Build a Partnership for Peace, Right Here in America

Opinion

By Ziad J. Asali

Published February 03, 2010, issue of February 12, 2010.
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With the turbulence surrounding diplomacy and the Middle East peace process, it is more urgent than ever for civil society to unite around the obvious reality that a conflict-ending solution can only be attained through the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel in peace and security.

The two-state solution became official U.S. policy under President George W. Bush, and it is today seen as a national security priority under President Barack Obama. It has been adopted internationally by the United Nations, the Middle East Quartet, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Arab League and by successive Israeli governments. It has also now come to define all mainstream American thinking about this issue, including the positions of the majority of both Arab- and Jewish-American organizations.

In the region, this policy is only opposed by radicals, such as the Iranian government, Hamas and Hezbollah, and by ideological extremists on the Israeli far right. In the West, opposition is restricted to activists on the extreme left and right political fringes.

However, too much of our politics has not yet come into harmony with this policy consensus.

On the positive side, recent months have witnessed an unprecedented consensus between the Obama administration and Congress. Longstanding supporters of Israel in Congress have clearly stated that the two-state solution serves American and Israeli strategic interests, and have accordingly supported the administration’s early efforts to lay the foundations for renewed peace talks and to build the institutions of a Palestinian state.

On the other hand, the old zero-sum attitudes — in which a gain for one side is seen as an inevitable loss for the other, and more energy is spent on scoring debating points than on reaching solutions — continue to dominate the relationship between the Palestinian and Israeli governments, and also between Arab and Jewish communities and organizations in America.

This dissonance between stated goals and actual behavior is at the heart of the difficulties facing the administration’s effort to resolve this conflict, and it must be overcome.

While professing a common objective, America’s Arab and Jewish communities have thus far avoided creating a cooperative dynamic. Cross-community cooperation has only been established among a fraction of organizations, while the center of gravity remains largely adversarial. The language of delegitimization and the constant search for “proof” of the other’s bad faith still define most rhetoric about the Arab-Israeli conflict, to the detriment of accomplishing what both communities say they want.

This might be an understandable (albeit profoundly destructive) dynamic between two foreign parties that are struggling to find a way out of a painful, active conflict. But it has no place in the American domestic political scene, in which the national interest in resolving this conflict must be paramount.

As the Obama administration forges ahead with building an international coalition for peace, a domestic coalition for a two-state solution needs to be created in this country. Its core purpose must be to communicate to political leaders, especially in Congress, the breadth of the coalition in favor of peace based on two states and the depth of commitment that it embodies. Members of Congress and other public figures need to be provided with sufficient support to truly embrace this approach, and to be confident that it comes at a political benefit and not a cost.

Such a coalition needs to crystallize around a nucleus of Arab and Jewish organizations. These two communities have the highest emotional and political stakes in the resolution of this conflict and the most detailed knowledge of the Middle East. Other Americans naturally look to them for leadership.

In addition, because of their deep personal and political relationships with Palestinians and Israelis respectively, these two communities are best positioned to support the administration’s efforts to bring the parties together for peace talks to ultimately end both the conflict and the occupation. A Jewish- and Arab-led coalition for peace can also demonstrate the commitment of the closest friends of the parties in the region to achieving a two-state agreement and show that these two communities — both here and in the Middle East — can work together to further their mutual interests.

Differences in nuance and emphasis — both within and between these two communities — are natural and healthy, as they foster debate and encourage new, creative ideas. The aim should not be to stifle such diversity, but rather to create the largest possible constituency for a peace agreement.

Such a coalition needs to be wide enough to encompass all organizations advocating a two-state solution, even if they have differences over why they support it, how to best reach this goal or even how to define it with precision. What is needed is a vehicle through which Arabs, Jews and other interested Americans can ensure that the sum-total of their efforts supports the overriding national security issue at stake.

All of us who want to end this conflict must now band together in common cause, shed outmoded and counterproductive attitudes, and give the necessary political support to leaders on all sides who are serious about achieving a solution. The time has come for our politics to finally be aligned with our shared policy goals.

Ziad J. Asali is president of the American Task Force on Palestine.


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