Four years ago, many of us watched in horror as Israel began a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. Fast forward to these past few weeks, and violence has once again flared up in Gaza. Though the ceasefire brokered after a week of rockets and airstrikes has held, we are once again left with the question: What’s next?
Too many American politicians seem to have accepted the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a fact of life. In a leaked video, for example, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told a group of wealthy donors that the United States’ role in the conflict should be to “kick the ball down the field.” He and many of our elected officials seem to have forgotten the people – both Palestinian and Israeli – whose lives are endangered every day by the status quo of occupation and violence.
These politicians also ignore the stated aim of the Palestinian Authority – to achieve national self-determination through a two-state solution – and many Israelis who support a similar goal. A return to the 1967 borders with reciprocal land swaps, including a shared, internationally guaranteed capital in Jerusalem, is the only viable option if we care about preserving Israel’s Jewish character and democratic nature while granting Palestinians true political rights and sovereignty. Both parties know this – both sides believed they were extremely close in 2008 when talks were last held. The peace process is short on leadership, not ideas.
Leadership is something that the U.S. government can provide. As Israel’s closest and most powerful ally, the United States is in a unique position of being able to actively influence the quality of peace negotiations between the two parties. But with great power comes great responsibility: America must take a stand and vigorously advocate for a two-state solution, not just for the political interests of the current Israeli prime minister. A resolution to the conflict is also in the United States’ national security interests in the Middle East. Continued lack of traction in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict radicalizes public opinion throughout the Middle East and makes it harder for moderate Arab regimes to take a pro-Western line. A peaceful resolution would contribute to the security of American forces and aid American diplomacy.
Yet the window for a viable two-state solution is closing. Support among Palestinians is waning and Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has already begun to seek alternate routes to Palestinian statehood. The violence in the Gaza Strip has put further strain on Israel’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority, and will make both sides less amenable to compromise. The escalation in Gaza has also served also a grim reminder of the dire conditions under which both Israelis and Palestinians live. The current situation, where Israelis lack recognized borders, Palestinians lack national sovereignty and both lack essential security guarantees, is not sustainable. It is of the utmost importance that the U.S. leadership take clear and definite steps to resume and progress peace negotiations.
But for that to happen, the conversation about Israel and Palestine has to transform into one about real challenges, real people and real solutions. Progress toward peace is currently stalled because the conversation is broken, and the conversation is broken mainly because it has been warped by special interests with right-wing political agendas that are far out of touch with the mainstream American Jewish community. Sheldon Adelson, who provided massive funds to the campaigns of both Mitt Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is a firm opponent of a two-state solution and encourages an uncompromising approach to the conflict. Yet the American Jews for whom he claims to speak for overwhelmingly support a two-state solution. If we want the voice of reason to be heard in Washington, then we have to organize and advocate.
That is precisely what J Street is all about. J Street, an organization that was founded to lobby for strong U.S. diplomatic leadership in bringing about a two-state solution, is a national movement with a new student chapter here at Brown. We’re oriented toward action both on campus and on a national level. To that end, we’ve joined with J Street U chapters across the country to deliver more than 8,000 postcards to our members of Congress, each signed by a student who supports strong American leadership toward a two-state solution. We presented these to Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., to show the 113th Congress that this issue matters to us – and that the status quo is simply not acceptable.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has long been one of the world’s most intractable and hopeless. We have the power to change that. All across the country, we are making our voices heard. Our allies in Congress are advocating for our beliefs. We are building a new student movement. This is our time. Join us.
Eli Rosenthal ’16 is a member of J Street U Brown, a pro-Israel, pro-peace student group, working to achieve a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.