Now What?

November 4, 2011

Reports today suggest that the Palestinian application for U.N. membership will fall short of the nine votes needed in the Security Council next week.

Some who fail to grasp the urgency of achieving two states now may celebrate the Palestinian failure and the further news that the U.S. is withholding funds from UNESCO, which admitted Palestine this week.

American politicians, in fact, seem to be tripping over themselves to find new ways to further punish the Palestinians and the United Nations.

But here at J Street, while we didn’t support the Palestinian application for UN membership now, we see nothing to celebrate in another victory for the status quo.

We remain focused on the need for an ever stronger and louder movement that will fix the broken American political dynamics that have made promoting resolution of the conflict so difficult.

We want our politicians to hear loudly and clearly how many of us who care about Israel’s long-term peace and security want progress toward two states not punishment of the UN or the Palestinians.

As we build this long-term movement, our eyes remain firmly fixed on what we can do now: first, let’s focus on establishing a border and security arrangements as a step toward an end-of-conflict agreement. That’s what President Obama said in May; and it’s what the Quartet is pursuing now. It’s something we suggested already late last year.

Let’s also move beyond simplistic calls for “direct talks.” The goal isn’t talks, meetings, or process. (Anyone old enough to remember when peace talks on Vietnam were held up by disputes on the “shape of the table”?)

The goal is an agreed-upon resolution of the conflict leading to two states living side-by-side in peace and security.

An active mediator is essential. Numerous conflict-ending agreements throughout history – including peace between Egypt and Israel – were hammered out by means other than direct negotiations between the parties.

So let’s stop focusing on who’s ready for “direct talks” and start asking who’s serious about establishing a border based on the pre-1967 lines with equivalent swaps and meaningful security arrangements.

Finally, let’s encourage the broader international community to step into the breach – namely, the Quartet.

The Quartet has productively asked both sides to present proposals on borders and security within three months. And, as of now, both the Israelis and the Palestinians say they will.

The right next step is holding both sides’ feet to the fire to demand meaningful proposals. If the sides comply, then it’s time for a serious effort to bridge the gaps and to press both sides for the necessary compromises.

Unsurprisingly, no one is betting on this effort to succeed.

But when the alternative is the status quo and a relentless slide toward the loss of Israel’s democratic and Jewish character – isn’t our only choice to work to help the Quartet’s effort to succeed?

Those who miss the urgency of achieving two states now may celebrate the Palestinian failure at the Security Council and the withholding of America’s UNESCO funding.

The cynics and critics may say diplomacy has no chance of success.

But J Street chooses to work productively to secure Israel’s future by building American support for international efforts to set a border and security arrangements that actually establish two states for two peoples.

You’ll be hearing more in the coming months from us about the historic choice we think Israel’s supporters need to make between the status quo and a secure democracy. Between defeatism and action.

These choices will be the focus of our third National Conference: Making History. I hope you’ll sign up now to join us there. (It’ll be cherry blossom weekend in DC – so make your hotel reservations now!)