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Peter A. Joseph Headshot

"Leaving It up to the Parties" Doesn't Work

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For over two decades, I have been active in the American Jewish community and pro-Israel advocacy. During this time, I have always regarded myself as a strong friend of Israel and an ardent supporter of a secure Jewish homeland. Yet when it comes to the peace process, I do not understand why many think the U.S. should "leave it up to the parties" or why my love for Israel is in any way diminished by my recognition that Israel needs help in achieving its aspirations for peace and security.

One needs only to look at the eight years under President Bush. "Leaving it to the parties" is the best way to describe his Mideast peacemaking philosophy for most of his two-terms. As a consequence, Israel suffered a violent intifada, two wars on its borders, the takeover of Gaza by Hamas, the growing strength of the far-right in Israel, and the rise of the Iranian nuclear threat. At the same time, the United States' credibility in the region diminished.

By the last year of his administration, even President Bush -- or more correctly his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- recognized the need to become engaged. By then, it was too little, too late.

Fortunately, President Obama has recognized the need for the United States to get actively engaged from day one. But many in the pro-Israel community have criticized him for doing so, while simultaneously questioning his commitment to Israel.

That is nonsense. President Obama -- like the majority of policymakers and the American public -- is committed to Israel's security and to a strong U.S.-Israel relationship based on our shared values, interests and years of friendship. That is exactly why he is becoming engaged -- he understands that if progress is not made toward a two-state solution, Israel's future as a Jewish, democratic state will increasingly be in jeopardy.

He also knows history has shown that the United States must be actively involved in order to reach lasting peace agreements in the region. The peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan would not have been possible if not for the United States providing the incentives and guarantees needed to conclude -- and sustain -- an agreement. Similarly, Israel and the Palestinians are not going to reach a deal alone.

The Israeli political system allows minority parties to have a disproportionate amount of influence on government policies. As a result, fringe policies and agendas are brought into the mainstream. In the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian positions are hardened by the extreme views and threatening rhetoric of minority parties that are challenging -- and overtaking -- a weakened moderate leadership.

Yet, polls consistently show that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians want a two-state solution. But without the US providing cover and support, Israeli and Palestinian leaders will not be able to overcome the political hurdles to reach and implement an agreement, even if they have the best intentions of doing so.

Some pro-Israel advocates fear that US involvement will lead to pressure on Israel that would be harmful to its security. But in fact, the reverse is true: without US engagement, Israel's security is in jeopardy. Without the kind of security guarantees that only the United States could provide, it is doubtful that Israel could ever make the compromises needed to secure a two-state solution. Again, without a two-state solution, Israel's future is in jeopardy.

Others argue that we should not bother trying to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. After all, it is their conflict, not ours. But American interests are at stake -- now more than ever. These interests include securing our closest democratic ally, and lowering the temperature of an increasingly volatile region that threatens international geo-political stability and security.

Finally, those who do not want the US to get involved claim that the United States "cannot want peace more than the parties." On this, I could not agree more. But polls show than Israelis and Palestinians do want peace but are losing faith in it being achieved.

Without the U.S. playing an active role, there is little reason to think the conflict can be resolved. Fortunately, President Obama is engaged. Pro-Israel advocates should support his efforts to hold the parties accountable to commitments toward building mutual trust and to provide the diplomatic tools needed to reach a lasting resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.