Academic journal article The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs

Stuck in the Roundabout: The Perils of American Policy on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Academic journal article The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs

Stuck in the Roundabout: The Perils of American Policy on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Article excerpt

Many Jewish Americans noted with hope that the inspiring sight of thousands of peaceful demonstrators seeking greater opportunity and freedom in squares and streets across the Middle East was not obscured by smoke billowing from burning American or Israeli flags, nor banners denouncing Western powers or their Jewish ally. As the inimitable journalist Mona Eltahawy put it, "None of this is about Israel.... For once it's not about you. Be happy it's not about you."1

Yet, as we celebrate the historic successes and honor the selfless sacrifices of those giving voice to our shared values in their own countries, the American pro-Israel community-and American Jews in particular- cannot help but wonder what this transformative process will mean for the homeland of the Jewish people, the State of Israel, to whose security and survival we have an unwavering commitment. Naturally, difficult questions arise: will a new Egyptian regime maintain its critical peace with Israel? Will more open elections bring extremist groups opposed to Israel's existence into power? Will the tide of revolts wash away the moderate leadership of the Palestinian Authority?

All are valid inquiries, but another of equal, if not greater importance to Israel's long-term security and survival, is also being asked within the American Jewish community: what should be done about the Israeli- Palestinian peace process?

Contrary to long-held beliefs in American politics, the overwhelming majority of American Jews not only supports a two-state resolution to the conflict, but wants the U.S. Government to assertively push the parties to achieve it. According to a 2010 election night survey of 1,000 American Jewish voters commissioned by J Street, 83 percent of American Jews want the administration to play "an active role in helping the parties to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict." More tellingly, however, 71 percent would still support active American leadership if it meant "publicly stating its disagreements" with both Israelis and Arabs, while 65 percent would still support such leadership even if it meant "exerting pressure on both the Israelis and Arabs to make the compromises necessary to achieve peace."2

This data reflects a growing sense of urgency in the American pro- Israel community over the consequences of what Secretary of State Hillary Clinton-referencing previous statements by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and others-called "the inexorable mathematics of demography," 3 which will see Arabs outnumber Jews in Israeli-controlled or garrisoned territory between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River within a generation. At that moment, Israel will have to choose between relinquishing its Jewish character by granting all Palestinians full political rights, or abandoning the Zionist and Jewish ideal of democracy by denying such rights to the new majority, inviting condemnation and, inevitably, isolation and sanction from the international community.

Either scenario is unacceptable to those who support Israel and its right to exist as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people. That is why our community was energized, twenty months before thousands of voices sounded from Cairo's Tahrir Square, by the voice of a single reformer filling a university hall elsewhere in Egypt's capital. In his June 2009 address on American relations with the Muslim world, President Obama pledged to Israeli and Arab leaders that, in pursuit of a two-state resolution to their conflict, "America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs... It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true."4

Unfortunately, this would-be Middle East revolution never made it out of the roundabout, with the United States driving in circles, perpetuating the status quo in the conflict.

In March 2010, Israeli, announced the approval of new housing units for its citizens in occupied East Jerusalem during Vice President Biden's visit, which triggered a diplomatic spat. …

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