Jeremy Benami
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
January 6, 2010 - 1:00am

Being an Israeli ambassador these days can't be easy. On the one hand, you're working for a prime minister whose strong suit is public relations, who at least talks of peace with the Palestinians and who has consistently judged that engaging in the diplomatic process rather than refusing to talk plays better with domestic and international audiences.

On the other hand, you're working for a foreign minister who seems to have missed Diplomacy 101 during his orientation. This boss dismisses traditional diplomacy as "groveling" and prefers that Israel lecture the world rather than engage it.

Talk about a rock and a hard place. As one of your bosses talks up the Israeli interest in negotiation and compromise, the other pulls the country unflinchingly toward a racist, undemocratic future.

Along comes a pro-Israel lobby anxious to support the government if it moves beyond speeches about peace to serious action to end the occupation and save the country's Jewish and democratic character - and what should you do?

ONE NATURAL diplomatic instinct might be to build the biggest possible tent for pro-Israel advocacy, including those who disagree at times with government policies.

If you happened to be a student of history and a more-than-casual observer of the American Jewish community, you would undoubtedly note that Israeli ambassadors have long dealt with pro-Israel groups who disagree publicly (and at times vehemently) with the government - whether over Oslo or the Gaza withdrawal or, going back 30 years, over withdrawal from the Sinai.

However, returning home to Jerusalem this past week, you would have gotten little clear guidance from your bosses. You would have heard the prime minister say that the conditions are ripe for a peace agreement with the Palestinians and the foreign minister calling those same Palestinians a "bunch of terrorists" with whom there is no chance of achieving peace for a generation.

So are you charged with building the largest possible base of support for historic compromise, or with rallying a smaller core of true believers to circle the wagons for a fight to the bitter end?

Those of us in the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement enter 2010 hoping that the present government will recognize that the clock has run out on stalling and delay, that the two-state solution is on life support and that the time has come to take the tough steps needed to end the occupation.

If that is the road this government chooses, then its ambassador can count on a ready and willing ally anxious to help. We can lobby on Capitol Hill for the commitments necessary to ensure a lasting and secure peace - including investments necessary to compensate settlers moving back to the State of Israel and Palestinian refugees moving to the state of Palestine.

We can advocate forcefully within the American Jewish community, attempting to persuade those who do not yet understand - as each of the last several prime ministers have come to realize - that there is no future for Israel as a Jewish and democratic home without a two-state solution based on extensive territorial compromise based on the 1967 lines with swaps.

And we can stand up to those who would put the full brunt of blame and penalty on Israel, whether at the UN, on college campuses or in the blogosphere.

And as pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans, we are perfectly situated to make the case to President Barack Obama and the international community for the strongest possible security guarantees if Israel does indeed withdraw from the occupied territories in return for peace.

OURS IS the easier job. We know what we believe and can say clearly what we stand for - an Israel that is Jewish and democratic; an end to the occupation of the Palestinian people; two states living side by side in peace and security; a comprehensive regional peace that brings full recognition of Israel's right to exist and of its borders, and full acceptance into the community of nations.

I imagine it's far harder to be an ambassador when it isn't clear whether your marching orders are engagement or confrontation, or whether your government is serious about ending the conflict or is simply feigning interest as a delaying tactic to preserve an increasingly unsustainable status quo.

The writer is executive director of J Street.


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