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Voices from Jerusalem: Open Letter to Ronald Lauder

By Eldad Brin

This is a response, by an Israeli citizen, to the widely publicized letter to President Obama, written by Ronald Lauder of the World Jewish Congress.

Dear Mr. Lauder,

I write today as an Israeli who actually lives in Israel and not in New York. An Israeli who serves in the army, pays taxes, and experiences the country's problems, including those created by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Your appeal to Mr. Obama originated, I'm sure, from genuine love and concern, but I, and thousands of other Israelis, wish you had never written it. In Hebrew we have an expression - "Hibuk Dov" (a bear's hug) - an act that stems from love but ends in disaster.

I wonder who gives you your daily intelligence report, Mr. Lauder. What makes you so sure that "it is the Palestinians, not Israel, who refuse to negotiate?" Yes, Netanyahu declared his support for the two-state solution, but his government continues to build settlements, thus rendering any future viable Palestinian state impossible. Is that not tantamount to "refusing to negotiate?"

You write, "Israel has made unprecedented concessions. It has enacted the most far reaching West Bank settlement moratorium in Israeli history." You must be joking, Mr. Lauder. Grudgingly agreeing (to the cameras, not in actuality) to place a temporary moratorium on what is, by international law, an illegal activity - is this what you call "unprecedented concessions?"

You claim that many Palestinians still refuse to accept Israel's right to exist. Sadly, that is true. But we Israelis act similarly regarding the Palestinians: restricting their freedom of movement, excluding many of them from Jerusalem, denying them the right to marry freely and bring their spouses into Israeli controlled territories, and making it a near impossibility for them to obtain building permits to build the homes that they need.

Settlements, while not the only issue on the table, are indeed a key issue, Mr. Lauder. Of course, looking at it through a keyhole is missing the point; no one seriously claims that adding a small annex to one home in one illegal settlement will prevent peace. But hundreds and thousands of new housing units will, as they will leave the Palestinians with the right to an independent state, but with no room to actually build one.

I'll hand it to you, Mr. Lauder, you got at least one thing straight: "appeasement does not work. It can achieve the opposite of what is intended." Very true. So, if you want to do Israel a real service, appeal to the White House to act tough with Israel for once. Threaten us with severing diplomatic ties. Threaten us with cutting back on, or even cutting off, the annual support package. Bludgeon us over the head and force us to wise up. Left to our own devices, we will never get our act together. If it were up to us, we would keep yelling "Iran! Iran!" in an effort to divert international attention from the need to make tough choices.

From my perspective, Mr. Lauder, much of what Israel has supposedly done to achieve rapprochement with the Palestinians has been a sham: a thin cosmetic mask to hide an unrelenting and greedy desire to have it all. And nobody knows cosmetics better than you, Mr. Lauder.