Change of Guard is an Opportunity for Peace
By Sue Swartz, Vice President

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 toward Netanyahu.

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 efforts.

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 before.

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.

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