My colleague, Rabbi Barry Schwartz, asks an important question (“Giving peace a chance,” June 28). Why have Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority garnered so little attention and support from the organized Jewish community? Rabbi Schwartz is to be commended for raising this issue. His question deserves an answer. The resumption of the peace process, stalled since 2010, is clearly in Israel’s interests. But not only Israel – it is in the best interest of the Palestinian Authority as well.
You would think that such talks would be welcomed by the Palestinian leadership. Yet nothing indicates that there has been any substantive change in the attitude, tone, or policies of the Palestinian Authority that would give anyone hope that even if Secretary Kerry is successful in getting both sides back to the negotiating table, there is any hope that there might be any real progress. And a failed peace process at this juncture, with so much of the Middle East in turmoil, may be more threatening to Israel’s short term interests than no process at all.
While Secretary Kerry engages in this effort, what is apparent is that it, like so many previous efforts, is more concerned with what Israel must do (in other words, Israeli concessions in advance of the resumption of the peace talks) than the Palestinian leadership. As has been reported, there has been no demand for an end to Palestinian glorification of terrorism or incitement against Israel.
Terrorists are still lionized by the Palestinian leadership and media. Abbas asserts on a regular basis that Israel intends to destroy the Al-Aksa mosque. These actions, and so many more like them, undermine the trust and confidence of the Israeli public, which wants peace and supports a two state solution of this conflict. And they undermine the passion and support that Secretary Kerry’s valiant attempts would otherwise receive from a grateful American Jewish community.
I would also like to address Rabbi Schwartz’ other challenge, that we perhaps have “â€¦ placed responsibility squarely with the Palestinians. Anywhere but at our own feet.” That is another important challenge which deserves an answer. This is not the forum to list the many mistakes both sides have made since the signing of the Oslo Agreements almost 20 years ago. Yet regarding the important issue of peace talks, the absence of serious bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians is the handiwork of the Palestinian Authority, who’s unreasonable demands of Israel in exchange for the resumption of talks several years ago were unwittingly encouraged in the early years of the Obama administration, and who’s damage the president took great pains to fix with his successful trip to Israel last spring. Like Rabbi Schwartz, I love and support Israel. While I do not speak with the authority of one who holds Israeli citizenship, I do know a thing or two about the American Jewish community, which has consistently supported every administration’s peace efforts, including the current one.
We can remain wholehearted in our support for Israel, for peace within the context of a two state solution, and hopeful for a speedy resuming of negotiations, yet at the same time maintain a healthy skepticism regarding the behavior and intentions of Israel’s neighbors. I assure you: when both the American Jewish public and leadership are confident that the Palestinians are serious, the passion and support that characterized previous such efforts will be evident once again. We’re just not there yet.