Statement in response to Israeli Ground Invasion of Gaza

January 4, 2009

J Street reiterates its call for strong and immediate American diplomatic leadership to bring an end to the violence through an immediate ceasefire.

J Street unequivocally condemns Hamas’ indiscriminate firing of rockets into Israel and its use of terror against civilians over the years.

We reiterate that J Street is deeply committed to Israel, its security and the safety of its citizens.

However, as Americans and as friends and supporters of Israel, we do not believe the continuation of the present military operation is in the best interests of either the United States or Israel.  Rallies and protests in Iraq and Afghanistan in opposition to the Gaza now bring the conflict squarely into arenas where American troops are actively deployed.  Demonstrations throughout the Middle East and the Muslim world indicate that this week’s events are only further damaging America’s image, interests and relationships around the world.

In the face of these concerns, the outgoing Bush administration seems content to sit on the sidelines for its last two weeks and do little – as it has for its entire eight years – to promote active diplomacy to further the cause of peace and security for Israel and the Middle East.  It is time for a new direction for American foreign policy in the Middle East, and J Street calls on President-elect Obama and the new Congress convening this week to work actively and immediately – with international support – to reach a ceasefire that stops the violence, ends the rockets and lifts the blockade of Gaza.

The United States must understand that this week’s events did not occur in a vacuum of just Hamas’ rocket fire and Israel’s military response. The situation is also influenced by the ongoing blockade of Gaza and its impact on the one and a half million residents of Gaza as well as the larger political conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people which, unresolved, continues to fuel deepening anger, violence and death.

Without an immediate end to the present violence, hundreds more will die and be injured in the coming days and weeks, including innocent civilians on both sides.  Anger against Israel, the United States and moderate Arab regimes will continue to rise – on the West Bank, inside Israel, throughout the Middle East and around the world. The primary beneficiaries of a delayed ceasefire will likely be the very forces in the region that the United States and Israel are interested in containing: Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas itself.

Scenarios that envision the removal of Hamas and long-term administration of the territory by Israel, Fatah (backed by Israeli Defense Forces), or international authorities are all either unrealistic or undesirable. More likely is that a breakdown in the central authority in Gaza will create ripe conditions for a much more extreme, al Qaeda type movement to grow and prosper on Israel’s doorstep.

While armed conflict may inflict serious – though temporary – damage and loss on Hamas, it will likely enhance the movement’s political strength, not only in Gaza but on the West Bank and regionally.

The most important question we asked last Saturday remains: what is the end game?  If the goal is a negotiated end to the rocket fire – then let negotiations begin now.