Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session ofCongress on May 24, 2011. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Avi Ohayun.Obama is reported to have told hisadvisers on May 19, 2011, that IsraeliPrime Minister Netanyahu will never makethe concessions necessary for a peaceaccord. Well, we in the peace movementsay, duhhh. While the official organs ofJewish life — many of them controlled bythose who believe Israel is always rightand Palestinians are always wrong —managed to corral congressional leadersinto a large public celebration of the mostright-wing government and policies Israelhas ever had, most Jews under fifty findNetanyahu’s behavior obnoxious. In fact,most younger Jews applauded Obama forfinally taking a stand, however weak, for a policy that has been insisted upon by every U.S. president since 1967,when Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza. It took some courage for Obama to stand up to the little tyrantfrom Jerusalem who claims to represent an Israeli democracy while simultaneously refusing Palestinians the votein Israel or national self-determination in a separate state. Unfortunately, our president backed down very quickly inface of public criticism by members of Congress.Tikkun’s contributing editor Stephen Zunes offered an insightful description of how these dynamics played out:In an apparent challenge to her president, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) toldNetanyahu, in response to his harsh retort to Obama, “I think it’s clear that both sides of the Capitolbelieve you advance the cause of peace.” Similarly, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada)rebuked President Obama by stating, “No one should set premature parameters about borders, aboutbuilding or about anything else,” and that terms for peace talks, “will not be set through speeches.” Asformer president Jimmy Carter observed in an op-ed in The New York Times, in embracingNetanyahu’s position, the current Democratic leadership is not only rejecting the current U.S.president, but previous agreements involving the Israelis and longstanding positions taken by theUnited Nations (UN) and previous administrations.Palestinians and most other international observers believed Obama did not go nearly far enough inchallenging Netanyahu’s colonization and annexation of occupied Palestinian territories. He did notcall for a full Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian West Bank — which the Israelis invaded in a June1967 war and which is legally recognized as a non-self-governing territory under belligerentoccupation — only that the pre-1967 borders be the starting point of negotiations. Obama assumesIsrael should be allowed to annex parts of the West Bank with large concentrations of Israeli settlerswho moved into the occupied territory in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, a series of UNSecurity Council resolutions and a landmark decision of the International Court of Justice. (In returnfor allowing Israel to annex these illegal settlements, Obama called on Israel to swap Israeli land,something that Netanyahu has rejected.) In addition, while Jewish West Jerusalem remaining part ofIsrael was a given, Obama insisted that Arab East Jerusalem — the largest Palestinian city andcenter of Palestine’s cultural, religious, commercial and educational institutions — was subjected tonegotiations. Obama defended Israel’s right to “self-defense,” but insisted the Palestinian state bedemilitarized. Indeed, he rejected Palestinian independence except under conditions acceptable totheir Israeli occupiers. He even questioned whether Israel should negotiate with the Fatah-ledPalestine Authority if it included Hamas in its ruling coalition because the Islamist group refused torecognize Israel’s right to exist even as it insisted the Palestinians negotiate with the Israeligovernment despite the fact that some parties in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition refuse to recognizePalestine’s right to exist.If Obama really understands how far-fetched it is to believe that Netanyahu will ever negotiate a deal thatPalestinians could live with, it is time for him to create a new initiative. Our president needs to go over the heads ofthe leadership in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Speaking directly to the Israeli and Palestinian people, heshould propose a peace accord that the United States could enthusiastically support. Presenting a full picture ofwhat a U.S.-backed peace could mean for both sides would have a powerful impact on public opinion in both Israeland Palestine, and could create the political pressure from within both societies to push their political leaderstoward a rational agreement.
President Obama is foolishly urgingPalestinians not to push for UNrecognition of a Palestinian state. Whatelse does he expect them to do whenIsrael’s leaders remain intransigent intheir desire to annex yet more of theWest Bank, and all he offers is hopebacked by nothing but new agreementsto strengthen Israel militarily?For Israel to achieve security, it mustreject its strategy of domination andinstead embrace a strategy of generositytoward the Palestinian people; as long asIsraeli leaders choose to harden theirown hearts, they can expect little else butrejection from the Palestinian people. InWhat if Obama went over Netanyahu's head to propose a peace plan directly tothe Israeli and Palestinian people? Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ExecutiveOffice of the President.this context, Obama’s reiteration of previous presidents’ contention that an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreementshould depart from the 1967 borders by allowing substantial land swaps to enable Israel to incorporate part of thesettlements in the West Bank and give an equal amount of high-quality land to Palestine risks coming across asuseless rhetoric. To be powerful, Obama’s statement on land swaps must come along with a public embrace of alarger agreement involving a demand for sacrifices from both sides, a compassionate and caring attitude towardthe needs of both sides, and an understanding that only openhearted reconciliation will unthaw both sides.Here is what a peace plan must involve for it to have any chance of swaying hearts and minds on all sides:1. The peace treaty will recognize the State of Israel and the State of Palestine and define Palestine’s borders toinclude almost all of pre-1967 West Bank and Gaza, with small exchanges of land mutually agreed upon androughly equivalent in value and historic and/or military significance to each side. The peace plan will also entail acorresponding treaty between Israel and all Arab states — including recognition of Israel and promising fulldiplomatic and economic cooperation among these parties — and accepting all the terms of this agreement asspecified herein. And it should include a twenty-to-thirty-year plan for moving toward a Middle Eastern commonmarket and the eventual establishment of a political union along the lines of the European Union. This might alsoinclude eventually building a federation between Israel and Palestine, or Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.2. Jerusalem will be the capital of both Israel and Palestine and will be governed for all civic issues by an electedcouncil in West Jerusalem and a separate elected council in East Jerusalem. The Old City will become aninternational city whose sovereignty will be implemented by an international council that guarantees equal accessto all holy sites — a council whose taxes will be shared equally by the city councils of East and West Jerusalem.3. Immediate and unconditional freedom will be accorded all prisoners in Israel and Palestine whose arrests havebeen connected in some way with the Occupation and/or resistance to the Occupation.4. An international force will be established to separate and protect each side from the extremists of the other sidewho will inevitably seek to disrupt the peace agreement. And a joint peace police force — composed of an equalnumber of Palestinians and Israelis, at both personnel and command levels — will be created to work with theinternational force to combat violence and to implement point number six below.5. Reparations will be offered by the international community for Palestinian refugees and their descendents at asufficient level within a ten-year period to bring Palestinians to an economic well-being equivalent to that enjoyedby those with a median Israeli-level income. The same level of reparations will also be made available to all Jewswho fled Arab lands between 1948 and 1977. An international fund should be set up immediately to hold in escrowthe monies needed to ensure that these reparations are in place once the peace plan is agreed upon.
6. A truth and reconciliation process will be created, modeled on the South African version but shaped to thespecificity of these two cultures. Plus: an international peace committee will be appointed by representatives of thethree major religious communities of the area to develop and implement teaching of a) nonviolence and nonviolentcommunication, b) empathy and forgiveness, and c) a sympathetic point of view of the history of the “other side.”The adoption of this curriculum should be mandatory in every grade from sixth grade through high school. Thecommittee should moreover be empowered to ensure the elimination of all teaching of hatred against the other sideor teaching against the implementation of this treaty in any public, private, or religious educational institutions,media, or public meetings, along lines pioneered by the U.S. in Japan and Germany after the Second World War.7. Palestine will agree to allow all Jews living in the West Bank to remain there as law-abiding citizens of the newPalestinian state, so long as they give up their Israeli citizenship and abide by decisions of the Palestinian courts. Afund should be created to a) help West Bank settlers move back to Israel if they wish to remain Israeli citizens andb) help Palestinians move from the lands of their dispersion to Palestine if they wish to be citizens of the newPalestinian state. In exchange for Palestine agreeing to allow Israelis to stay in the West Bank as citizens of thePalestinian state, Israel will agree to let 20,000 Palestinian refugees return each year for the next thirty years to thepre-1967 borders of Israel and provide them with housing. (This number — 20,000 — is small enough to notchange the demographic balance, yet large enough to show that Israel cares about Palestinian refugees andrecognizes that they have been wronged.) Each state must acknowledge the right of the other to give preferentialtreatment in immigration to members of its leading ethnic group (Jews in Israel; Palestinians in Palestine).8. Full and equal rights will be afforded to all minority communities living within each of the two states. All forms ofreligious coercion or religious control over the state or over personal lives or personal “status” issues like birth,marriage, divorce, and death will be eliminated. Each state, however, will have the right to give priority inimmigration and immigration housing (but not in any subsequent benefits) to its own leading ethnic community(Jews in Israel; Arabs in Palestine).9. The leaders of all relevant parties will agree to talk in a language of peace and openhearted reconciliation, andto publicly reject the notion that the other side cannot be trusted.Inequalities of power may create circumstances in which a less generous agreement is eventually reached, butonly an agreement like the one I have outlined — an agreement based on a new spirit of generosity — has achance of lasting. Anything else is just a product of leaders jockeying for temporary advantage and politicalpopularity, not for an actual end to the Israel/Palestine conflict.In my forthcoming book Embracing Israel/Palestine, which is partly an update of my 2003 book HealingIsrael/Palestine and partly a new discussion of how embracing a love-oriented emancipatory Judaism couldenergize peace efforts, I show what could help spread the new spirit of openheartedness necessary to solve thisconflict. It should be in bookstores by the end of November, just in time to share with friends and family as aChristmas or Chanukah (or other winter holiday) gift. I would be so grateful if you could help me draw others intothis discussion by setting up a speaking engagement for me in your local synagogue, church, mosque, ashram,local book store, community center, college or university, or any other institution that can afford to pay my way andgive a little something to help keep Tikkun alive, which is one reason I’m willing to do this kind of travel! If you wantto arrange something, contact Mike Godbe (firstname.lastname@example.org) and tell him what you have in mind.But in the short run, there is really only one thing that might move Israel and Palestine toward serious peacenegotiations: the threat or reality of Palestine being accepted as an equal member of the United Nations along witha resolution that also acknowledges and reaffirms Israel’s right to exist within its pre-1967 borders as a Jewishstate that gives equal rights in employment, housing, education, and financial support to its Arab citizens and tomembers of every other religious community, including secularists, Muslims, Christians, Baha’is, Buddhists,Hindus, Sufis, Sikhs, and any others I’ve forgotten to mention.Why would this spur along the peace talks? Because Palestine, as an equal member of the UN, might sue Israel inthe International Court of Justice to leave the Occupied Territories! In truth though, that’s not much of a threat,