The April 3 letter 100 American Jewish leaders have sent to Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu is distressing.
There’s nothing wrong with the
latter’s specified intention of asking Netanyahu to cooperate with US President
Barack Obama and facilitate confidence-building measures to try to get the
Palestinians back to the table.
The problem is that the language used
parallels the misrepresentation of Israel’s situation and positions. The way it
is written, this letter seems to be not about influencing Netanyahu or Israelis,
but about enhancing the social and political credentials of those involved,
Israel’s security and interests be damned.
Yet those who signed the
letter are all good people, none of whom are anti-Israel. But that’s why these
people should have known better, and written this letter differently. None of
this was necessary and the matter could have been handled with dignity and much
There are left-wingers who loathe Israel and want
to see it greatly weakened or wiped out; there are conservatives who are
pro-Israel though some want to exploit it for partisan purposes. But where are
the liberal pro-Israel forces who should be speaking out sensibly, not merely
rubberstamping Obama’s policy and mass media stereotypes? Here is the text of
the letter text.
“Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu: As Americans deeply
committed to Israel’s security, we were heartened by President Obama’s recent
historic visit and his unequivocal assertion that “so long as there is a United
States of America, atem lo levad [“you are not alone”].” We also are encouraged
by the rapprochement with Turkey, which was achieved in great measure due to
We believe that this is a compelling moment for you and
your new government to respond to President Obama’s call for peace by taking
concrete confidencebuilding steps designed to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to
a “two-states for two peoples” solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We
urge you, in particular, to work closely with Secretary of State John Kerry to
devise pragmatic initiatives, consistent with Israel’s security needs, which
would represent its readiness to make painful territorial sacrifices for the
sake of peace.
“Your leadership would challenge Palestinian leaders to
take similarly constructive steps, including, most importantly, a prompt return
to the negotiating table.
“We join with President Obama in expressing our
steadfast support for your efforts to ensure Israel’s future as the secure and
democratic nation state of the Jewish people.”
What is wrong with this
text? Israel is shown merely as responding to Obama’s orders, there is no
mention that it has been trying to get negotiations restarted for 12
The tone of the letter suggests, “Look at us! We’re the good kids!
We don’t defend Israel’s past actions, we don’t criticize US policy or the
Palestinians! The job of Jewish leaders is to criticize their own side and urge
it to be nicer, even if that costs the lives of other Jews [Israelis] while they
The outrageous reference to “painful territorial
This phrase is totally unnecessary, since the letter is
about immediate, short-term confidence-building measures and not about a final
peace treaty. Why focus on a huge Israeli concession when the issue is just to
get talks restarted? The word “painful” communicates to me that Israel should
have to undergo pain and take risks while the signers of this document won’t
even risk criticizing anything that Obama has done in regard to Israel. The
letter ought to mention that the last time Israel made “painful” concessions,
about 2,000 Israelis died in terrorist attacks and the country’s security was
How can such a letter not mention that Oslo-era experience
or Israel’s other sacrifices for peace, the way, say, a New York Times editorial
might? The letter maintains the absurd approach that first Israel must make
painful and risky concessions and only afterward are the Palestinians required
to do so. This suggests the typical anti-Israel narrative that the Palestinian
leaders are moderate and want peace, while Israel is the barrier to successful
It openly says that Israel needs to make big concessions
even if the Palestinian leadership gives nothing back.
It is sad, because
the letter could have been written differently and all the same people would
still have signed it. It could have gone as follows.
“Dear Prime Minister
Netanyahu: As Americans who have been and continue to be long-time supporters of
Israel’s prosperity, security, and reputation, we were heartened by President
Obama’s recent historic visit and his unequivocal assertion that “so long as
there is a United States of America you are not alone.
“We believe that
this is a compelling moment for you and your new government to continue to
strive for peace – as you and other Israeli leaders have done for
We know you and Israel have long shown a commitment to a
‘two-states for two peoples’ solution to the Israeli- Palestinian
“We are also aware that the 1993 Israel-PLO agreement marked a
courageous effort to resolve the conflict. We know that the Palestinian
leadership did not live up to its commitments at many points during the
1993-2000 peace process. Hundreds of Israelis were killed and wounded as a
result of this sincere effort, and in 2000 PLO and Palestinian Authority leader
Yasser Arafat rejected the offer by president Bill Clinton and Israel of a
twostate solution. Instead, Arafat turned to a violent revolt that often used
terrorism and lasted for six years.
“We also remember how you cooperated
with President Obama’s requests during his first term, including a 10-
month-long suspension of construction on existing settlements.
that the Palestinian leadership did not negotiate seriously, despite your
“Nevertheless, without illusions and taking minimal risk, it is
worth continuing this effort for peace and cooperation with the United States.
Of course, Israel should make no concessions – whether confidence-building or
otherwise – without concomitant concessions on the Palestinian side. We will
work to make sure that President Obama and the American public understand this
“Among other things, your leadership would challenge Palestinian
leaders to take similarly constructive steps, including, most importantly, a
prompt return to the negotiating table. If the Palestinian leaders do not so
respond, we will be loud and clear in explaining to the US government and
American people that while Israel seeks peace, the current Palestinian
leadership does not do so.
“We believe that either way a flexible policy
– which you also followed during President Obama’s first term – would be best.
It will show President Obama and the American people Israel’s will to cooperate
and its true goal of achieving peace and it will challenge the Palestinian
leaders to follow suit or be exposed for rejecting peace.
The writer is
director of Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center