Just returned from DC and an invigorating few days with Brit Tzedek v’Shalom‘s Advocacy Days on Capitol Hill. Anyone who supports a Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace policy should take heart in knowing that more than 150 activists from all over the country devoted themselves to in-depth briefings and advocacy training before fanning across the Hill to visit the offices of House reps and senators, encouraging our leaders to redouble their efforts toward a two-state solution. (If you will allow me a shameless brag, JRC provided ten participants – far and away the most from any one congregation and comprising the overwhelming majority of Illinois constituents. A sampling of JRC’ers above, from left to right: Michael Peshkin, moi, Jan Yourist and Mark Zivin.)
It currently is a time of tentative hope in the region. A fragile cease-fire has been brokered between Israel and Hamas, talks are continuing between Syria and Israel, and there are also encouraging signs of hope coming out of Lebanon. Sadly, the US is nowhere is be seen in these efforts. (The negotiations with Hamas, Syria and Lebanon were brokered by Egypt, Turkey and Qatar, respectively). On this issue, Israel’s Defense Minister Ehud Barak was quoted recently in Ha’aretz regarding negotiations with Syria:
I don’t think we will have negotiations before the end of this year without the contribution of the Americans, who, alone, can help bridge the gaps.
The plain truth is that no lasting negotiation between Israel and its neighbors has ever happened without an active mediating effort by the US. Sadly, the Annapolis talks are barely limping along – and despite Bush’s rosy prognostications, no one in his/her right mind could claim that anything resembling a negotiated settlement will emerge before time runs out on the current administration.
Our message to our national leaders was simple: Congress needs to urge our new administration to make peace between Israel and Palestine a real priority from day one. Time is running out – and we simply cannot afford another President who waits until the waning days of his presidency to become actively engaged in the peace process.
Our Congressional visits were encouraging – but the true test is yet to come. The latest polls tell us that 87% of American Jewry support a negotiated two-state solution. If this is true, then American Jews need to be unflagging in our efforts to encourage our leaders to take the specific and painful steps to make this a reality.
Indeed, there’s nothing novel about advocating for a two-state solution per se. What is needed now for leaders to be explicit on the steps needed to make this happen. A preliminary laundry list: the appointment of a special envoy for this exclusive purpose, an unequivocal demand for an end to Israeli settlements on the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and stronger Palestinian efforts to maintain security in the territories.
In the current political climate it will take real bravery for American politicians to take these kinds of public positions. But the strong majority of American Jews who are committed to a real and lasting peace must do what we can to give our leaders the cover to provide this kind of leadership. I’m enormously proud that Brit Tzedek is leading the charge in this effort.