President Obama, How About This Year in Jerusalem?

As I celebrate Passover this year, I will be thinking not only of my people’s distant past but also of our recent past and our future. I will be thinking of the fact that we will soon mark 44 years of Israel’s rule over another people and pondering why Israel’s leaders – and ours – have not yet found a way to rid the Jewish state of this moral, economic, political and security burden. I will be thinking of the profound positive benefits that an Israeli- Palestinian peace accord would have for American interests regionally and globally.Forty-four years are a long time. It is longer than the Jews wandered the desert after the Exodus from Egypt in the Passover story. It is longer than the Biblically prescribed time for a new generation to rise.

These 44 years of occupation have created an unsustainable situation.

Today, violence is on the rise and may escalate into yet another war or intifada. Israeli settlement activity is threatening to shut the window of opportunity for a two-state solution. The international community is showing increasing frustration with Israel’s protracted rule over the Palestinians, and its failure to act to end that rule. The international community is poised to cast a resounding vote of no confidence in Israel’s West Bank policy in the fall, when the United Nations may act to recognize the state of Palestine, and when the Obama Administration’s September deadline for an Israeli-Palestinian framework agreement runs out. Further boycott and other sanctions may follow. Demographic trends are threatening Israel’s very character. With one of the highest birthrates in the world, the Palestinians are becoming the majority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Insisting on Israeli control of the West Bank means hastening the day when Jews will become the minority in the land under Israel’s rule, the day when Israel will be forced to abandon either its democracy or its Jewish character. Sadly, Israel’s current leaders (as well as current Palestinian leaders) are stuck in political stalemate and domestic petty politicking, and cannot break the status quo. Both sides need US help to take serious strides toward peace. And, frankly, the United States needs both sides’ full cooperation to achieve what is clearly a key American national security interest: Peace between Israel and its neighbors.

It is therefore up to President Barack Obama to act, and do so urgently. The president should start by explaining to Americans and the world that a resolution of this conflict is vital to our interests. He should explain to Israelis and Palestinians – directly, preferably through a dramatic visit to the region – why it is in their interest as well. He should lay out his vision for Israeli-Palestinian peace. And he should offer some specifics – like the pre-1967 borders being the starting point for negotiations, reference to West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem the capital of the future Palestine. He should say that the Palestinian “right of return” must be limited by Israel’s right to determine its character. And he should reiterate that any future agreement must address the security requirements of both sides.The president should also get the international community on board, and explain how he intends to move forward. And he must not be deterred by bogus US electoral calculations, or by domestic Israeli or Palestinian political considerations. Bringing peace to Israelis and Palestinians is too important an objective to be impeded by petty politics.

On Passover, we reflect on the values of liberty and self determination. This Passover, more than ever, I know that by failing to demand action from our president, we deny Israelis (and Palestinians) the  freedom they deserve: freedom from conflict and bloodshed, from an occupation that humiliates the occupied and brutalizes the occupier, from hatred and retribution. This year, please join me in calling on President Obama to lead us all to the Promised Land.

This article first appeared in Boston’s Jewish Advocate and is posted here with the permission of the author.

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