uploaded : Friday 8th Aug 2003 at 15:06
by : Debra DeLee
[Editor's Note: JewishComment prides itself on providing a diverse and fair view of the Jewish/Israeli/Arab world. Once again we welcome this contribution from Debra DeLee]
During the current congressional recess period, many Members of Congress are visiting Israel to see for themselves what Israel?s security
situation looks like on the ground.
As the head of a Jewish, Zionist organization, it?s gratifying to see so many U.S. Representatives with a strong desire to go to Israel, learn more about what it?s had to endure during the Intifada, and show support for the Jewish state. There are plenty of good reasons for Israel and the United States to have a close, special relationship, and it?s my hope that Members of Congress will return from their trips with fresh enthusiasm for trying to help Israel build a better and more secure future for itself.
But it?s also my hope that congressional delegations will recognize the diplomatic flexibility that Israel needs to display if that future is to become a reality. A new poll of American Jews indicates that our community is very supportive of the Road Map to Middle East peace, a two-state solution, a freeze on Israeli settlement activity, and an end to Palestinian violence. Members of Congress would do well to consider that most of their Jewish constituents realize that Israel?s best interests lie in achieving a meaningful peace that requires compromises from both sides. Simply mimicking hard-line positions that may be espoused by political leaders in Jerusalem won?t do the trick.
Unfortunately, this message may not be getting through.
House Majority Leader Tom DeLay went to Israel last month and made a speech before members of the Israeli Knesset that was most notable for
its apocalyptic imagery and militant stridency. His comments were so reactionary that one Knesset member from the far right-wing National
Union party, quipped, ?I told Tom DeLay that until I heard him speak, I thought I was farthest to the right in the Knesset.?
DeLay could well have genuine religious motives for painting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in absolutist terms, or he may have been playing to his hard-line Christian Right constituency. Either way, it was not a particularly helpful speech.
Americans Jews know better.
We know that Israelis will pay a heavy personal and national price if DeLay?s unbounded militancy is allowed to rule the day. Even though we are firm in our belief in Israel?s cause and our support for a strong Israeli defense, we recognize that force alone will not let Israel lead a normal existence in the long-run. In addition to taking powerful security precautions, Israel needs to come to political terms with its Palestinian neighbors, which means compromising.
Earlier this summer, Americans for Peace Now joined the Arab American Institute in asking American Jews and Arab Americans what they thought about peace-related issues. Both communities indicated that they strongly support the peace process.
In terms of American Jews specifically, the poll found that 82% of our community agrees with the notion that Palestinians have a right to live
in a secure and independent state of their own, 71% support the Road Map, and nearly 57% think that Israelis and Palestinians need to take
simultaneous steps to move the Road Map forward, with Israel taking measures to rein in settlements and Palestinians moving to stop violence.
The survey also found that American Jews realize that Israel will need to take some steps that right-wing Israelis consider politically painful
in order to achieve peace. For example, almost 71% of American Jews said that they support a freeze on settlement expansion, with a plurality of 45.7% saying that they strongly back such a freeze.
Similarly, 58% of American Jews said they support an end to Israel?s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza?while just 29% said they oppose ending the occupation.
Finally, our survey found a surge in support for an outline of a final peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians, roughly along the
lines of where the two sides ended their last peace talks in Taba, Egypt: the establishment of independent, secure Palestinian and Israeli
states alongside each other, the evacuation of most settlements from the West Bank and Gaza, the establishment of a border roughly along the
Green Line, a Palestinian right of return only to inside a new Palestinian state, and establishing Jerusalem as the shared capital of
both countries. Over 59% of American Jews told us that they support such an arrangement, an increase of over 7.5% since we asked the
question in October 2002.
Members of Congress can play a very positive role in helping to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And they are more likely to do so if they listen to what American Jews at large are saying.
Debra DeLee is President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now.
For more information:
Assistant Executive Director
Americans for Peace Now
Fax (202) 728-1895