Overcoming the Status Quo

December 22nd, 2008

As 2008 draws to a close, we’re excited by J Street’s strides to establish a new political voice for the pro-Israel, pro-peace community and buoyed by the hope and opportunity generated by Barack Obama’s stunning November victory. In our first eight months, we’ve pressed for sensible policies and rational politics when it comes to Israel and the Middle East. We’ve supported diplomacy with Iran and spoken forcefully of the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  We’ve stood up to John Hagee, Sarah Palin, and Joe Lieberman and for a re-definition of what it means to be pro-Israel in America. Looking to 2009, however, our work faces massive challenges and cold realities:

  • In Gaza, a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel that halted the daily cycle of rockets and retaliation for six months has ended for now.  We supported the ceasefire in June with a full-page ad in the New York Times and we support its continuation now.
  • Extremist settlers on the West Bank are out of control - trampling not only the rights and property of Palestinians but the values of the Jewish people.  (J Street launched a campaign this week to encourage the Conference of Presidents to condemn the recent settler riots in Hebron - I hope you'll take action here if you haven't already.)
  • Bibi Netanyahu may well be heading back to the Israeli Prime Minister's office in February's elections on a platform that fails to grasp the urgency of reaching a two-state solution with the Palestinians.
  • The drumbeat for tough action against Iran grows ever louder - with leaders of the American Jewish community at the forefront of the charge.
Just 6 weeks after Barack Obama's historic victory, there's no escaping the sense that for every step forward we take in the Middle East, we always seem to take at least one step backward. Those on the right of the Jewish community are poised to seize any opportunity to stop our forward progress - specifically they hope to dissuade the incoming Obama administration from pursuing a new direction in the Middle East based on diplomacy and peace.  Their positions are well known: Only force will contain the threat of a nuclear Iran and the blame rests squarely on the Palestinians for the failure of past efforts to achieve broader, regional peace. In their view, the time is never right for negotiations and the best we can do is manage the conflict as settlements expand and a Palestinian state becomes an ever more distant possibility. Our mission is to ensure that the forces that defend an unsustainable status quo do not prevail. We cannot afford another decade or another presidency with no progress. Time is of the essence. The darkness of a future without a peace deal for Israel and for the region cannot be overstated.  What sort of state will Israel be if a Jewish minority governs a land whose majority is non-Jewish? To maintain the state's Jewish character will mean denying fundamental democratic rights to millions. President-elect Barack Obama's stunning victory provides us with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to truly advance the cause of a negotiated peace settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts. We must seize the moment. Working together with friends in the pro-Israel, pro-peace community - like Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, Israel Policy Forum, and others - we will encourage the incoming Administration to live up to its campaign promises and we'll help to create the political will to support the President-elect in those efforts. We'll be in touch soon with new ways that you can join us in our efforts.  In January, we'll ask you to encourage your Member of Congress to sign a letter to the President-elect urging the incoming Administration to help resolve the Israeli-Palestinian and Arab-Israeli conflicts peacefully and diplomatically and to engage diplomatically with Iran. And soon after we'll formally announce our first National Conference, to be held from October 25th to 28th, where we'll bring together dozens of organizations and hundreds of individuals committed to peace and security for Israel and the Middle East. Save the date here. Together, we can make 2009 a year when we finally make forward progress toward bringing real peace and security to Israel, the Palestinians, and the whole Middle East.