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A Time For Peace

By Michael Felsen & Donna Spiegelman

via The Jewish Advocate (click for link to original)

In his latest column, Tom Mountain lambastes both J Street and President Obama for what he apparently views as their naïveté in vigorously supporting the latest round of talks intended to bring a resolution to the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  In particular, he attacks what he calls the “J Street-Obama axis” for advocating a resumption of the recently-expired ten-month moratorium on settlement construction.  As of this writing, the Netanyahu government’s refusal to extend the freeze – even in the face of a host of proposed sweeteners offered by the Obama Administration – has predictably resulted in a breakdown in the talks.

It’s widely understood that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas staked his credibility on ending negotiations if settlement building began again. On the flip side of Abbas’ credibility issues with his Palestinian constituency is Prime Minister Netanyahu’s need to keep promises to members of his governing coalition that construction would indeed resume on September 26, on the expiration of the 10-month moratorium.  So, Mountain believes, it’s audacious that J Street – an American Jewish group – would, in the interest of furthering the peace talks, publicly place the onus on Israel to extend the freeze. 

Yes, J Street and President Obama have both, publicly, called for an extension of the freeze.  Why?  Because no fair-minded person can doubt that continued settlement construction in the West Bank, on land that will be in play when the borders of a Palestinian state are negotiated, is, if not acutely provocative, an act that will inevitably hinder the trust-building that is so essential to successful negotiation.   After more than forty years’ creation of settlement “facts on the ground” throughout the West Bank—facts that now must, with great difficulty, be reckoned with if a viable Palestinian state is to be born –- sustaining the freeze until the core border issues are resolved is simply the necessary and right thing to do.

As for Mountain’s claim that, while J Street and Obama press for a two-state solution, “the Arab side scoffs at the concept,” the reality is that the PLO, as long ago as 1993, recognized not only Israel’s right to exist, but, as Prime Minister Salam Fayyad recently noted, its “right to exist in peace and security.” Abbas has also publicly and repeatedly called for a two-state resolution to the conflict. And through their recently reaffirmed Peace Initiative, the Arab states all seek normalization of relations with Israel.  All sides know that peace and security can only come with a sustainable resolution of the full array of thorny issues. But that resolution has thus far been elusive, even though its essential terms have been set out -- and acknowledged by a host of Israeli, Palestinian, and international leaders -- in the Clinton parameters and the Geneva Accord.   

Sadly, Mountain plays the role of naysayer.  Peace? Not possible; Israel and the Palestinians are locked in an inevitable and endless conflict.  

J Street and President Obama think otherwise -- and they’re joined by a loud chorus of voices that know that the conflict can and must be resolved, and that now is the time.  Why?  Because Israel has never had partners for peace like Abbas and Fayyad; because a majority of Palestinians and Israelis still believe that a safe, secure Israel next to a viable, sovereign Palestinian state is the answer; because absent two states, Israel cannot continue to be both democratic and a homeland for the Jewish people.  As former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and many, many others have acknowledged, the status quo is unsustainable.  Hence, the talks must proceed…and succeed.

In his September 23 address to the UN, President Obama declared:  “Peace must be made by Israelis and Palestinians, but each of us has a responsibility to do our part as well. Those of us who are friends of Israel must understand that true security for the Jewish state requires an independent Palestine – one that allows the Palestinian people to live with dignity and opportunity. And those of us who are friends of the Palestinians must understand that the rights of the Palestinian people will be won only through peaceful means – including genuine reconciliation with a secure Israel.”

Yes, each of us has a responsibility to do our part -- to help make peace, this time.  Mr. Mountain, will you bar the door, or help to open it?

Donna Spiegelman is Chair of J Street Boston, Michael Felsen is President of Boston Workmen’s Circle.