Right of Reply: We're not Israel-bashers

Isi Leibler and others like him who advocate for the status quo are desperate to vilify Obama and his supporters as anti-Israel.

In his speech at Bar-Ilan University, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accepted a "Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state" and called for "peace negotiations" with the Palestinian Authority to begin "immediately." Israel Policy Forum welcomes these noteworthy steps forward. These are positions IPF has advocated since its founding with the support and encouragement of Yitzhak Rabin in 1993. Yet, for promoting these positions, Isi Leibler labeled Israel Policy Forum a "Bogus 'Zionist' Israel-basher" in his column published on June 10, a few days before the prime minister's speech. Israel Policy Forum strongly believes that the "two-state solution" represents the framework for achieving lasting peace and security for the State of Israel as a Jewish democracy alongside a Palestinian state. This has been accepted and promoted by previous governments and American administrations. President Barack Obama's demonstrated commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, capped by his pledge in Cairo that he would "personally pursue" a two-state solution "with all the patience that the task requires," offers all the parties to the conflict a genuine, renewed opportunity. Seizing this opportunity requires courageous actions by the region's leaders. Now that Netanyahu has seemingly accepted the premise of a two-state solution (albeit without using this phrase), IPF trusts that he will work diligently with Obama to achieve it. BUT LEIBLER and others like him who advocate for the status quo are desperate to vilify Obama, members of his administration and their supporters as anti-Israel, or worse. Leibler shamefully describes American Jewish support for Obama's commitment, including IPF's, as a "possible replay of what transpired during World War II, when fearing a confrontation and bedazzled by president Franklin Roosevelt, Jewish leaders lacked the courage to protest against the indifference of the US government to the Nazi extermination of the Jews." This comparison is odious. In addition, settlers protested at the US Consulate in Jerusalem while distributing posters sprawled with the words "anti-Semitic" and Jew-hater" alongside a picture of Obama wearing a Yasser Arafat-like keffiyeh. All this because Obama demonstrates a dedication to diplomacy in the Middle East and joins every American president since Ronald Reagan in recognizing that settlement expansion in the Palestinian territories represents an obstacle to a peace agreement. It harms the environment for negotiations, exacerbates Israel's demographic dilemma and places the security of Israeli citizens and soldiers at risk. While Netanyahu's declaration that he has "no intention to build new settlements" is also welcome, his failure to pledge to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank, including "natural growth" - a vague term used to justify expanding the number of settlers - is deeply worrisome. This failure is one of the serious questions his speech raises and one of the reasons that Netanyahu's address was not the large, bold step this moment of opportunity demands. Another is his insistence on adding an unnecessary condition for the successful conclusion of an agreement with the Palestinians - their recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. After 61 years of independence as the homeland for the Jewish people, and with the "unbreakable" support of the US, recently reiterated by Obama in Cairo, Israel should not need others to define it. OVERCOMING THE numerous obstacles facing peace and security in the region and ultimately reaching an agreement on the issues that matter - borders, security, Jerusalem, refugees - will be difficult enough. IPF recognizes that surmounting these hurdles requires Obama's continued and engaged leadership, which is why it is fortunate that the scurrilous attacks against him are not working. Despite a concerted smear campaign designed to label Obama a Muslim and "anti-Israel" during the presidential campaign, 78 percent of American Jews voted for him. It is thus not surprising that even with the new attempts to malign Obama, an overwhelming majority of American policy-makers, Jewish leaders and organizations - including IPF - continues to support the president's efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Advancing the shared interests of the US and Israel - including ensuring Israel's security, combating Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions and support of terrorist groups, and strengthening moderates throughout the region - requires American diplomatic leadership at the highest levels. For Obama to achieve these goals, the vast majority of American Jews - and Americans - who back his policies must be vigorous and outspoken in their support. Our voices must be louder than those on the far Right. That is exactly why Israel Policy Forum took out a full-page ad in The New York Times last month (which Leibler misrepresented), urging Obama to insist that Middle East leaders take five steps forward.
  • 1. Restart negotiations. US-mediated talks toward the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel must be relaunched without delay.
  • 2. Strengthen security: Weapons smuggling into Gaza, and Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis, must stop. The number of American-trained Palestinian security forces in the West Bank must be increased, and their role in preventing violence strengthened.
  • 3. Improve the facts on the ground: West Bank settlement construction and the demolition of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem must be stopped. Illegal outposts, superfluous checkpoints and unnecessary roadblocks in the West Bank must be removed.
  • 4. Focus on Gaza: The Gaza Strip must be reconstructed with a focus on civilian needs and the local economy.
  • 5. Promote regional peace: The Arab peace initiative must be embraced and used as a basis for negotiations for a comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors, including Syria. Our ad's headline read: "Yes, you can, Mr. President, achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Israel Policy Forum urges all the parties - Israelis, Palestinians, Arab states - to take bold steps, enter into negotiations without preconditions and make the necessary compromises in order to seize the opportunity Obama's commitment offers to bring security to Israel and peace and stability to the Middle East. The writer is executive director of Israel Policy Forum.