My Turn: Answering Kerry’s call
This past week, Secretary of State John Kerry completed yet another round of intensive shuttle diplomacy in an attempt to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations that have stalled since the two sides failed to come to a final-status agreement in 2009. Although talks have not yet restarted, Israeli and Palestinian leaders are reportedly softening their positions on issues relating to negotiations. Indeed, Kerry appears to be bridging gaps that could lead to a series of negotiations that brings peace and stability to the region once and for all.
But as Kerry has noted time and again, the Obama administration’s welcomed engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not enough. Kerry’s continued diplomatic push must be coupled with Americans putting pressure on their leaders to support Kerry’s initiatives.
This past month, in a speech to the American Jewish Committee, Kerry called on Americans – and specifically American Jews – to support his efforts to achieve a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. Strong responses came from segments of the American Jewish community, most notably the Union for Reform Judaism and J Street, a pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group. But the initial lack of support from other major voices in the Jewish community made me question whether those organizations indeed support peace for Israelis and Palestinians.
Fortunately, some of those organizations have issued long-overdue statements supporting Kerry’s speech and his initiative for a two-state solution.
In a June 24 statement, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs pronounced strong support for Kerry, saying that they are “deeply appreciative of (his) efforts.” And, perhaps more surprisingly, the AJC has partially heeded Kerry’s call, criticizing several statements made by Israeli officials that are, in the words of Executive Director David Harris, “stunningly shortsighted” for “rejecting outright the vision of two states for two peoples.”
But even considering these late additions, the relatively small number of American Jewish groups stepping forward to support Kerry’s commendable efforts is embarrassing. Supporting a two-state solution is the only way to ensure Israel’s Jewish and democratic character, as well as to establish a Palestinian state that fulfills the national ambitions of a currently stateless people.
Although American Jews are often among the most connected to Israeli and Middle East affairs, it should be a concern of the broader American public. America’s national security rests largely on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. If we serve as a barrier to the peace process, then our country loses credibility in the Arab world.
There is, however, another way forward. If the United States continues its diplomatic push for a lasting peace agreement, then our country will likely be stronger than ever, building relationships in the Middle East that are important to our economy and our security.
In his speech to the AJC, Kerry remarked, “Quite simple: Peace pays.” It pays for Israelis and Palestinians – and for Americans, too.
New Hampshire Congresswomen Carol Shea-Porter and Annie Kuster have championed Kerry’s vision of American diplomatic leadership for a two-state solution. And Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has been an outspoken supporter of the Obama administration’s continued engagement on this issue.
In a 2010 interview, Shaheen argued that “Middle East peace is critical for U.S. national security interests, and a resolution to this festering conflict could have positive implications for U.S. interests around the globe.” Later, she added, “I strongly support this administration’s commitment to find a negotiated two-state solution.”
Shaheen has translated her nuanced, moderate foreign policy views into concrete support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state living side-by-side with Israel in peace and security.
Most notably, she was among the 27 senators signing California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s letter in March, which called for a sustained U.S. diplomatic initiative to forge a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on the two-state paradigm.
But as President Obama declared during his landmark speech in Jerusalem in March, “Political leaders will never take risks if the people do not push them to take some risks. Ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things.” As New Hampshire constituents, we have a powerful voice in Washington. And supporting Kerry’s initiative necessitates standing up for New Hampshire’s strongly pro-Israel, pro-peace delegation in Washington.
America is indispensable to the peace process, and Kerry needs partners in Congress to help fulfill his vision of a two-state solution to the conflict. Indeed, the stakes are high for all parties; the failure to build support for Kerry’s work now just pushes the inevitable two-state solution into the future, when the sacrifices will be even greater for all parties involved.
For the sake of Israelis, Palestinians and Americans, let’s do our part to turn Kerry’s vision, widely held for decades by proponents of peace, into a reality.
(Asher Mayerson is a junior at Dartmouth College, where he is also president of Dartmouth College Hillel.)