Hope amid the pain

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on February 26, 2024

I’ve just returned from one of the most challenging, heartbreaking weeks I’ve ever spent in Israel and the West Bank, traveling with a delegation including Members of Congress and J Street’s Board.

Our visit was painful; our emotional response deep. We encountered immense sadness, anger and hopelessness.

We visited the burnt out ruins of kibbutzim and the haunting site of the Nova music festival massacre in southern Israel. We spent meaningful time with families of hostages and victims of the attacks. We rallied for the hostages’ immediate release.

Aid agencies, human rights advocates and diplomats briefed our group on the unfathomable scale of human pain and devastation in Gaza, and we visited the ruins of a Palestinian village in the West Bank destroyed by settler violence in late October.

Amid all the tragedy, so many we met – Israelis, Palestinians and Americans – still insisted they see a window of hope in the darkness.

In describing that opportunity, nearly everyone shared the view that the United States is the “indispensable player.” US leadership is essential if this crisis is to lead to a livable, secure future for Israelis and Palestinians.

The contours of that future are clear.

Hamas and the leaders who planned and perpetrated October 7 can have no role. Gaza must be demilitarized and secured with the assistance of credible partners – some of whom will have to be convinced to contribute boots on the ground to enforce a ceasefire.

Israeli security must be front and center for any path to have the hope of success. The trauma and pain of October 7 runs deep. The fear and sense of danger is palpable throughout the country.

Palestinians, too, must be offered a real and better future – free from occupation and endless wars, free to chart their own destiny. A vision of self-determination and safety in a state of their own.

Arab states will only sign onto this vision with an Israeli government committed to Palestinian self-determination, and a Palestinian government committed to reform and effective governance.

Pulling those pieces together will require meaningful political and defense guarantees from the United States that address the serious challenges in the region.

The world will need to invest in rebuilding Gaza and developing a Palestinian state in a manner that harks back to the post-World War II Marshall Plan. There must be new Palestinian leadership in place, committed to security and peace with its neighbor Israel, and we welcome today’s news that the Palestinian government is taking steps toward that goal.

At the same time, these plans will only work with an Israeli government that no longer endeavors to undercut democracy or pursue the settlement movement’s vision of a Greater Israel – an Israeli government that is no longer led by a Prime Minister motivated by personal interest.

I have said for years that Israel was coming to a fork in the road – a moment of truth with a profound choice to be made. Down one path, where Benjamin Netanyahu and his messianic extremist allies Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir hope to lead, Israel maintains full control of the entire “Land of Israel,” jettisons democracy and opts to live and die by the sword.

Down the other, where the sensible center of Israel must lead, the country builds a safe and democratic future on a two-state foundation and regional security agreements. A safe, democratic homeland for the Jewish people that lives up to Israel’s founding values of justice, equality and peace.

The time has come for President Biden to pose that choice directly to the Israeli people, understanding which path the present government would choose.

Similarly, he must put to Palestinians the choices they must make – renouncing violence and terror, recognizing Israel and settling all claims.

The moment is so dire, the stakes so high that President Biden – one of the best friends Israel has ever had in the Oval Office – must put forth a bold, clear vision and make the case to all in the region to take the road that leads to peace, safety and freedom for all.

In doing so, he will have an ally in J Street as we rally together to seek a better future.