Obama Offers a Chance for Mideast Peace
The Times Union
November 24, 2008
By Diane Balser
The election of Barack Obama was a moment of great significance for the United States, an indication of our nation's innate ability as a nation to look to the future, rather than the past, and to nurture hope, rather than fear. It was, I believe, a first step toward a much better tomorrow. America's Jews rightly share in this victory. The vast majority of us threw our support behind the change of which Obama's campaign spoke — despite an extensive and well-funded effort to play to the most base fears of our community, focusing, in particular, on our concern for Israel.
While the Jewish vote was, no doubt, motivated by concern over a range of issues affecting the country — the economy, war in Iraq and Afghanistan, medical care, education — our concern for Israel's security and our aspirations for its peaceful future are at heart of our thinking, and the forefront of our political considerations. Indeed, our concern for the welfare of the Jewish state has been heightened recently as it has become more likely that Iran will gain access to nuclear weapons — and as the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has come under threat.
We as a community should be particularly pleased to congratulate President-elect Barack Obama on his victory. He has spoken consistently to the need for America to constructively re-engage, to address threats and resolve conflicts diplomatically, and to prioritize comprehensive Arab-Israeli peacemaking.
In a recent speech, he spoke very clearly: "A secure, lasting peace is in Israel's lasting interest. ... As President I will work to help Israel achieve the goal of two states … and I won't wait until the waning days of my presidency. I will take an active role and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start of my administration."
This is a deeply encouraging sign. The past eight years of diplomatic neglect have demonstrated the dangers in failing to be genuinely involved with the search for peace. The credibility of all those involved with peace efforts has been badly diminished, and massive Israeli settlement expansion — silently condoned by the Bush administration — has done real damage to the possibility of establishing a sovereign Palestinian state. The Obama administration may be the last to have a chance to establish a just, durable two-state solution.
It's important to remember that the community of American Jewish peace activists played a crucial role in setting the tone that has allowed Obama to take these positions. Congress has come to a greater awareness of the importance of a negotiated peace, and there has been a sea change in the discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many have come to understand that if we are to be truly pro-Israel, we must be pro-peace. Today, more than 85 percent of American Jews support a two-state solution.
It is vital, then, that we build on these successes. The price of allowing this conflict to go unresolved would be enormous, for Israeli, Palestinian, and American interests alike.
The devastation that more violence could bring to Israelis and Palestinians is untold. The Middle East would be further destabilized. Iran and Hezbollah would gain influence as frustrated Palestinians give up on a possible middle path. Muslim extremists around the world would have further excuse to battle America and the West.
If Obama truly wants to be the leader to resolve this conflict, he will have to engage with the process fully. Israeli-Palestinian peace will not happen without active, vigorous American involvement. But it most certainly can happen.
Diane Balser is executive editor of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom (Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace). She and Ghaith al-Omari, policy director at the American Task Force for Palestine, will discuss "Israel-Palestine Conflict: A Turning Point" at 3 p.m. Saturday at the Bethlehem Public Library. Al-Omari also will speak at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Hubbard Interfaith Sanctuary at The College of Saint Rose. For more information, call Jack Alexander at 674-8582.