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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

A Time for Israeli-Palestinian Reconciliation

The Jewish Week

September 8, 2009

By Rabbi Brant Rosen

The high holidays are a season of celebration and reflection, a time to right wrongs and heal rifts. We gather with family, join our communities, and pray as one: ashamnu, slach lanu, we have sinned, forgive us.

The theme of communal responsibility is repeated throughout our services, but one example often goes unnoticed: As for [Ishmael], we hear God saying to Abraham, I will make a nation of him, too, for he is your offspring.

Jews and Arabs, the children of Isaac and Ishmael, are family, too.

One of the holiday seasons key lessons is that its never too late for reconciliation: between humanity and God, between loved ones, between bitter enemies. We see this later in Genesis when Abraham dies, and Isaac and Ishmael bury him together. Our rabbis teach us that the brothers had put aside their differences and reconciled but only a fool would presume that it had been easy for them.

As we greet our new year, President Obama is preparing a new peace initiative, intent upon bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to negotiations. Unlike his predecessor, Obama understands what so many of us know: Achieving a real Israeli-Palestinian peace will require painful compromise and difficult decisions. It will be hard. But it is doable.

To this end, the President has already begun to ask the parties to make goodwill gestures. Hes called on the Palestinians to increase security which theyre now doing, with a team of American experts who report that the situation in the West Bank has improved considerably. Hes called on the Arab nations to begin moving toward the full normalization they offered in exchange for a two-state solution in the Arab Peace Initiative. Theres still considerable room for improvement, but the forward movement is significant.

Obama has also called on the Israeli government to freeze settlement construction a policy which some in the Jewish community have criticized, and which Israel itself has yet to accept. Some have suggested that the settlements arent the problem, but rather Arab intransigence; others have said that its simply not Americas place to ask Israel to do anything in the territories.

What the naysayers fail to consider is the genuine impact of expanding settlements on Palestinian perception, and the extent to which new facts change future outcomes. Every new stone laid serves as a reminder of the Palestinian loss of land and lack of independence; every new outpost and each new road makes the possibility of a durable, contiguous Palestinian state more remote. Its difficult for Palestinians to watch Israeli building crews move across the West Bank, and still believe that Israel means what it says, when it says it wants a two-state peace.

The skeptics also forget that the Palestinian Authority is committed to a two-state agreement. President Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO have been formally committed to such a solution since the 1980s, and at its recent convention, Fatah (Abbas party and the leading organization in the PLO) reconfirmed its commitment to a two-state resolution. Even Hamas has made steps in that direction, with leader Khaled Mashal saying that the organization has accepted a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders including East Jerusalem.

With most Israelis and Palestinians saying they want to see an independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel, two-thirds of American Jews saying that theyre willing to see the President stake his credibility on bringing together the sides to achieve such an agreement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu guardedly endorsing a two-state solution, and an American administration thats fully engaged in the search for peace, this moment in history may be the best chance Israelis and Palestinians have ever had to actually achieve their dreams of peace and security.

But it is a moment and time is of the essence.

Brant Rosen is the rabbi for the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL and was recognized by Newsweek magazine in 2008 as one of the country top 25 pulpit rabbis.

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