Opinions & Commentary

The right side of history

Jeremy Ben-Ami

Events are still playing out on the streets of Cairo, and many corners of the Middle East remain far from stable. It may yet be too early to draw meaningful conclusions, but one lesson is already worth considering for friends of Israel: that an unsustainable status quo is unlikely to hold.

For years, Israel and the United States have hitched their wagon in the Middle East to the stability ensured by regimes that are increasingly out of touch with their people and deny freedoms and rights to maintain control. History has consistently shown such regimes to be unsustainable, and popular movements to win greater freedom in the Middle East should come as no surprise.

Similarly, Israel and its friends must recognize that the status quo in the conflict with the Palestinians is unsustainable. With each passing day, Israel’s future as a democracy and a Jewish national home becomes less secure. Demographics, international opinion and growing radicalization all indicate that the clock is running out on continued occupation and settlement expansion.

Failure to address the status quo endangers not just Israel’s future but American interests as well. The United States must recognize, as it is in Egypt, that it cannot afford to be on the wrong side of history.

That is why I take issue with the Advocate’s recent editorial regarding the US response to the United Nations Security Council resolution on settlements (“US should veto UN resolution,” Feb. 4). The editorial also mischaracterizes our position on the resolution.

Though J Street is deeply opposed to Israeli settlement activity, we are not advocating for a UN Security Council resolution on these issues. We, like the Advocate, hope never to see Israel publicly taken to task by the United Nations. That body’s track record of demonization of Israel and over-focus on Israeli actions is well-documented.

We are calling instead for US and/or Israeli action to change the present status quo in the Israeli Palestinian conflict and obviate the need for UN consideration of this resolution in the first place. Specifically, we urge the United States to set forth a bold, proactive diplomatic initiative that provides the Palestinians with a clear path for achieving their goal of independence, and Israel with assurances of recognized borders, security and broader acceptance.

Israel, too, has the option of forestalling UN action by freezing settlement activity and immediately resuming negotiations toward a two-state solution to the conflict.

The resolution tracks closely – though not exactly – the policy of eight successive American administrations toward settlements, and calls on both parties to fulfill their agreements and obligations and to continue with negotiations toward a two-state solution. We believe that vetoing a resolution that tracks US policy so closely would damage American credibility with the international community and its global standing. Further, we believe that withholding a UN Security Council veto is one of the few mechanisms available for the United States to convey the seriousness with which it views the present impasse and the intensity it intends to bring to achieving a twostate solution.

In our view, the time has come for President Barack Obama to set forth his vision for peace, starting with parameters related to borders and security arrangements, and, in that context, to ask that any approach to the United Nations be deferred to give a new diplomatic initiative time to succeed.

It is time for tough decisions by all involved as to whether or not to pursue with seriousness of purpose a two-state solution. Israel’s future as a democracy and Jewish homeland is at risk. We do our friends and family in Israel no favor if we miss the opportunity to make the stakes associated with the present status quo starkly clear.

The choice: Sit by in the face of an unsustainable status quo or act on the clear warning Egypt provides, supporting the bold action necessary to secure a strong, healthy, Jewish, democratic Israel for generations to come.

With so much at stake, I hope that we’ll find ourselves on the right side of history.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is president of J Street.


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