“Only through studying history can we grasp how things change; only through history can we begin to comprehend the factors that cause change; and only through history can we understand what elements of an institution or a society persist despite change.”–Gerda Lerner, “Why History Matters: Life and Thought”
After 40 years, what has the peace movement achieved when a Palestinian state still appears to be so far from reality? The West Bank is home to more than 300,000 Israeli settlers, with another 350,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem. The separation barrier keeps most Israelis isolated from the realities of Palestinian life in the Occupied Territories. None of these depressing realities, however, can erase the fact that enormous strides have been made, and that a two-state solution is still viable with both Israeli and Palestinian support remaining strong, according to polls.
Through astute political organizing, settlers have increased Israeli government investment in their project. Their political clout has failed to win the majority of Israelis over to their cause, however. Most recently, settlers have adopted the theory of “irreversibility ”: that facts on the ground, namely settlements, make giving back that land a non-option. This concept, initially propagated by the left in 1982, has yet to impact the opinions of most Israelis.
As Israeli Avner Inbar, director of the think tank Molad: The Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy, points out in a May 10, 2013 article in The Atlantic, “Reel in the infrastructures, rescind the lavish benefits, provide incentives and reparations for repatriated settlers, and the whole problem shrinks back to manageable proportions.” He goes on to say that, “The conflict has to end because the occupation causes needless suffering and humiliation, and because peace and integration into the region is Israel’s paramount national interest.”
Immense strides toward supporting a two-state solution have been made in the U.S. Recent polls show that over 80% of American Jews endorse a two-state solution, as do most major Jewish organizations including AIPAC and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA).
In 1973, the very word “Palestinian” could not be uttered in a synagogue without causing an uproar; most certainly a rabbi could not mention Palestinian peoplehood. Now it is not unusual for rabbis to publicly endorse two states by signing on to rabbinic letters or joining the J Street Rabbinic Cabinet, or to write op-eds or give sermons on the urgent need to work for a Palestinian state. Synagogues routinely hold educational programs on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and many have invited Palestinians as speakers. It is not an easy subject to broach, and many clergy, educators, and lay leaders steer clear of the topic or limit the dialogue. Be that as it may, the American Jewish community is very different from the one in which the jobs of Breira rabbis were threatened because they endorsed two states.
Every American president since Lyndon Johnson has advocated a two-state solution based on 1967 borders, but Obama took this one step further in a May 2012 speech by saying, “The borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states,” and “The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves and reach their potential in a sovereign and contiguous state.”
The J Street PAC has added an important new dimension to Capitol Hill, where automatic support for AIPAC resolutions is no longer a given. Many high level politicians have accepted their endorsement, including Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin. Indeed, much has changed in 40 years. The significance of these transformations must not be underestimated.
Some of the movement’s on-the-ground successes include:
- Organization of a national grassroots base
- Grassroots lobbying on the local and national levels
- Development of a core of dovish mainstream Jewish leaders
- Involvement of Jewish clergy including rabbis, cantors, and seminary students
- Successful outreach to Jewish university students and young adults
- Increased opportunities for Americans to listen to Israeli and Palestinian doves
- Introduction of professional lobbyists and PAC fundraising to the movement
- Increased level of pro-Israel/pro-peace programming within Jewish communal institutions
- Enhanced discussion of Jewish identity within the movement
- Collaboration among peace organizations on targeted projects
- Increased presence in Jewish and mainstream media
- Sophisticated usage of Internet for advocacy, education, and fundraising
May the participants in our movement for peace continue to learn from the activists who preceded us. As one generation begins to tire out, “that’s why God creates new generations of people, so that they can come back to the issue with renewed vitality, with renewed hope, renewed vigor and hopefully with renewed morality, and perhaps greater emotional bravery, and greater intellectual honesty, so that there can be a new and invigorated struggle.” (Remarks by Amjad Atallah at BTvS Western Regional Conference, February 18, 2006).