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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Change of guard is an opportunity for peace

The Indianapolis Post & Opinion

November 26, 2008

By Sue Swartz

As I write this, it is not yet two weeks since Americans made our collective voice heard at the ballot box,not yet two weeks since the world stood transfixed as Barack Obama made his first speech as president-elect. With hope, and regardless of which candidate received our individual vote, we are all witness to a historic shift.The eyes of the world are on us -- and as always, our eyes are on Israel where, to all appearances,political pandemonium reigns.

Corruption.Coalitions.Elections.Threats,external and internal. The past decade has seen successive Israeli governments fall, time and again. Not one of the last five governments has managed to complete their full four years in office.

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 help usher in 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, with new elections scheduled for early 2009. Posturing, polling, new political parties,accusations -- all have begun in earnest.

It is hard not to be disheartened by the constant upheaval, the frenetic movement that never seems to move forward into resolution.Israelis and Palestinians both continue to live in fear and sorrow, while rockets are launched across the border into Israel by Palestinian militants,Israeli settlements spread unabated across the West Bank, settlers vow to riot over court-ordered evacuations, and competing Palestinian factions continue to battle each other.

Yet in spite of all the uncertainty,there is a very real reason for hope.As President-elect Obama reminded the hundreds of thousands gathered in Grant Park and the millions of Americans tuned into their television sets: This victory alone is not the change we seek.It is only the chance for us to make
that change.

After eight years of half-hearted diplomacy,it is time to act. Active U.S.diplomacy is crucial to solving the region's long-term and complicated problems -- not to force a solution,but to use its good will and example to move the process forward. Successful intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
would surely impact events in Iran,Lebanon,and Syria. Earlier today in Israel,President Shimon Peres spoke clearly and passionately of the necessity of action. Speaking before the Jewish Communities General Assembly in Jerusalem,he argued that the Sunni majority in the Middle East is watching what Israel does,to see if Israel "can conclude an agreement with the Palestinians on an acceptable basis -- which is two states for the two peoples. None of us wants to have one state and two states warring with each other; we've had enough of it."

Having "enough of it"seems also to be motivating Tzipi Livni and her failure to establish a new government.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.

The simple truth is that when Obama 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 all 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.

A special envoy with powers to mediate and negotiate on behalf of the administration is needed to provide full-time vigorous and ongoing on-the-ground engagement in diplomacy. The Obama team must make clear that it supports serious diplomacy in tackling the region's interrelated complications. Success in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would surely impact events in Iran,Lebanon,and Syria.

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 that Israeli-Palestinian peace be made a top priority of the next Administration from Day 1.We must hold Obama to his statement that "as president I will work to help Israel achieve the goal of two states... I will take an active role and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace..."

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.My Israeli cousins,solidly in the center of the political road, take heart in the Obama victory -- you have Obama, maybe now we'll have Livni, they told us this week. Maybe we, too, will have change.

The consequences of failing to secure a durable peace are grim.We need to get started today.

Sue Swartz of Bloomington, Ind., is national vice president of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. For more information, please see www.btvshalom.org

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