A Time to Act

There are a thousand and one ways to suppress violence by means of violence, but not one of them has ever succeeded in annihilating it,” wrote Nomika Zion, an Israeli woman who lives near the Gaza border, in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last November.

Ms. Zion speaks for Other Voice, a grass-roots Israeli peace group that has been in dialogue with Palestinians in Gaza. Ms. Zion’s organization is not the only group that has grown weary of the seemingly interminable conflict: Even Hamas has signaled that it might accept a two-state solution to the longtime standoff, which would be a major about-face. And a leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization has expressed his support for President Obama’s upcoming visit to Palestine and Israel, “if it signals an American promise to become an honest and impartial peace broker...rather than repeating the same policy of negotiations for their own sake.”

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Recent U.S. presidents, preoccupied with mainly domestic and international security matters, have given little meaningful attention to the Mideast conflict until late in their presidencies. As a result, progress has been halting. The influence of a lame duck U.S. president in international affairs, as in domestic affairs, is greatly diminished. It is encouraging, then, to see that Mr. Obama has decided to make a lasting peace settlement a top near-term priority. The changing political situation in the area also creates an opportunity to act. Until now Mr. Netanyahu has consolidated his power by emphasizing the threat to Israel from its external enemies, by catering to the demands of Israeli settlers and by following through on a popular though unlawful expansion of Israeli territory in East Jerusalem.

Recent events, however, have altered the government’s political position: First, the unexpectedly strong second-place showing of Yahir Lapid, the former television talk show host, in last month’s Israeli elections, revealed that Israeli support for hardline policies may be softening. Mr. Lapid campaigned primarily on economic issues and was not afraid to take on some powerful political constituencies. While Mr. Lapid supports the settlements and has made some troubling statements about maintaining a permanent Jewish majority in Israel, he also believes that talking to the Palestinians is a good idea. Roger Cohen writes in The New York Times that Mr. Lapid, who as leader of the second most numerous party in the Knesset, is potentially the second most powerful person in Israeli politics, “must insist that the continuing undermining of the Palestinian Authority—through soldier or settler violence, military intrusions into Palestinian-run areas and scattered settlement expansion—helps only Hamas.” Mr. Obama also should take advantage of conditions created by Mr. Lapid’s success to persuade the government to adopt more moderate, conciliatory policies.

The Israeli government is being pressured in other ways. Egypt and Qatar are pressing Hamas to support Palestinian reconciliation so as to present a united front before both Israel and the United States. Israel’s liberal party, Meretz, ran in last month’s elections on a platform that called for a peace plan that affirms that the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip belong rightfully to the Palestinians. The Israeli Peace Now movement recently issued a report alleging that Mr. Netanyahu’s support of Israeli settlements seriously undermines the possibility of a two-state solution. One-third of the 6,867 new units Mr. Netanyahu has promoted are in areas that would almost certainly be within the boundaries of a future Palestinian state.

Mr. Obama must make it clear that the settlements constitute a clear and present danger to the viability of a two-state solution and to the future of the U.S./Israeli relationship. The vacillation in Mr. Obama’s first term strengthened Mr. Netanyahu’s belief that he had carte blanche from the United States. Mr. Obama must remain faithful to his 2009 declaration in Cairo: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements.”

We join our voice with the group of 30 Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders who signed a statement on Jan. 25 urging the Obama administration to work for a “viable two-state peace agreement” in the conflict. “We believe a bold new initiative for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement should be an immediate priority of the new Administration in 2013,” read the statement of the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, whose signatories included Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, the chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Peace and Justice.

Nomika Zion concluded her letter to Mr. Netanyahu with the lament that hope has become an illusion. Mr. Obama, in his speeches, sometimes leaves the impression that hope is his middle name. It is time to make it so.

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Bob Baker
4 years 7 months ago
Let's see...the Arabs have attempted to eradicate Israel how many times? The Palestinians really care about Christians so much that they occupied and kept prisoners in the Church of the Nativity a decade ago. Let's not continue further and discuss Arafat's connection to the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem (Hitler's friend and his use of Nazis during the creation of Israel after he helped create a Nazi Palestinian Brigade during WWII). The only "illusion" is that of peaceful Palestinians who don't want to destroy Israel and care about the United States.
4 years 7 months ago
It is a little hard to understand the Editors’ unqualified statement that "Hamas has signaled that it might accept a two-state solution to the longtime [Israeli/Palestinian] standoff" ( "A Time To Act" March 11, 2013). Although the editors provide no citation, I assume this is a reference to a report earlier this year in the Saudi media that Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal had asked Jordan’s King Abdullah to inform President Obama that Hamas supported a two-state solution with Israel. The problem with that is, however, Hamas officials denied the report, saying that the two-state solution never even came up in their talks with King Abdullah. And more to the point every official Hamas statement before and after this report has been quite to the contrary. Hamas leaders have repeatedly stated that any agreement with Israel would merely be hudna, or cease-fire, rather than a peace treaty and that their ultimate goal is the "liberation" of all of Palestine, including the state of Israel. PM Netanyahu and President Abbas both clearly present a challenge to the peace process as they continue to refuse to negotiate with one another. But looking at Hamas through rose-colored glasses does not help the situation any.  Rev. James Loughran, SA
Christopher Rushlau
4 years 7 months ago
Bob Baker's comment reminds me of Father Sullivan encouraging the students in his mandatory religion class at Saint Joseph's College in Maine in 1982 or so to read their homework: "You don't want to die dumb." The editorial also reminds me of that remark. A "viable two-state peace agreement" means two viable states, right? Since one of those states would be the Jewish state, where it is against the law to not be Jewish, we'll first have to find a fix for Israel's constitutional problems. Start with separation of church and state and equal treatment under the laws. Then you'll have to sell this program to the Palestinians: to the people who were living in Palestine (and their descendents) when the English government set up Israel by the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and then had the League of Nations and then the UN rubberstamp this act. Palestinians might accept living with the Jews who, in their corporate character as the Jewish state, have spent their entire national history (from 1948) trying to get rid of the Palestinians. . . if the last act of the Jewish state (before its dissolution and the establishment of a secular state for all the people in Palestine) was to apologize for trying to steal Palestine from the Palestinians. It might convince Palestinians that one-time Israelis are ready to live in peace with their neighbors. If the Bible calls on you to kill all your neighbors, call them Canaanites, both man, woman, and child, is it still genocide? Faith is not a means to avoid reality. What kind of God would such a faith believe in? Let's close with a bit of scripture. How can you claim to love the God you cannot see if you do not love the people you can see? The reason you do not want to die dumb is that God is not stupid, as you well know. "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'"
Bob Baker
4 years 7 months ago
And let's not forget that neither Syria or Jordan wanted to make room for the Palestinian state or the acts of terrorism (Munich, blowing up planes around the world, bombings, the praises bestowed on suicide bombers, etc, etc, etc) and the indiscriminate rocket attacks of Israel. Their entire history of ridding Palestinians? After numerous invasion attempts, Israel still gave up territory that it frankly didn't have to. This despite the continuing calls by terrorists groups for the extermination of Israel. Even if these groups succeeded, the result would probably be what is currently occuring in Syria and Iraq - it isn't the country that matters, it's the (brand of) religion.
Vincent Gaitley
4 years 7 months ago
Israel should surrender the settlements moments after the Turks return Constantinople to the Greeks. Frankly, I wish the Israeli government would just state that the lands acquired in defense of the homeland are now permanently part of Israel--conquest counts because war has real consequences. The Arabs attacked. They lost lives and lands. Tough. That should have been enough to deter rational people, but no. Liberal publications like America should stop carping at the Israeli state over this, after all, what nation returns conquered land? Not Britain, not Russia, not China, and not us. Yet Israel did return the Sinai, and earned no praise, gained no security. As I write this in Chester County, Pennsylvania there's not a Lenape native in sight, and on the island of Manhattan, not one Manhattoe native either. And since May 29, 1453 the city of Constantine has been in the hands of Turks, and Islam. I'm over it. Jerusalem and Israel are the city and state of the Jews. There is no Palestine, and certainly no Palestinian people, just refugee Arabs.

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