Word on the Street: The Road to Nowhere

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on January 8, 2015

I read the news summary J Street puts out each morning and–probably like many of you–shake my head in disbelief. Not a day goes by without some action on one side or the other moving us further from resolving the conflict rather than closer.

(By the way, if you don’t get our terrific daily news summary, sign up to subscribe.)

One day it’s a story about Israeli settlers stoning a diplomatic vehicle carrying US consular officials. The next, it’s the official Palestinian Facebook page running hateful images, such as one of skulls adorned with Jewish stars with a rifle and the Fatah flag and another of Israeli leaders with nooses around their necks.

Official actions and reactions only reinforce the sense we’re in a downward spiral eroding trust and fanning hate. The Palestinians apply to the International Criminal Court, so the Israeli government yet again withholds the tax revenue it collects for the Palestinian Authority.

And the US Congress likely won’t be far behind with proposals to cut off US aid that pays for security as well as humanitarian, economic development, infrastructure, educational, vocational and health care assistance.

J Street will, of course, be in the thick of the fight to stop such a self-defeating move.

The logical conclusion of this round of actions is the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and the return of the West Bank to full control by Israel.

It’s not hard to see that we are on a “road to nowhere” – and have been since Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative collapsed last April.

The lack of diplomatic initiative and political leadership has left a vacuum for extremists and opportunists.

There is, of course, a better path to take and clear choices ahead for all involved.

Israel’s March 17 election provides the starkest choice–between one camp committed to diplomatic initiative and taking the necessary steps to advance a two-state solution and another publicly stating it will not evacuate settlements and certain to lead to a one-state, non-democratic Israel.

Polls have shown the two-state camp led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni running even with Netanyahu and the Likud. That is not to say they will win. Israeli elections are notoriously volatile and the electorate often swings decisively in the final couple of weeks. And even if they get the most votes, it’s an open question whether they can form a coalition.

But the opposition’s strong showing so far gives the lie to those who say that Israel has moved radically and inexorably to the right and that Netanyahu is the inevitable winner.

The United States too will face tough choices in the months ahead. Does it actually cut aid to the Palestinian Authority if it brings cases to the International Criminal Court? Does it veto the next resolution at the Security Council without working with allies to craft a reasonable alternative? Does it simply abandon the issue?

The United States can play a critical role in steering the parties off their present destructive path by offering real diplomatic leadership and initiative–and J Street intends to push the Administration hard in the months ahead to do just that.

Finally, American friends of Israel can do much more to raise our voice and to make clear the futility of the present path. That’s what we’ll be doing at J Street’s fifth national conference in Washington, DC, on March 21-24.

Coming just days after the Israeli election, the conference will be an amazing opportunity for all of us to process the results, analyze their meaning and chart our path in light of the choice of the Israeli people.

I urge you to consider attending (sign up before Jan. 21 to take advantage of a special “early bird” rate).

As Israelis debate their future in the most important election in years, we in the United States who care must not throw our hands up in despair and walk away. Rather than watching the parties push each other down the road to nowhere, we can help point the way to a better future, one that starts with an end to occupation and a resolution to the conflict in two states for two peoples.