Change of Guard is an
Opportunity for Peace
By Sue Swartz, Vice
In a handful of days, Americans will make our
collective voice heard. With hope, we stand before a new
beginning as the eyes of the world are on us. So, too, are the
eyes of the world on Israel -- where, to all appearances,
political pandemonium reigns.
Corruption. Coalitions. Elections. The past decade
has seen successive Israeli governments fall, time and again.
Not one of the last five governments have managed to complete
their full 4 years.
And like clockwork, once one government has fallen
apart, a new one is cobbled together, there is a call for
elections, and Israelis, Palestinians, and many around the globe
wonder anew: Will this be the government to bring peace?
So it goes today, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert
forced to resign over corruption charges, and the new leader
of Kadima, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, failing to form a
coalition, and new elections scheduled for 2009.
It is hard not to be disheartened by the constant
upheaval, a kind of frenetic movement that never seems to move
forward into resolution, understanding, and peace. Israelis and
Palestinians continue to live in fear and sorrow, while
settlements spread unabated across the West Bank,
and competing Palestinian factions continue to fight over
ever-shrinking pieces of responsibility.
Yet in spite of all the uncertainty, there is
a very real reason for hope: An end to eight years of Bush
Administration neglect is in sight.
Whatever the political circumstances in Israel, if a
determined American government chooses to make resolution of the
conflict a priority, Israelis and Palestinians alike will find
themselves with much greater autonomy and resources with which
to reach an agreement.
Moreover, Livni's failure to establish a new
government actually is a positive sign as well. She failed, not
because of some inherent political weakness, but because she
refused to accept the conditions of the ultra-Orthodox Shas
Party to join a governing coalition -- most notably, that she
declare the status of Jerusalem to be non-negotiable.
"I will not promise something that will set the
Middle East on fire," she told reporters, later in a television
interview: "How is it possible that a prime minister wouldn't be
able to talk about certain subjects? I am speaking about them in
order to promote Israel's interests."
Up until that point, Benjamin Netanyahu, a right-wing
hawk and head of Likud had been leading in the polls, but once
Livni announced her reasons for calling new elections, her stock
rose considerably in the eyes of the Israeli public. She now
commands a narrow lead in the polls.
This is not to say that a Kadima/Livni victory is a
sure thing. Jerusalem was not the only reason that Shas refused
to join Livni's coalition -- she also refused to increase state
funding for large families, a core Shas constituency. Moreover,
agreeing to talk about Jerusalem is hardly the same as
concluding a just peace accord. And while the average Israeli is
currently happy to see her stare down the smaller parties, a
fresh wave of Palestinian violence could very easily turn many
The simple truth is that when the next
American President takes office, he will have to move very
quickly if he wants to see peace take hold.
He will have to work hard to pave the road for a
peace-oriented government, engaging with the interested parties
immediately and sincerely, offering the considerable assistance
and guidance of the U.S. as Israel and the Palestinians continue
to try to find common ground.
But none of this will happen if we, American
Jewish peace advocates, don't do our jobs as well. We
must turn to our newly elected Congress and incoming President
and demand -- without hesitation or caveat -- that
Israeli-Palestinian peace be made a top priority of the next
Administration from Day 1.
We must make clear our support for the hard work and
painful compromises that true peace will entail, and never waver
in our willingness to publicly and vocally back all such
The collapse of the latest Israeli government was a
dispiriting turn of events. But, let us not lose sight of the
real possibilities that stand before us. Let us see the change
of guard for what it is: an opportunity to change what has come
And let us do all that we can to turn that
opportunity into peace.
Sue Swartz is Brit Tzedek's
Vice President. She also serves as chair of the national
Advocacy Committee and founding co-chair of the Bloomington,
Indiana Brit Tzedek chapter. She brings her many years of
expertise in building organizations to her role as Brit Tzedek's
Vice President, working closely with President Steve Masters and
Interim Executive Director Diane Balser on strategic direction
and internal organization. As Advocacy Committee chair, Ms.
Swartz works with Brit Tzedek grassroots activists and staff to
maximize the effectiveness of our collective voice in Washington
D.C. and in home districts. Like many individuals leading a
chapter, she has helped facilitate a wide range of outreach and
educational efforts in her community, including joint events
with peace activists in the Muslim and Christian community.
Ms. Swartz has been an advocate for social justice throughout
her life as a labor organizer, feminist activist, and
multicultural educator. She received an M.S.W. in community
organizing, and presently teaches part-time at Indiana
University. Ms. Swartz is also an award-winning poet. She
recently spent a six-month sabbatical in Haifa, Israel.
Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Phone: (312) 341-1205
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