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If your Senators haven't yet cosponsored the Feinstein/Lugar resolution, please call them now! The bill could be voted on any time this week.
The Power of the Pro-Israel,
Pro-Peace Grassroots

By Diane Balser, National Advocacy Chair & Rob Levy, Washington Representative

We are presently closing in on an historically significant victory in the U.S. Senate!

The Feinstein/Lugar resolution, a bi-partisan resolution that calls for active U.S. engagement to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, currently boasts 33 cosponsors--a third of the Senate--and stands a chance of passing before the Senate leaves for August recess this Friday. The resolution calls on President Bush to make a two-state solution a "top priority," urges him to appoint a Special U.S. Envoy for Middle East Peace, and welcomes the Arab League Peace Initiative. 

The Significance of Feinstein/Lugar

The Feinstein/Lugar resolution is significant for its constructive, pro-engagement content in a Congress that regularly introduces legislation that demonizes Palestinians, places sanctions on desperately needed aid, and otherwise undermines U.S. efforts to promote peace negotiations.  It is also unique for the level of and kind of support it has been garnering. The present roster of signers includes senior members from both parties and five Jewish Senators (see the full list of cosponsors).

It has been four years since the last positive, pro-active peace legislation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was introduced in the Senate; a 2003 resolution in support of peace proposals such as the Geneva Accord garnered only seven cosponsors (more than four times fewer than we have today).   The last time pro-active peace legislation actually passed the Senate was during the Olso era in the mid-1990s!

Whether or not the bill passes the full Senate, the level of support it has garnered represents a wind of change in Congress as more and more Senators are willing to go on record in favor of a two-state resolution and active U.S. engagement to bring it about.

In the House of Representatives, the Davis Resolution (H.Res.143) similarly calls on President Bush to appoint a Mideast peace envoy and currently has 49 cosponsors, including eight Jewish Representatives and several freshman Members of Congress.  This resolution continues to move along, albeit at a slower pace. And with both of these resolutions, we have seen members of Congress who were not previously comfortable voting with us, now publicly signing on.

To be sure, these resolutions are only one step on a path to the full emergence of the pro-Israel, pro-peace voice in Congress, and they themselves will not change U.S. foreign policy alone. Congress has a fairly limited role in directing foreign policy, constrained to appropriating funding and passing non-binding "Sense of the Congress" resolutions that express Congress' opinion on a particular issue or event.  At the end of the day, it is the Administration that will have to do the heavy lifting on providing the type of vigorous U.S. engagement for which Brit Tzedek advocates. 

Nevertheless, these resolutions represent a growing sentiment of the "people's voice" demanding a change in U.S foreign policy.  For years, Congress has sent a message to the White House and the rest of the world that the U.S. role's in the conflict is simply to maintain the status quo.  The growth in support for pro-peace, pro-Israel resolutions like these begins to change that perception.  And after these resolutions pass from the spotlight, we will be back with new ones, and with them, more and more signers and votes.

How Did We Get Here?

Over our five years of existence, Brit Tzedek has grown and become increasingly more effective.  In the last few years, along with a constellation of other pro-peace Jewish, Christian, and Arab-American groups, we have made several small but significant gains that include promoting the Hyde-Capps letter to Secretary Rice (2005), opposing and winning significant modifications to the Palestinian sanctions bill (2006) and the Nelson-Ensign letter (Feb. 2007), and promoting the recent Davis and Feinstein/Lugar resolutions.  Brit Tzedek has emerged as a key player among the pro-Israel, pro-peace forces in Washington—bringing the unique strength of our committed and active grassroots base of American Jews.

We are doing what has never been done before.

During National Advocacy Days 2007, Brit Tzedek activists had meetings with over 100 Congressional offices (including 30 in-person meetings with Members), capitalizing on relationships we have been building over the years.  Subsequently, over 20 Senators and Representatives we met with signed on to the Feinstein/Lugar and Davis resolutions.  Our continuing calls, emails, and meetings are bringing in new cosponsors to this day. 

Brit Tzedek's growth and effectiveness has been a direct result of our ability to reach American Jews where they are and mobilize them to take action.  Through the work of our over 36,000 supporters and 39 chapters, we have established that there is more than one way to be pro-Israel—that you can speak as a pro-Israel and pro-peace Jew and not be marginalized. We have also been forthright in helping our community understand that the long-term security of Israel is inherently dependent on reaching a negotiated peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Over the past five years, our voice has grown stronger, our efforts more focused, and our message more unified. We speak in one voice in Congress and in the American Jewish community: It is pro-Israel to be pro-peace.

Why Now?

In addition to the growing impact of the work of Brit Tzedek, the present political situation has also been noteworthy in increasing receptivity to our message. The ongoing debate over the President's foreign policy and the Iraq War, while not examining the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has generally both challenged and opened up a broader discussion over the nature of diplomacy for the first time in years.

The Iraq Study Group's findings, publicized in December 2006, have become central to the debate again, as Americans begin to accept the strong connection between resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and broader U.S. interests in the Middle East.  There is an emerging consensus around the need to change policy and put more energy into ending the violence between Israelis and Palestinians.  The Bush Administration does not want to leave office with a completely failed policy, and the new Congress appears to have realized that they need to demonstrate that they are behind creating some genuine change in Middle East strategy.

Challenges Into the Future

The Bush Administration has just put proposed a new peace initiative that has aspects that many of us in Brit Tzedek and in other parts of the pro-Israel, pro-peace camp strongly question. We welcome the President's support, for instance, for the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, as well as his statements in support of renewed peace negotiations and an international conference, but we are concerned by the continuing policy to isolate Hamas and deepen the divide between Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Such an approach risks a dangerous resurgence of intra-Palestinian violence and attacks against Israel, and is likely to undermine the legitimacy and feasibility of negotiations.  More generally, we have serious concerns about whether this Administration will ever actually match its rhetoric around a two-state solution with the sustained, vigorous diplomacy necessary to make real progress towards achieving it.
Thus, we have much work to do. We have not yet created a strong enough wave of advocacy, have not yet communicated clearly enough the growing understanding within the American Jewish community and in the halls of Congress that a final status, negotiated two-state agreement is an absolute necessity. Until a politically and economically viable Palestinian state is created in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, Israel will be neither stable, nor secure.

Fully aware of the challenges ahead in our pursuit of U.S. leadership for a negotiated two-state resolution, we are pleased to acknowledge the progress we are making along the way.

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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