Challenges and Possibilities
By Diane Balser, National Advocacy Chair

The turbulent circumstances under which the peoples of the Middle East find themselves living can make it difficult for peace advocates to understand how to best move forward today. With heightened conflicts among the Palestinians, a dire humanitarian situation in the occupied territories, tensions surrounding Iran, Lebanon and Syria, in addition to the ongoing war in Iraq, and a dearth of substantive peace initiatives from either the Israeli or US governments, American Jews face a difficult question: What can we do to change the current course of events and create a new momentum toward peace?

The struggle for peace can feel like an uphill battle. However, there are growing indications that the ground is shifting. The murky outcome of Israel's most recent war in Lebanon, as well as the deepening uncertainty in Iraq, have led to questions about the usefulness of military solutions in political conflicts. It is also becoming clear that non-military unilateral actions are also doomed to failure; Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently said that, in light of the outcome of Israel's unilateralism in Lebanon and Gaza, he now believes the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a negotiated, two-state solution.

Moreover, there exist, in both Israel and the US, increasingly vocal forces pushing for diplomatic solutions over military ones, as well as indications in the Arab world, from Syria, the Saudis, Egypt, and within the Palestinian Authority, of a willingness to revive the moribund peace process.

It is our job, that of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and our allies, to demonstrate clearly that, no matter how painful the situation, peace is possible -- and necessary.

And so the answer to the question becomes clear: It is our job, that of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and our allies, to demonstrate clearly that, no matter how painful the situation, peace is possible -- and necessary.

The new political situation in the US has created an opportunity we must not waste. The Democratic victory in the 2006 midterm elections can rightly be seen as a rebuff of the Bush Administration's militaristic foreign policy; voters recognized that isolation and non-negotiation are simply contrary to America's best interests. And according to the exit polls, 87% of Jews voted with the Democrats.

With progressive stalwart Nancy Pelosi now serving as the first woman Speaker of the House, Congress has begun to aggressively challenge President Bush's approach to foreign policy. Frequently cited is his apparent willingness to largely disregard the diplomacy-oriented recommendations made in the now-famous Baker-Hamilton Report -- including those regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Many of the report's recommendations in fact incorporate ideas that Brit Tzedek has long promoted: the notion of "land for peace," substantive support for moderate Palestinian leaders, and sustained negotiations based on the Bush Administration's own Road Map to Peace. We hope that a Democratically controlled Congress will take these ideas more seriously than the Administration has, and may yet act on them.

We must, of course, be cautious. The President must be convinced of the need for change, and there remain divisions within the Democratic Party. For all the excitement, Democrats still share no clear, unified direction.

Yet there is undeniably a new dynamic at work. We in Brit Tzedek must be at the forefront of efforts within the peace community to use this opportunity to change the discussion, within the Jewish community and among our leaders. We have already seen that it is possible to change the terms of the debate. Last year, Brit Tzedek and our allies were successful in mitigating the worst elements of the "Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Bill," proving in the process that the American Jewish community speaks with a plurality of voices.

The political situation in the United States is more dynamic now than it has been in years. We must bring the questions and debate to the American Jewish community and beyond, to persuade the country's leaders that real peace is a real possibility.

This year we need to demonstrate to our representatives in Washington that our movement advocating a negotiated, two-state solution is growing. We need to capitalize on the broader questioning of US foreign policy, and state our message clearly: Discussions are always an option, and war is not a genuine solution. We need to reach out to new members of Congress, sizably increase our numbers for Advocacy Days, strengthen our grassroots base, and continue to speak the truth we know to power.

In two years there will be a Presidential election, one for which many in the new Congress are in fact already preparing. We can hope that there will be a change in the political climate, a growing understanding that the Israeli-Arab conflicts are key to peace in the Middle East and beyond, and that thus, finding a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is truly in America's best interests.  

We need to convince Washington that the lack of active engagement in peace efforts needs to change. We will have to challenge assumptions and conventional thinking, and to do that, we must become a critical mass among Jews. Our elected officials must come to understand that Israel's well-being and security in fact depend on a pro-peace agenda. We will have to join with our non-Jewish allies to get the message out, loud and clear, that a policy of provoking conflict in the Middle East must be abandoned, in favor of the active engagement of Palestinian leaders and other stakeholders in seeking out new paths to peace.

The political situation in the United States is more dynamic now than it has been in years. We must bring the questions and debate to the American Jewish community and beyond, to persuade the country's leaders that real peace is a real possibility. 


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
info@btvshalom.org
www.btvshalom.org


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