THE BLOG

What the Peace Talks Need

09/03/2010 10:02 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

As the leaders of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and Jordan meet in Washington this week to begin the first direct peace talks in 20 months, the deliberate and flagrant murders by Hamas in Hebron remind us of the urgency, and difficulty, of the task at hand. Radical voices continue to call for vengeance and promise more violence, but what the Israelis and the Palestinians need today is resolve. Resolve from their leaders and citizens to persevere in the face of prolonged talks and painful concessions. Resolve from the US government to work as hard to help the parties reach a settlement as they did in bringing them to the table. And resolve from their allies internationally and in civil society to bring the support of a domestic constituency to embrace the need for flexibility, persistence, and a two state solution.

The pursuit of peace has never been without its detractors. We saw this in 1995 when Yitzchak Rabin was assassinated by an extremist opposed to Oslo and we saw it this week in Hamas's proud announcement that this would be only the first of many attacks aimed at discouraging talks. But the future of Israel and Palestine will not be written by the extremists, nor will their horrific violence in Hebron highjack the process.

Which brings us back to resolve. Already the skeptics on both sides are sounding alarms about rejectionist attitudes or impossible conditions. But opportunities are running out. We cannot risk continuing what Prime Minister Netanyahu has called the "circle of grief." These talks represent a rare opportunity, which should not be allowed to go to waste.

It was in that spirit that the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) joined with the American Task Force on Palestine (ATFP) to call upon the parties to persevere in their negotiations and to support an active role for the US in facilitating an agreement, which would lead to an independent and viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside an Israel with secure and internationally recognized borders. Joining two centrist, pro-two state American Jewish and Palestinian groups is the antithesis of what happened in Hebron. We need to show the detractors on our right and our left that a two state solution is not just preferred, it's possible. That the hope for the future of both states lies at the negotiating table and not in violence or economic or diplomatic aggression.

The mainstream must have as much resolve as those on the extreme have hate. This process will be long and difficult, but concrete steps in the short term can build confidence, advance the talks, and demonstrate the benefits of continued engagement. The US and international community should continue to help the Palestinian Authority strengthen its economy and security infrastructure, as it should be expected to work harder against incitement and terrorism.

A successful peace process will not just benefit the Israelis and the Palestinians. America has a vital interest in this as well. Restarting these negotiations was a success, but they will derail again without continued US involvement. Both President Obama and Secretary Clinton have promised this, but it has required a US hand to bring both sides to the table and it will require that same steadying and supportive hand to guide talks towards a successful outcome ending over six decades of conflict.

Attacks like those in Hebron were designed to dishearten us, but our resolve will not falter. Developing a domestic movement for peace is crucial in buttressing confidence building measures, while building a coalition of centrists will allow us to rally our communities around the call for two states - denouncing inflammatory and counterproductive calls for divestment and boycotts or violence and incitement.

It's time to move forward and demonstrate that peace, while difficult to achieve, is not a fantasy and that a mainstream Jewish and Palestinian coalition can fill the public square with messages of hope and support. A shared commitment to peace and security can steel us all for the talks ahead.

Rabbi Steve Gutow is the President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. For more information and updates, visit jewishpublicaffairs.org and follow @theJCPA on Twitter.