10/24/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

"Baby Steps" to Israeli-Palestinian Peace

We are, it seems, suffering from a national "Stockholm Syndrome" when it comes to asking basic questions about the relationship between the United States, Israel, and the Palestinians. We need to get over this. A "baby steps" strategy is in order.

This week, Jewish Voice for Peace and Just Foreign Policy are calling on Americans to urge Jim Lehrer to ask Obama and McCain a question about Israeli-Palestinian peace in Friday's foreign policy debate. Specifically, we want Lehrer to ask the candidates what they will do to implement longstanding U.S. policy of opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The U.S. government has long acknowledged - including in repeated statements by Secretary of State Rice, as recently as last month - that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are a key stumbling block to peace. The question is whether implementing this U.S. policy of opposition will be made a priority.

The New York Times noted last month that in the last year Israel had nearly doubled its settlement construction in the West Bank, in violation of its obligations under a U.S.-backed peace plan, citing Peace Now's authoritative report.

Can the presidential candidates - at least - affirm existing U.S. policy of opposition to the settlements?

If you say that "nothing can be done," because "the Israel Lobby is too powerful," then you should send the "Israel Lobby" a bill for your services, because you are doing their bidding.

It is an objective fact that the "Israel Lobby" is not omnipotent. To say that it is all-powerful is a foolish lie. So far, for example, the "all-powerful" Israeli Lobby has been blocked by the peace movement from taking U.S. policy towards Iran in a much more aggressive direction.

That wasn't just the "peace movement," you could argue. It was the peace movement, plus the Europeans, plus the grown-ups at the State Department and the Pentagon.

Fine: I concede your point. That just makes my point: the "Israel Lobby" is not all powerful. It can dominate U.S. policy towards the Palestinians if there is no meaningful challenge - that's obvious. What if there were a meaningful challenge?

What is needed is a sustained "baby steps" effort to introduce basic facts into the U.S. political system and keep them there. It is a fact that Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank is a systemic threat to any meaningful Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It is a fact that failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a fundamental source of instability in the Middle East. It is a fact that the Israeli settlement expansion movement is fundamentally a racist movement, that most Americans would not want U.S. policy to support. (Even Israeli Prime Minister Olmert referred to a recent settler rampage against Palestinian civilians as a "pogrom," the Jewish Daily Forward reports.)

Here is a baby step: urge Jim Lehrer to ask the Presidential candidates what they will specifically do to promote Israeli-Palestinian peace and end the policy of Israeli settlement expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories.