I was puzzled by Shmuley Boteach’s June 19 sounding of the battle cry against the Obama administration and its call for Israel to stop all building activity in the settlements. While I have no problem championing Israel’s interests and jeopardizing any dinner invitation that the president might be thinking of extending, I would first need more evidence that Israel was indeed threatened by U.S. demands. Successive Israeli governments, both left- and right-leaning, have agreed to dismantle the majority of the settlements and to surrender more than 90 percent of the land in the west bank to the Palestinian Authority, in the context of a negotiated peace treaty. Furthermore, Israel agreed to a settlement freeze in 2002, included in Phase I of the “roadmap for peace.”
While the nuances of the word “freeze” may well need to be settled on, this can’t be the casus belli that Rabbi Boteach makes it out to be, as quiet diplomacy between our countries is already bringing us to an agreed-upon definition. I suspect the clear majority of the 78 percent of U.S. Jews who voted for Obama have no problem in supporting the president’s call for the freeze, especially as it was accompanied by a clear and forceful demand for an end to all terrorism and violence by the Palestinians. The presumption by Rabbi Boteach that only a “sunshine Jewish patriot” could support President Obama’s forceful attempt to make both sides adhere to their commitments in moving the peace process forward is unjustified, and doesn’t take into account the dramatic shifts that have already taken place – in Lebanon, in Iran, on the Syria-Iraq border – since the election of Obama. Other than in the Orthodox community, I expect most U.S. Jews to react to our president’s initiatives with cautious optimism. A rapprochement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and the release of Gilad Shalit – both distinct possibilities – can change the entire landscape of the peace process. Let us press the White House to bring about these steppingstones to peace, rather than gird for war with it.