Ariel Zirulnick
Christian Science Monitor
September 28, 2012 - 12:00am

Cambridge, Mass.

A major Israeli-Palestinian activist group is bucking conventional wisdom by arguing that now is the right time to engage Americans in the moribund Middle East peace process.

The presidential campaign season is traditionally a terrible time to make any progress on foreign policy, especially during elections focused on pocketbook issues.

But when the presidential candidates and their parties brought Israeli and Palestinian issues into the spotlight this fall, the group OneVoice decided to seize the opportunity to insert itself into the debate.

Representatives of the group are touring the US this fall, urging American voters to sign a petition asking the presidential candidates to make rebooting the stalled peace process a top priority after Election Day. Their reasoning: The two-state solution cannot be achieved without US help – a solution that they say is running out of time.

"Regional stability lies in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unfortunately, we are witnessing the rapidly growing distance between the present and peace," reads the petition.

The group's sense of urgency is shared by analysts and former architects of the peace process, even if they don't all share in the optimism that the US can be moved to act soon. 

"Everyone recognizes that you cannot assume the two-state solution will always be a viable option," says David Makovsky, director of The Washington Institute for Near East Policy's Project on the Middle East Peace Process. "If you ignore it, you ignore it at your own peril. If it festers, it will breed radicalization."

Ron Pundak, an Israeli architect of the Oslo accords and chairman of the Palestinian-Israeli Peace NGOs Forum, argues that current trends like settlement expansion are closing the door on the possibility of Israel and Palestine as two separate states. 

"What is happening now, as a result of the policies of the last 19 years, is this option of two states… is becoming a less and less realistic option because of realities on the ground, because of a change of the atmosphere," he says.

OneVoice's hope is that their petition will prove to whomever wins the Oval Office on Nov. 7 that tackling this political land mine will have payoff with voters, and that he will make it a top priority from the outset of his term. No matter how many signatures they get on their petition – it had 482 yesterday and they are aiming for thousands – they will be presenting it to the winner that Wednesday.

But any such petition and publicity effort will be up against tremendous inertia in Washington, where past presidents have devoted much energy to the project only to see hopes dashed.

Mr. Pundak says that the perception in Israel is that Mr. Romney has already written off the peace process, seeing no chance of success, while President Barack Obama is likely to make another attempt if re-elected. He believes that President Obama really wants to be one of the architects of a two-state solution.

"The question is whether his aides will tell him, 'Why bother? It's too difficult. Why should you enter into something where everyone has failed?'" he says.

But, he quips, "Maybe he should be the signateur for at least one peace agreement. After all, he is a Nobel peace laureate."


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017