is a wise thing to do, Talve said. U.S. involvement will not guarantee peace, but U.S. disengagement is not acceptable. The intifada is now a war, and the economies of both sides have been devastated. I will sign this letter, but we cannot impose peace. Both parties have to believe that there are partners on the other side, and we must hold both parties accountable.

It was brought up that one way that might make both sides accountable is giving them reasons to do so.

There can be a sort of Marshall Plan for the Palestinians, giving them an economic stake, a reason to be involved, said Gutow, who mentioned the need for resources such as jobs and health care on the Palestinian side. It is through engagement and fairness that we can move to a peaceful conclusion . . . and this letter is a terrific way. Without the U.S. both sides will move toward extremism. The Palestinians may not like us, but there is too much on the table for them to step back.

During her remarks, Talve mentioned one hurdle in the peace process is the seeming unwillingness of PLO leader Yasser Arafat to accept the possibility of a two-state system. In his remarks, Fasman also addressed the issue of leadership that lacks the necessary tools to make a peace plan work.

In 2000, I met with members of the Israeli left, who felt that there were no partners [on the Palestinian side], that there was no one to talk to. My sense of the last few years is that there is frustration in Israel on both the left and the right. Brokering an agreement requires legitimate representatives who speak for their constituents. Without this, the peace process means nothing, Fasman said.

The first thing that has to happen is to find ways to encourage the Palestinians to create for themselves a legitimate spokesman. It is foolish to send an envoy if one side is unwilling. I agree with many of the assumptions in the letter, there are some beautiful things in here . . . but we have to identify a Palestinian leader, Fasman said.

The themes of general support for the letter, but questions about Palestinian leadership, were echoed by Cohn of the Jewish Light.

Since September 2000, more than 1,000 Israelis and more than 3,000 Palestinians have been killed in suicide bombings. I favor a Palestinian state, they deserve one, they need one . . . but some cards are being played by those who dont want peace, Cohn said. I give any group credit for taking a proactive statement on peace. What I like about this letter is that it says, lets get a two-state system while there is still time. Im not opposed to an envoy, but I am skeptical.

Cohn cited the fact that past U.S. administrations have appointed envoys to the region, who have been engaged in the peace process early, and helped it, but that many of the real steps toward peace, such as meetings between the late Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, were the result of steps taken by Israeli and Arab leaders themselves.

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