Dear Mr. Secretary:
We are writing to you at this moment with great respect for the exemplary and devoted efforts you are putting in to try to move peace forward between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
We have all witnessed the suffering and loss on all sides as the conflict continues year after year, decade after decade. We welcome your perseverance and optimism in trying to accomplish something that has eluded others time and again.
It is with this perspective in mind that we regretfully read of your comments this past weekend in Munich. In speaking about the price Israel will pay if the peace talks break down and Israel is blamed, you may have thought you were merely describing reality. But as the key player in the process, the impact of your comments was to create a reality of its own.
Describing the potential for expanded boycotts of Israel makes it more, not less, likely that the talks will not succeed; makes it more, not less, likely that Israel will be blamed if the talks fail; and more, not less, likely that boycotts will ensue. Your comments, irrespective of your intentions, will inevitably be seen by Palestinians and anti-Israel activists as an incentive not to reach an agreement; as an indicator that if things fall apart, Israel will be blamed; and as legitimizing boycott activity.
What is particularly troubling about your comments is the absence of similar tough talk about the consequences for Palestinians should the talks fail. We make this comment not in search of some theoretical balance. Rather, its absence suggests a historical amnesia about why there has been no peace and no solution all these years. Israel always must be willing to compromise for peace and at different times it is not unreasonable to ask Israel to do more.
But the core of the conflict was and remains Palestinian unwillingness to accept Israel’s legitimacy and permanence as a Jewish state. That is why the Palestinians rejected the 1947 partition, that is why they rejected recognizing Israel after the 1967 war, and that is why Israeli offers at Camp David in 2000 and Annapolis in 2008 were rejected or allowed to go unanswered. It is Palestinians who must hear the message that not only has their rejectionism been the major obstacle to peace, but it has also been the main source of their suffering and misery over the years. It is time for them to make the qualitative leap toward peace and acceptance of the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
It is encouraging that reportedly in the talks you are raising these matters with the Palestinians. Your comments in Munich, however, threaten to undo all this by ignoring the historic compulsion of the Palestinians to look for ever new reasons and incentives to reject the Jewish state. Concerns of the kind you expressed therefore would have been better left unsaid or at most discussed in private conversations with Israeli representatives.
We wish you continued success in moving this process forward. We urge you to understand, however, that those who are most against peace are the ones who will benefit the most from the unintended encouragement in the comments you expressed in Munich.
Abraham H. Foxman