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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Op-ed: Reach out for a two-state solution
Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
By Rabbi John Friedman
DURHAM, N.C. — Recently the stars began to align for peace in the Middle East. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice proclaimed that this year’s record growth of Israeli settlements on the West Bank is an obstacle to peace. An influential American Jewish advocacy group, usually associated with the politics of Israel’s right-wing Likud party, declared its support for a Palestinian state. And Palestinian and Israeli pundits began to call for quick movement on a two-state solution to the conflict.
Is it possible that our conservative administration, the Israel lobby and the Israeli and Palestinian left find themselves advocating the same vision?
Not exactly. Secretary Rice has been looking for a legacy for her administration -- but any agreement would do, if it helps move her president out of the red ink on his foreign policy balance sheet.
Among the conservative Jewish leadership, the growing willingness to acknowledge the obvious — a Palestinian state is necessary for Israel’s peace and security -- is simply a reflection of mainstream Jewish opinion. One gets the feeling that the shift in rhetoric is made out of desperation and a need for relevance, not ideology.
And finally, frustration among Israelis means that many peace advocates are coming to believe that the political viability of a two-state solution is rapidly diminishing due to unabated settlement construction and the Palestinian election of Hamas, among other factors. Many supporters of a two-state solution are wringing their hands that without strong leadership in the near future the opportunity may be slipping away.
The notion that a two-state agreement is the only reasonable resolution of the conflict is not new to those American Jews who have long fought for it. What is new, though, is the fact that even while the world increasingly accepts the idea, the likelihood of bringing it to fruition is shrinking. Now is the time, more than ever, to apply ourselves to seeing to it this urgent opportunity isn’t lost.
Above all, now is the time to make sure that the presidential candidates understand this urgency; that the next administration must be in the game from Day One.
After the last eight years, we know that we cannot take this for granted. For most of its tenure, the Bush administration ignored this conflict as if engaging with it meant political doom. Only in the final months has the White House acted on its status as a full partner in peacemaking.
If our new president begins his administration as cynically as President Bush, refusing to recognize America’s historic responsibility, the current effort to find common ground will end dismally.
That is why John McCain and Barack Obama must understand that the consequences of failing to establish a durable peace would be grim. The influence of Iran would likely continue to grow, as terrorists gain further pretext for violence around the world. The extent of damage from further indifference is impossible to calculate.
But if we want the next president to engage with the process of resolving the conflict, we must also make sure that he sees the growing consensus among American Jews regarding a two-state solution. We must work as a community to make clear our intent to back him as he makes hard decisions and presses for difficult compromises and that we will also make sure that our representatives in Congress and the Senate know that such aggressive diplomacy has our support.
American leaders have traditionally listened closely to the opinions of Jewish leaders on the issue of Israel. That is why 660 American rabbis and cantors are urging the candidates to dedicate themselves to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside Israel early in their term; to appoint a high-level, highly regarded envoy who will have the respect of both Palestinians and Israelis to work full time in the Middle East to achieve a breakthrough; to establish mechanisms of follow through, so that decisions made and agreements signed will be respected and brought to fulfillment.
There is now a groundswell of consensus, at home and abroad, for an end to the bloodshed. Most factions now recognize that the door to two states will not remain open forever. The stars are beginning to align.
Kansas City native Rabbi John Friedman leads the Judaea Reform Congregation in Durham and is the chair of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom’s (the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace) rabbinic cabinet. This article was first published Oct. 16 in the Charlotte, N.C., News & Observer.