2005: A Time of Hope and Danger
By Marcia Freedman, President

On President's Day Weekend (February 19-21, 2005), join us for our third national conference, "From Gaza to Negotiations: The Role of American Jews" in New York City, featuring Geneva Accord architects Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo. Learn more about the conference and take advantage of early registration discounts today.

Once again in my lifetime, it seems there is a real prospect for a just, negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I join a chorus of voices affirming that this window of opportunity has opened due to a constellation of developments, some unexpected.

  • The Palestinians are experiencing an historic transition from the rule of a single charismatic leader to the rule of law;

  • The Likud and Labor Parties will likely form a unity government in order to accomplish the Gaza withdrawal;

  • Popular support among both Palestinians and Israelis for negotiations and a two-state solution has never been greater; and

  • Civilians on both sides are increasingly unwilling to pay the economic, social and human price of a war that has taken so large a toll in human suffering.
But as much as there is reason to hope, there is also much to fear. I believe, along with many others, that the Gaza withdrawal is part of Prime Minister Sharon's end game to hold on, if possible, to 58% of the West Bank. He will attempt to gain as much time as he can after the Gaza withdrawal without having to do anything further toward a resolution of the conflict. In the meantime, Israel would continue to create facts on the ground in the West Bank by expanding the settlements and the infrastructure that then becomes necessary to support them.
And herein lies the danger. For the past three decades Ariel Sharon, in one governmental role or another, has seen his dream of a greatly expanded Israel realized one step at a time, and sometimes with some very strident steps, as in the past four years. Can he be stopped now?

I do not know the answer to this question. I don't think anyone could. Will the Labor Party use its influence as part of the coalition to successfully move from Gaza first to the West Bank second? Or will it allow itself to be party to policies of foot-dragging and find reasons why, after the Gaza withdrawal, further progress toward peace is not yet possible? 

There are many other unknowns in the immediate future that could jeopardize a negotiated two-state solution. It is too early to know, for instance, whether or not the soon-to-be-elected leadership of the Palestinian Authority will have sufficient political standing and public support to secure the cooperation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, on the one hand, and the European Union and the White House on the other. Without these in hand, Prime Minister Sharon will have an unobstructed pathway.

In addition, we must watch to see how the new unity government will handle settler resistance to the Gaza withdrawal. Will the government forcefully and effectively oppose and overcome settler resistance? If not, why not?

But the greatest wild card of all is the new Bush administration. Much depends on U.S. leadership and the President's commitment to his own vision of the establishment of a democratic Palestinian state alongside Israel.

At present, the administration is showing characteristic signs of indecision on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, sending out mixed signals to everyone - the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Quartet, Tony Blair, and to American citizens, including and especially the American Jewish community.

Ominously but ironically, it is in the hands of George W. Bush to determine the immediate and long-term future of Israelis and Palestinians. His decisions and the input of those who have his ear will determine whether there is a just, negotiated resolution of the conflict or whether there is a continued state of war that could at any time become a regional and perhaps international conflagration.

The coming year and perhaps the one after will mark a decisive turning point in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With the right combination of international intervention and the dynamic of internal self-interest of Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the firm support of the Jewish and Palestinian diasporas, we might see the outcome for which those of us in Brit Tzedek and our allies have been working.

With the wrong combination of circumstances, we may find ourselves on the path to prolonged and escalating warfare accompanied by further economic and civil deterioration - with no end in sight.

Unfortunately, we have no control and very limited influence over some of the historic events soon to unfold - the results and aftermath of the Palestinian elections and the true nature of the new coalition worked out between Labor and Likud.

But we do have a privilege and a responsibility--as Jewish citizens of the United States who wish to have a voice in the determination of U.S. policy with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict--to do all that we can to influence the Bush administration.

Today, less than three years since its founding, Brit Tzedek is almost 25,000 strong. We have developed important relationships with leaders and community institutions at the local level, and among progressive Jewish organizations and leaders at the national level. We have grown rapidly in a relatively short time. Now we must reinforce and harness our collective strength and use it effectively to do what Brit Tzedek was founded to do: bring a strong pro-Israel voice to advocate for a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, giving justice to the Palestinians, security to Israelis, and well-being to both.

We will do this at the national and local levels, through mass-market Internet campaigns, and by direct advocacy with elected officials in Congress. We will seek to broaden our access to the Administration and the White House. We will work intensively this year to deepen our penetration of the print and broadcast media. We will continue our successful in-reach to the organized Jewish community on the local and national levels. We will begin to develop collaborative relationships with other organizations, Jewish and non-Jewish, pursuing our goals and sharing our message.

I thank you for your support for our calls for action, your time and financial assistance, or simply passing our message on to your personal networks. I hope we can count on at least that much and - hopefully - even a little more in 2005. It is going to be a critical year in terms of the issue that is at the core of our mission. That means that each of us has, in our own way, a critical role to play.

I would like to hear your views on the current situation and what you think we should be doing. You can email me directly at marcia@btvshalom.org.

Best wishes from all of us on the board of Brit Tzedek. May our hopes and dreams for a new year of peace be realized, even in tiny part, and let there be more peace and less war "b'chol rachavei tavel" (throughout the whole wide world).

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

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