09/27/2010 07:06 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Staying Optimistic in Middle East

I am normally called a pessimist, one who would say that things are spiraling out of control in the Middle East, but I am leaning on optimism, on the knowledge that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas have been meeting and talking face to face. They need to continue that, and deepen it. We can't let the jubilant settlers, and the Knesset members who are out supporting them, draw us off course towards a full, peaceful negotiated accord. And we can't let the pessimism of Hamas, who seek to bury any hopes for peace through violence and denial of Israel's right to exist, draw us off course as we pursue the goal of a greater tomorrow, a greater future. I believe that this "greater" tomorrow, where we make peace and learn to live with one another, finally, is much more important, more central to the mission of the Jewish people, than the vision of a "greater" land. Palestinians need to understand this as well. Neither Israel nor the Palestinians can have all the land if we ever hope to not utterly destroy one another. It seems that this is what the extremists on both sides are hell bent on bringing, but with courage, with light and with hope, we can beat back the explosions of despair, the explosions of national fervor; we can beat them back and see ourselves through to a brighter, greater future, together, in two-states. Keep talking, be courageous and bold.

I am speaking directly to you Prime Minister Netanyahu, as a Jew, a Jewish leader and a human being: cement Yitzhak Rabin's legacy of peace, preceded by Menachem Begin's work for peace, even as you imagine that you would never be the one to do it. You have the capacity, and we support you, millions and millions of Jews, and Israelis, who are waiting for you to act boldly, do your part to end this conflict, end the occupation, and implement one of the many already crafted plans for two states that exist and have been accepted, in theory, by both sides. There are so many brave Israelis who have been fighting for peace, raise them up and follow their lead. This is your moment. You have already taken the first huge step and started the process, which is amazing and historic. I am proud of you and stand with you. There is both a demographic time bomb waiting for us, and an extremist time bomb waiting for us if you don't act now. Prime Mininster Sharon understood that before we lost him, and he acknowledged that the occupation cannot be sustained if Israel hopes to survive. Do you understand that too? As Moses says to Joshua in the Bible, 'chazak v'amatz, be strong/resolute and have courage." Stand up to the settlers' rhetoric and actions, take charge of Israel's future. Reach into the heart of hope and seize this opportunity, make a better tomorrow for the Jewish people.

And President Abbas, I am speaking directly to you, as an interfaith leader in my community, as a human being: Be bold and have courage. Thank you for coming to the table, seeking to make a better tomorrow for your people. I have many Arab friends, colleagues, Muslims and Christians, and I have heard and witnessed firsthand the pain and suffering your people have endured. Now is the time to plant the roots of a new tomorrow for the Palestinian people, to do your part to end this bloody conflict. There are many wounds and much healing that needs to be done, and I believe that any final resolution between the Israelis and Palestinians, between Jews and Arabs, will need to include serious reconciliation sessions, for we have truly hurt and scarred one another, physically and emotionally. I call on you, I urge you, to stay with these talks, to inspire your people for peace, to follow the lead of so many courageous Palestinians who have fought against the tide and stood up for peace, to raise them up and fight the forces of Hamas and the violence that broods. You need to rally your people, and I call on all the Arab nations to join you fully, speaking out, sending resources and getting behind the cause of peace. Stand on the shoulders of Anwar Sadat and King Hussein, bold leaders who did the unthinkable, and succeeded. I know there is anger, I understand that. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. suffered and was angry, to be sure, but he taught us to channel anger into peaceful resolution, not into violence, and that energy can change the world. Channel your people's anger, Mr. President, and stand up to the violence, and the world will stand with you as you seek to make peace, make history. Now is the time.

We can be angry and we can change our world. Not with guns, but with words. Not with hate, but with understanding and courage. Not with greed, but with compromise. With trust and belief in new beginnings. There is anger all over the Middle East and it is ready to once again explode. People's lives are at stake and now is the moment to turn this bloody page and start a new chapter, one that we have tried to write for too long now. Write it!

And finally, President Obama: you have invested so much already, it is time to lead us to the next level. This is the highest stakes diplomacy and you need to use your immense authority to move the parties forward. Be bold, don't be afraid, don't cave to the religious right in our country, who share the violent, messianic visions of the extremists in the region. Lean on the shoulders of those who came before you, presidents who sought peace, and while they didn't achieve this peace in the Middle East, were able to bring peace in other parts of the world. Leaders who believed in peace and were brave enough to pursue it all their days in office. Our Jewish tradition calls on us to pursue peace fervently; even if we don't succeed in bringing it, we must never cease from pursuing. Now is the time. Use your Nobel Peace Prize and help secure this peace in the Middle East. Speak louder, act stronger and know that the majority of Americans are behind you in the desire to see a just and lasting peace accord.

It is easy to be pessimistic, easy to doubt, have low expectations, think that nothing is possible. It is easy to be afraid and let fear guide us. It is easy to fall into the trap of Ecclesiastes, who says that "there is nothing new under the sun." That is the voice of the cynic, and the ancient writer understood that power as well as we do today. But, it is a trap, a trick, a test. For there is always something new under the sun, and our task is to see it, seize it and share it. We are again back on track, walking towards peace. Lets hope we don't fall into the trap again.