The Status Quo is No Longer an Option
By Marcia Freedman, President

I recently sat in a comfortable Manhattan apartment gazing out over the autumn foliage of Central Park with an Israel social justice activist, just arrived from Jerusalem.  

“The last demonstration in Jerusalem we were so few people,” she said. “I almost cried. I think everyone is worn out. I know I am.”

Spending time with an Israeli peace activist always reminds me of my other equally compelling identity as ... an Israeli peace activist. It has long been the hope of the Israeli peace community that U.S. foreign policy would favor comprehensive peace in the Middle East as a centerpiece, with resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a first priority.

There has been no doubt for many years now among Israeli activists that without international intervention, Israelis and Palestinian are beyond the possibility of getting to the negotiating table on their own.  

Recall the first President Bush’s Middle East peace initiative, the 1991  Madrid Conference, when then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir had to be strong-armed into attending. Recall that though the Madrid Conference per se did not lead anywhere, it generated the back-channel negotiations that brought us, one year later, to the start of the Oslo negotiations. Oslo is often inaccurately portrayed as an example of the sides getting together on their own – but for all that America was not in the negotiating room, both the Israeli and Palestinian teams had one eye on the U.S. as they talked, and Shimon Peres even suggested to Secretary of State Warren Christopher that the U.S. present the Oslo Accords to the world as an American initiative. Clearly, without an assertive American presence, Israel and the Palestinians will remain locked in conflict.

A few days ago, my Prime Minister met with my President. What can be in the minds of these two men and their myriad advisors for them to come out of their meeting with 45 minutes of inane and worse than stale pronouncements that are but formulas for preserving the status quo. 

Can it be that they really do not understand what many of us see so clearly? The status quo is no longer an option. 

Can Ehud Olmert not see that Israel’s strategic political, military and diplomatic decisions have been counter-productive and that Israel’s image and isolation in the world community, to say nothing of its deterrent capacity, worsens daily? Can’t George Bush be made to see that his final chance at a positive image in the history books lies with a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Can he free himself of the Cheneyesque worldview that has served him so poorly? 

Israel’s recent prolonged invasion of the northern Gaza Strip has led to some 400 Palestinian casualties, of which more than half have been noncombatants, including some 70 children; five Israeli soldiers have also been killed, and one civilian. In spite of this cost in human life, in spite of the destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure, in spite of the blockade that has left Gazans hungry and without medicine – Qassam rockets continue to fall on southern Israel, tragically killing an Israeli woman in Sderot just yesterday, and the soldier whose capture precipitated these attacks, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, remains in his captors’ hands.  

The plain truth is that this continued refusal to enable the Palestinians to maintain a humane standard of living, in addition to blustery pronouncements about preparations for a war next year with Syria and/or Hezbollah, and continued and even accelerated settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is a recipe for regional armed conflagration, sooner rather than later.  

Lessening the threat of regional conflict, as well as dampening the flames of religious  radicalism fanned for years by misguided Israeli and U.S. policies, clearly must be a priority for those who care about Israel and those who care equally about the United States and its unique influence on what happens to the globe.  

Notably, recent events in the U.S. promise a more favorable environment for our work than we have known over the past six years. 

The recent elections give hope that a new voice may emerge from Congress, one that supports pro-peace, pro-Israel views. The commission led by former Secretary of State James Baker is expected to offer a challenge to neoconservative foreign policy in the Middle East, at a time when that policy will be seen as having cost the Republican Party dearly. If nothing else, a fresh voice will be heard in the White House.   

The third leg of the stool, still in the talking stage, is the possibility of major funding behind a strong Jewish pro-Israel, pro-peace voice in Washington. Should this come together, it would be an historic balancing of the equilibrium of the organized American Jewish community, which millions of Jews would welcome.  

This is not only an encouraging development – it’s a special call to action to Diaspora Jews for renewed commitment, greater effort, a shared sense that it just might be possible for us to help reverse the current course of history and divert it away from war.

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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