Reports and Articles from the Brit Tzedek/Meretz-USA Israel Symposium

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, in a pilot partnership with Meretz USA, co-sponsored a symposium in Israel and the West Bank from January 12-19, 2008. The delegation met with Israeli and Palestinian political and grassroots leaders of the peace movement, as well as saw first hand the effects of the occupation to gain an understanding of the realities affecting Israeli and Palestinian lives on a daily basis.

You can check out daily reports and pictures from the trip by Brit Tzedek president Steve Masters, national office staffer Anna Freedman, and Rabbinic Cabinet Member Rabbi Brant Rosen at: http://btvshalom.org/btvshalom.org/resources/brit_tzedek_on_the_ground.shtml

And see below for a collection of published op-eds and letters to the editor written by trip participants.


Last chance for two states?
January 29, 2008

By Steve Masters

Officials again are talking about an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. But bold action is a must, or the door to peace may shut for good.

Steve Masters is president of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.

I recently returned from leading a delegation to Israel and the West Bank whose mission was to express American Jewish support for a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given news reports about recently renewed diplomatic efforts, you might think the trip was almost unnecessary.

Twenty Arab leaders and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recently met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Annapolis to relaunch peace negotiations; President Bush just completed his first trip to the region, where he reiterated his intention to achieve a treaty before he leaves office and named Lt. Gen. William Fraser as his envoy; and Israel and the Palestinians have begun to discuss "core issues" such as Jerusalem and the settlements.

Everything we've asked for - negotiations over substantive issues with the full diplomatic backing of the United States - has come true. Why, then, do we feel such apprehension?

One need look no further than the facts on the ground: During our visit, settlers responded to the president by expanding new outposts; a faction pulled out of Olmert's coalition, rejecting efforts to revive negotiations; and Israeli officials announced that any settlement freeze wouldn't touch the main settlement blocs - including East Jerusalem, a make-or-break issue for Palestinians. Furthermore, the expected publication of the second Winograd Report, assigning blame for Israel's blunders during the 2006 Lebanon War, may force Olmert to resign.

As we followed in Bush's wake - meeting with Olmert and other Knesset members, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad, and journalists, academics and peace advocates on both sides - a picture emerged: Unless substantial progress can be achieved before 2009, when Bush and Abbas both leave office, the possibility for a two-state solution may all but disappear.

We spent our time listening to as many Israelis and Palestinians as we could. We toured Hebron with Yehuda Shaul, a former Israeli soldier who has made it his mission to bring the suffering of that city's Palestinians to light, and toured East Jerusalem with Danny Seidman, a lawyer who works to expose and halt unilateral Israeli actions that create obstacles to peaceful settlement. We observed Palestinians as they attempted to pass through just one of Israel's 546 checkpoints at the end of their workday. We met with the general secretary of Kibbutz Metzer, whose residents, despite a 2002 terrorist attack in which five members were murdered, continue to work toward coexistence with their Palestinian neighbors.

We heard a mixture of optimism and frustration from former Israeli Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin, coauthor of the Geneva Accord (an unofficial draft of a peace treaty), who told us that Olmert now speaks like a peacemaker but has failed to make any concrete changes on the ground. We heard worry from journalist Akiva Eldar and Gershon Baskin, Israeli director of an Israeli/Palestinian think tank, who fear that the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. And we heard a solemn commitment from Olmert to make exceptional efforts to reach a peace agreement within a year, even as his coalition lost 11 members and more than 50 rockets rained down on southern Israel. The next day, Fayad spoke at length about progress already achieved on security matters and complained about Israel's failure to clearly state a commitment to freeze settlements.

It was an emotional roller-coaster, and we came away more convinced than ever to do all that we can to ensure that Bush's words become action. We'll share our experiences with our nearly 40,000 supporters, and reach out to others - including the 87 percent of American Jews who support a two-state solution to the conflict. We'll call on our elected representatives, presidential candidates and the president himself to employ our country's considerable resources in engaging Israelis and Palestinians in making the difficult compromises that true peace demands. Fraser must be authorized to present bridging proposals to overcome differences, and a separate back channel must be established to allow for negotiation breakthroughs.

Because we love Israel, we will aggressively advocate for that which it most needs: peace.

Let's hope that the president, too, returned home with renewed determination, and that Olmert and Abbas have the courage to take him up on his pledge to press the negotiations forward.

Steve Masters, of Philadelphia, PA, serves on the board of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia. E-mail him at president@btvshalom.org.


Next year may be too late for peace
February 1, 2008

By Susie Coliver and Bob Herman

The time is now to conclude an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Next year may be too late.

We spent the past week in Israel and the Palestinian territories as participants in a symposium sponsored by Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and Meretz USA. As such, we had the rather stunning opportunity to speak with officials such as Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as well as Ha’aretz journalist Akiva Eldar, Palestinian spokesman Hanan Ashrawi, academics, Arab Israelis, Israeli settlers, Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and former Israel Defense Forces officers.

In the West Bank, we saw the ghost town that the once vital Palestinian commercial center of Hebron has become, as well as the security barrier dividing the Arab village of Maiser from its olive orchards. We ate in a basement falafel joint in East Jerusalem, toured the new settlement blocks in Har Homa and witnessed the degrading treatment of Palestinian workers as they negotiated their return home to Bethlehem through a checkpoint on the Israeli side of the Green Line. By the same token, we heard from settlers at Gush Etzion of their mistrust of “the Other,” and from kibbutzniks of the night a terrorist opened fire on Kibbutz Metzer, killing six of their members.

Despite the reality that Israel continues to expand West Bank and East Jerusalem settlements in violation of their own commitments to the U.S.-devised road map, and Hamas in Gaza continues to launch Kassam rockets daily into civilian areas in southern Israel, the take-home message we got from Knesset members and skeptics alike is that now is the time to get serious about entering into permanent status negotiations.

Why? While President Bush, Mahmoud Abbas and Olmert are all weak domestically, they have a genuine willingness to work together — yet Bush and Abbas will be out of office next year, Olmert may not survive the fallout from the upcoming Winograd Report, and there is no guarantee that their replacements will share their willingness.

The good news is that there already exists substantial agreement on a large percentage of the provisions of a final status agreement. Clear majorities among Israelis (including Olmert himself) and Palestinians have said repeatedly that they support a two-state solution. Some of the Israeli public has even begun to indicate its willingness to compromise on East Jerusalem.

But after so much fear and heartache, the Israeli public is also weary of talking about peace and has begun to lose interest in focusing on it anymore. Certainly the Palestinians have lost much of the faith they once had in negotiations.

So now, right now — when the Bush administration is reversing seven years of inaction on the issue, when the leaders on the ground remain committed to a two-state solution, and before the people themselves simply give up all hope — is the time to move assertively toward a mutually agreeable, durable peace agreement.

We are not naive. We got the clear sense that divorce, not reconciliation, is desired. The separation barrier is apparently doing its intended job of providing increased security, and will need to remain even after a peace agreement has been signed. On the other hand, its path will need to be altered in many places to relieve genuine and unnecessary hardship for the civilian population of the West Bank. Settlements must be evacuated, or equitable land swaps arranged. A just resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem must be found.

Moreover, as Knesset members Colette Avital and Yossi Beilin told us, if such an agreement isn’t achieved this year, Israel will face a new problem, one that just as surely threatens the future of a Jewish state in the land of Israel.

Within less than a decade, the size of the Arab population west of the Jordan River will exceed that of the Jewish population. If there is not a two-state solution, the Arab population will simply ask for one person, one vote. At that point, if Israel remains a democracy, it will not be Jewish. If it remains Jewish, it will not be democratic. There is a moral price tag to be paid for carrying out an occupation, for that’s what it would be if democratic principles are abrogated. The prospect of such a future is ethically untenable and in fact essentially un-Jewish in spirit.

The American Jewish community must tell its legislators to support the current administration in its efforts to broker a lasting peace agreement at this time. Next year may well be too late.

Susie Coliver and Bob Herman are members of the San Francisco chapter of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom.


Gift of Peace
January 30, 2008

By Jan Jaben-Eilon

I just returned from Israel, where I had an opportunity to get a sense of the feeling on the ground about the "peace process" and President Bush's trip to Jerusalem. I was surprised by the incredible hopelessness and helplessness felt by many Israelis. Although they didn't seem to place much weight on Bush's visit, they hold onto a tiny thread of hope that only the United States can make the Israelis and Palestinians reach the negotiated two-state solution sought by the majority on both sides.

The purpose of Bush's visit was to accelerate the talks that would achieve that result. All American Jews should support his efforts. Unfortunately, several established American Jewish groups that usually argue that American Jews should support the Israeli government are now either remaining silent or are trying to put blockages in the way of successful negotiations.

We should all support Bush's commitment to do everything he can to push the two parties toward an agreement that would result in two secure, democratic and contiguous states living in peace and security. What better gift can America give to Israel for its 60th birthday?

Jan Jaben-Eilon, of Marietta, GA, is a chapter leader and national board member of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom.


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Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

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