When President Barack Obama appointed former Senator George Mitchell as his special envoy to the Middle East on his second day in office in 2009, it naturally raised the expectations of supporters of active American involvement in helping bring a two state solution to fruition. In fact, at the time Ameinu joined with other Jewish and Arab American organizations pledging support for such steps. As we know now, little was accomplished in this area during the Senator’s two years in the position nor through the rest of the president’s first term. Much has been written on why this was the case, but I choose not to dwell on that now.
We also now know that the President intends to press forward with this important political and security priority, with a “reset” approach. His first international trip upon re-election was to Israel and included his dramatic speech in Jerusalem in which he declared his solidarity with Israel and stated that peace with the Palestinians is necessary, just and possible. For those who doubted that this would be more than lofty oratory, Secretary of State John Kerry has embarked upon a shuttle diplomacy mission aimed at renewing direct negotiations between the parties within two months. In parallel, President Obama will be welcoming a number for Mideast leaders at the White House over the next couple of months. In this context, the re-emergence of the Arab Peace Initiative (API) in press reports related to Secretary Kerry’s mission is very encouraging. I have long felt that total Arab recognition of Israel as part of a Palestinian peace agreement would be an important step towards enhancing Israel’s security, not to mention the related economic benefits. In fact, Ameinu welcomed the Israel Peace Initiative when it was launched as a response to the API in 2011.
I have no illusions that this is all of sudden going to be easy and quick. As I often mention in public talks, I first stated my support for a Palestinian state over 40 years ago while writing for a Jewish student newspaper at Berkeley. Since then and certainly more recently, the outlines of a two state agreement have been discussed in detail among politicians and negotiators in the U.S., Europe, Israel and Palestine. The person who has literally “written the book” on the subject is Shaul Arieli, author of the recently published A Border between Us and You. In this interview with Noam Sheizaf, he covers the history and the future of peace negotiations, and discusses whether the opportunity has passed. Spoiler Alert: I agree with his conclusion that the “point of no return” is a political, not a geographical issue…so, no, we haven’t reached it yet. If Israel were to annex the West Bank, then we would be there.
Finally, is there room for creative thinking on this question? Professor David Biale asks whether: “a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians would allow all settlers currently in the West Bank to remain, if they wish, and would even allow other Jews to move there. Jews living in those settlements would continue to be Israeli citizens ….but also abide by Palestinian law.” However, he further suggests that “for every settler who remains in the West Bank, a Palestinian refugee would be allowed to settle in pre-1967 Israel. “ Biale’s full article fleshes out this idea which certainly highlights two of the central contentious issues – the growing number of settlers and the Palestinian Right of Return. Perhaps this or other such ideas can be added to the mix.
In the end, it will be up to the leaders in the region, with active American facilitation and support, to find the formula for a regional peace agreement. We believe such an agreement is most certainly in the best interests of Israel and global Jewry, and Ameinu, as in the past, will offer our vocal support to our American elected officials and Israel leaders as they head down this path.