Welcoming Ceasefire, J Street Urges Fundamental Reset of US Policy to Break the Cycle of Violence, End the Occupation

May 21, 2021

After more than ten days of violence, suffering and death for people in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, we are deeply relieved by the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and grateful for the diplomatic efforts of the Biden Administration and others in the international community that helped bring it about.

The thousands of rockets fired indiscriminately by Hamas killed 12 Israelis, including two children, wounded hundreds, terrorized millions and did nothing to advance the rights or safety of Palestinians living under occupation in East Jerusalem or in Gaza.

Israel’s severe retaliatory airstrikes on heavily-populated areas killed 243 people, including 66 children, wounded nearly 2,000, displaced more than 90,000 and further devastated an area that was already facing an ongoing humanitarian crisis. While Israeli forces may have succeeded in damaging Hamas’ infrastructure and military capacity, they did not end the long-term threat of rocket attacks.

Within Israel, the fighting frayed further the social bonds between the Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens and led to unprecedented intercommunal violence.

Every innocent life lost during this escalation is a tragedy. That’s why J Street and other advocacy groups and members of Congress did everything we could over the past week to press for an immediate ceasefire and to urge the Biden administration to do the same.

While we are relieved that the fighting has now ended, we mourn for the innocents whose lives might have been saved had it ended sooner.

Looking back over the past ten days, we are left with the painful conclusion that this violent escalation could have been avoided and — as with each prior round of violence — that it accomplished nothing of lasting benefit for either the Israeli or Palestinian peoples.

We are grateful that, in addition to their public statements and letters urging the Biden Administration to publicly and immediately push for a ceasefire, many elected officials also made clear that, moving forward, the US needs to be more intensively engaged, more even-handed and more willing to finally address the root causes of the conflict, including the ongoing occupation.

The underlying conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has no military solution. It also won’t be resolved through normalization agreements with Arab states. The only way out of this decades-long conflict is a political solution that ends the occupation and guarantees the civil and political rights, safety and self-determination of both Israelis and Palestinians. We believe that ultimately means a diplomatic agreement that results in two states.

For over a decade, the right-wing, pro-settlement policies of Netanyahu-led governments have pushed such an agreement further out of reach. Their actions have entrenched the occupation, pursued de facto annexation in the West Bank and dispossessed Palestinian families in East Jerusalem.

As the world’s primary superpower and Israel’s closest ally, the United States has failed to take meaningful action or to push back on or change this behavior. Support for a two-state outcome has become little more than a talking point, and US actions have failed to give real weight and impact to our spoken words.

Thankfully, the Biden administration has ended President Trump’s full-throated support for the settlement movement and creeping annexation. But this is not enough.

The President must not put this conflict on the back burner or return to “business as usual.” It is not enough to voice quiet, private disagreement with Israeli policy and then do nothing meaningful about it.

The time has come for bold, public American opposition to destructive Israeli and Palestinian policies and for intensive leadership to stop the unchecked slide toward one state and permanent occupation.

We cannot continue to provide the Israeli government with a “blank check” when it comes to our financial assistance, to offer it diplomatic immunity in the international arena from the consequences of its actions or to allow the Israeli government to pretend it is committed to a two-state outcome when it repeatedly, publicly declares that it is not.

Going forward, J Street will press the Biden Administration and Congress to pursue a fundamental reset of US policy, centering on ending the occupation and securing a better future for Israelis and Palestinians. Such a reset must include the following:

  • Appoint a senior-level Special Envoy to direct and coordinate US policy related to the conflict.
  • Reverse the destructive steps taken by President Trump. Re-open the US consulate in Jerusalem, commit to re-opening the PLO mission in Washington and make clear that the US considers settlement expansion to be illegal under international law.
  • Push for an easing and ultimate end to the onerous restrictions on the people of Gaza, help finance massive humanitarian relief for Palestinian civilians in Gaza while pushing for the disarmament of Hamas.
  • While remaining committed to Israel’s security and to the full amount of assistance currently promised to Israel, impose clear transparency requirements and restrictions on the use of our assistance to ensure that US-sourced military equipment — including equipment bought with our aid — cannot be used by Israel in connection with any acts of creeping annexation or violations of Palestinian rights.
  • Stop blocking legitimate, balanced critiques of Israeli actions at the United Nations Security Council and other relevant international bodies. Instead, work with those bodies in good faith to promote peace, international law and the rights of both peoples.

If we do not chart a new course, the daily injustice facing Palestinians and the security threats facing Israelis will continue. There is little doubt that soon enough we will face yet another explosion of senseless violence with the same excuses, the same talking points and the same futility.

Throughout the past two weeks, we have been strongly encouraged by the number of leaders across Congress, the Democratic Party, the American Jewish community and the entire country calling for a much more responsible, even-handed and effective US policy towards this conflict. We strongly hope that the Biden administration will heed these voices.

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