The heat is on

July 31, 2009

The heat is on when it comes to President Barack Obama’s efforts to achieve a two-state solution and comprehensive, regional peace in the Middle East.

Just this week, four senior U.S. officials were in the Middle East working on various aspects of the diplomatic agenda, from settlements to Iran to Syria.

News reports continue to hint at progress on the settlement freeze issue in US-Israeli talks, that are likely to be met with measures to be taken by the Palestinians and also steps by the Arab states in the direction of some normalization with Israel, even before a comprehensive peace.

J Street believes that settlement expansion cannot be condoned. Settlements have done great damage to Israel and its security, undermining the credibility of the peace process in Palestinian and Arab eyes, threatening the very possibility of a two-state solution.

When the peace process began in 1993 there were 111,000 settlers in the West bank alone, this week official Israeli sources put that number at over 300,000. The call for a complete freeze on settlements over the green line is both necessary and justified.

However, as I said in an interview with Public Radio International this week, stopping settlements is only a first step on the road to ending the conflict. The President and his team will need to achieve maximum results on a settlement freeze, adhere to the principle of no expansion, and begin to shift the focus of diplomacy towards negotiations that actually define a border and deliver a two-state solution.

American leadership in all of this is essential and the President will need our strong backing as the political heat rises from those opposed to compromise.

In other news:

I want to flag a remarkable interview that prominent Jewish philanthropist Charles Bronfman gave to Haaretz this week, in which he said that the lack of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is hurting Diaspora Jewry’s connection to Israel, and recognized that this alienation is particularly potent among young Jews.

Supporting the President’s call for a settlement freeze in Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem as well as the West Bank, J Street joined Meretz USA, Ameinu, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, and Americans for Peace Now in expressing our support for the President’s approach. Read Laura Rosen at’s account here.

Senators Evan Bayh (D-IN) and Jim Risch (R-ID) are circulating a letter regarding President Obama’s efforts to encourage Arab states to normalize relations with Israel. Oddly, the letter fails to even mention the word “settlements,” so we are encouraging Senators to seek amendments to the letter before signing that would take a balanced, even-handed approach to the conflict – pushing both for Arab nods of normalization towards Israel as well as an Israeli settlement freeze.