J Street draws great hope from the first visit to the Middle East by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Five moments in particular demonstrated to us that there is truly a new direction for American diplomacy in the Middle East:
1. On Gaza: The announcement of a $900 million pledge in U.S. aid to the Palestinians, $300 million of which will go to Gaza reconstruction. Alleviating human suffering in Gaza must be a critical first step to stabilizing the region and can pave the way for further diplomatic progress. We urge quick Congressional action to approve the assistance. We further applaud the Secretary’s strong comments urging Israel to open the Gaza border crossings for humanitarian aid and reconstruction supplies. We are encouraged by reports that Israel plans to open the Gaza border crossings to a more comprehensive list of humanitarian supplies and hope that this will include basic materials for reconstruction.
2. On Jerusalem: The call by Secretary Clinton and 21 Israel Prize laureates on the government of Israel and the Municipality of Jerusalem to stop the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. These demolitions, which violate Israel’s obligations to the United States and the international community under the Road Map, further radicalize the Palestinian population, and undermine reconciliation and peace efforts. We hope that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat will work with city planning authorities and the Israeli Government to ease building restrictions and ensure that the state fully protects the rights and welfare of all its residents.
3. On Syria: The decision to send two American emissaries to Damascus. Diplomatic engagement with Syria is crucial in minimizing Iran’s influence among Israel’s neighbors, bolstering Israeli-Arab peace talks, and bringing about stability in the region.
4. On Iran: The administration’s openness to diplomatic engagement with Iran and to working with the international community to fully address all issues, including Iran’s nuclear program and its support for terror against the U.S. and Israel.
5. On two-states: Reiteration of the United States’ firm commitment to the political track in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and a rejection of calls to focus solely on economic development. There can be no resolution to the conflict without a political solution that results in two states – a viable, independent Palestinian state and Israel as the democratic homeland for the Jewish people – living side by side in peace and security. Progress on the political track remains a vital interest of the United States and of Israel.
Taken as a whole, the Clinton trip was an important first step toward the sustained and comprehensive American leadership needed to bring a peaceful resolution to Israel’s conflicts with her neighbors. We hope that the new Israeli government will choose to support these goals and to work with President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Special Envoy Mitchell to bring true peace and security to Israel, the Palestinians, and the entire Middle East.