By Jeremy Ben-Ami
A strong tide has been flowing against the pro-Israel, pro-peace community in recent weeks.
The mini-war in Gaza strengthened opponents of compromise, while the Palestinian UN bid has spurred a new settlement announcement that threatens to kill the two-state solution for good. Meanwhile, Israeli politics race to the right, with sensible voices pushed to the sidelines and more extreme voices moving to center stage.
One could be forgiven for capitulating to despair as the prominent Jewish intellectual Leon Wieseltier recently did in the New Republic, writing that he had lost any hope of Israel and the Palestinians reaching peace in his lifetime.
“So what if the two-state solution is the only solution, when nobody is desperate to solve the problem?” Wieseltier wrote.
While understandable, I find that sentiment profoundly unacceptable, as I believe ending this conflict peacefully and soon is essential to avoid catastrophe for Israel, the Palestinians and the broader Middle East.
For years, we’ve known that Israelis and Palestinians won’t solve this conflict on their own. American leadership is essential, and none of today’s bad news changes that.
President Obama gets it. We’ve seen that over the course of his first term in all his remarks on the issue, particularly his much-discussed May 2011 call for two states with borders based on the pre-1967 lines and mutually-agreed adjustments.
As the president said, “The status quo is unsustainable… The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.”
Over the past 18 months, the president’s opponents campaigned ferociously to portray him as anti-Israel. But they failed, and he emerged from the election safe in the knowledge that the vast majority of American Jews firmly support him.
Now, the president has a short window – perhaps six to twelve months – to decisively set the path to a peace agreement.
We believe that he is up to the task and recognizes the strategic imperative as well as the historic responsibility of the moment.
But he is going to need our help to succeed.
He – and Congress – needs to know that we have his back. In particular, Congress needs to know that they are not representing the majority of Israel’s supporters if they blindly support damaging efforts like the AIPAC-promoted letter that calls for the closure of the PLO mission in Washington -- which we are currently fighting.
Some say the odds of meaningful presidential action are slim, given the rest of his daunting agenda. That becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy if we make it our excuse for not engaging.
With the survival of the state of Israel – and the character of the Jewish people – at stake, sitting on our hands in despair should not be an option.
One approach to life is to rely on hope. For many generations, our ancestors endured miserable conditions, content to wait for the Messiah to save them.
Then, slowly, a few in number began to realize that it didn't have to be this way: their future and their fate rested in their hands. So they set out to build a safe, proud and noble state for the Jewish people – one built on the vision and values of their prophets.
Today that vision and that state hang in the balance. We can wallow in despair and watch as that whole dream goes desperately off track – or we can act.
The settlers and their allies certainly understood that lesson, and they have acted against long odds over 45 years to change the course of history.
Now, it’s up to us and our allies both in the region and here in the States. Either we help change course now or we can watch in despair as our dreams and values fade away.
Under this campaign, we will do everything we can to (1) press for presidential leadership to achieve two states, (2) fight counterproductive steps in Congress, and (3) lobby established community leaders to speak out more about the threat the status quo poses to Israel.
As we call on the parties themselves – and on the president – to rise to the challenge of this moment, we should do no less ourselves.
History records the achievements of those who acted. It has little record of those who sat back waiting for hope.
P.S. We’re well past halfway toward our goal of raising $100,000 online in December to support this campaign. Please chip in a few dollars if you can.
 Losing Hope on Israeli-Palestinian Peace, by Leon Wieseltier. The New Republic, December 6, 2012.