Word on the Street: The President’s Decision

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on April 28, 2016

Last week, J Street and our work hit new highs.

Our students met with the President at the White House, our National Gala hosted the Vice President and Secretary of State and we received inspiring validation that our work is making an impact and transforming Washington’s politics.

Yet, with the situation on the ground between Israelis and Palestinians continuing to deteriorate, this is no time to rest on our laurels.

We recognize the urgent need to change the trajectory of the conflict, and we heard last week from the Vice President that the Administration too recognizes that the emerging one-state reality threatens both Israel’s security and character, as well as Palestinian rights.

Secretary Kerry reiterated the Administration’s understanding of the need to act, saying that, when it comes to the two-state solution, “I can tell you for these next nine months we will not stop working to find a way.”

Yet we know from media reports that the Obama administration has a key decision to make in its final nine months: Take meaningful action that advances the resolution of the conflict and leave behind a legacy that the President’s successor can build on, or step back and refrain from acting while the situation on the ground gets steadily worse?

Without question, key to the Administration’s calculus in making that choice will be assessing how its friends in Congress will react to meaningful presidential steps to bridge the gaps between Israelis and Palestinians.

That’s why J Street will be laser-focused in the coming weeks on urging Members of Congress to go on record expressing support for presidential action.

A resolution introduced in the House by Reps. John Yarmuth and David Price last week is intended to put Congress on record supporting American action. H.Res.686 urges the US Government to “[help] provide a political horizon for ending the conflict by articulating a non-binding vision of what a comprehensive final status agreement might entail that could help foster and guide revived negotiations between the parties.”

The resolution expresses support for the principle that an American “vision,” with broad international support, can help focus both peoples and their leaders on the fundamental compromises needed for peace.

Some in Congress and elsewhere would prefer that this Administration say and do nothing further on the question of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

They insist that progress toward two states can only be made through bilateral negotiations (which have failed for 20+ years), and that outside efforts to bring the parties together will ultimately only hurt Israel.

We disagree. True — resolution of the conflict must ultimately be agreed upon by the two parties and cannot be imposed. But history has shown that complex, long-running conflicts are best addressed with serious help from outside actors. The US can and should play a role, helping to bridge difficult gaps and provide a reality check to both sides.

If the US steps back from the leadership that’s needed to resolve the conflict despair will only deepen and a deteriorating situation will get worse.

As pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy Americans, we cannot lose sight that every day without an end to the conflict is a threat to Israel’s security, democracy and Jewish character.

So let’s take pride in our success transforming politics in Washington. That’s the message of last week’s events.

And let’s demonstrate what the transformation means at a most meaningful moment.

We know that a large part of the President’s party in Congress agrees with us that the President should step forward — not back — in these next months with productive ideas to help end the conflict.

So now, they need to say so publicly. Over the next few months, we’ll be working to get them to sign onto H.Res.686. Together, we will build momentum for strong presidential action and leadership in his last year in office.