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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Op-ed: Next year may be too late for peace
The Jewish News Weekly of Northern California
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.