All Americans should care about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and support Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to promote an agreement. All Americans have a stake in peace in the Middle East. The region has been the source of horrific terrorist attacks on us and our allies; has involved America in the longest war in American history, with thousands of American casualties and additional loss of lives in Lebanon, Libya and Somalia; and continues to generate terrorist threats that require an extensive homeland-security effort.
Resolution of that conflict is a necessary step toward broader peace, security, prosperity and democracy in the Middle East and beyond. Consider the potential benefits for the region and the world that would follow from an opening up of communication, political dialogue and commerce between Israel and the other countries of the Middle East. Additionally, for most Americans, Israel and Palestine are the Holy Land to which they feel a personal connection.
Two threats make it urgent to reach a peace agreement now. Israel’s security is threatened by letting the issue continue to fester. It is threatened directly by rockets from Gaza, violence in the West Bank and Hezbollah in Lebanon. It is threatened as well by growing isolation in the international community and by Iranian nuclear ambitions that use the ongoing conflict as one justification.
Secondly, Israel’s identity as a democratic Jewish homeland is threatened so long as it rules over a West Bank Palestinian population that has no right to vote in Israel. As some Israelis have said, Israel has the choice of agreeing to a two-state solution to the conflict or treating all the territory it holds as part of Israel and all the inhabitants as citizens of Israel.
The current arrangement is unsustainable, and a one-state approach simply is not a feasible way to achieve and securely maintain a democratic state for Israelis or Palestinians, in light of their distinct national aspirations and the unfortunate history of conflict.
The conflict is at a critical juncture. As the facts on the ground change it becomes ever more difficult to create the structure of lasting peace.
Students in Israeli and Palestinian schools are all too often taught to hate one another and are traumatized by the violence around them. A steady drumbeat of Palestinian and settler violence drives the parties further apart.
In the absence of a peace agreement, more Israeli settlers will be interspersed in the West Bank. In a speech to the American Jewish Committee Global Forum, Kerry said, “If we do not succeed now ... we may not get another chance.” Failure of his initiative would add steam, as he noted, “to the insidious campaign to delegitimize Israel.”
True, prior efforts have failed, suggesting a lack of will to come to an agreement. Yet, as Yitzhak Rabin pointed out, “We make peace with our enemies, not with our friends.” A Gallup poll last March found that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians want peace; they want a two-state solution. A Pew Research poll last spring showed overwhelming support by both Israelis and Palestinians for the United States to “play a role in resolving the stalemate.”
The United States should not dictate the details, which the parties are entitled to work out. We should, however, encourage the parties to complete the hard work of crafting an agreement that recognizes that Israel and Palestine are two sovereign states, protects the security of both parties, resolves issues regarding Jerusalem and the rights of Palestinians who formerly lived in Israel, and draws permanent boundaries. Parties who have been enemies need a committed third party to bring them together. The United States is well suited to that role, given the history of the conflict; the ongoing commitment of the United States will be crucial to building a sense of trust and security on both sides.
President Barack Obama took a bold step when he assigned Kerry to help achieve a negotiated solution. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has sponsored and Reps. Doris Matsui and Ami Bera have each co-sponsored resolutions to express Congress’ support for Kerry’s efforts. Supporters of peace in the Middle East should urge Sen. Barbara Boxer and our other local representatives to join in sponsoring that legislation.
In the words of former Israeli Knesset member Uri Avnery: “Is a two-state solution still possible? Nothing else is possible.” Now is the time for those of us vested in Israel’s future to do what we can to make that eventuality a reality.
Brian K. Landsberg is a law professor at the University of Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, and co-chair of the Sacramento chapter of J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace nonprofit. He is a past president of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region.