Hussein Ibish
The Daily Star (Opinion)
June 23, 2009 - 12:00am

For years now, my colleagues and I at the American Task Force on Palestine have argued that advocates of a two-state resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict need to form a real, functioning national coalition in the United States to support this goal. President Barack Obama has put a great deal of his political credibility and capital on the line in pursuit of negotiated resolution, forcefully articulating what all parties must do to build momentum toward this goal. The most interested parties outside of the region, specifically Jewish-American friends of Israel and Arab-American supporters of Palestine, have been alienated by decades of mistrust. However, to fully live up to this historic opportunity, these two communities need to do everything possible to work toward this common objective.

Historically, most American Jews and Arabs have largely seen each other through the distorted lens of a zero-sum perspective, assuming that what is good for Israel is necessarily bad for the Palestinians and vice versa. If this was ever true, it isn't now. It may seem counterintuitive, but Israelis and Palestinians have the same need: a workable peace agreement based on two states. It follows that their supporters in the US should be able to unite under a common cause in pursuing this goal.

Obama has stated that Palestinians need to improve security measures and combat incitement; that Israel must end settlements and avoid measures that preclude Palestinian statehood; and that the Arab states need to become more involved in the peace process. A commitment to these principles is needed on all sides. Supporters of Israel may reiterate what is required of the Palestinians and the Arabs, but they cannot remain silent about Israel's commitments. Supporters of Palestine may insist that Israel live up to its obligations under the "road map," but they cannot ignore Palestinian responsibilities. Those with influence over Arab governments should be pressing them to do everything they can to support Obama's initiative and seize this historic opportunity.

Jewish and Arab Americans cannot allow their past differences and historical competition to impede what has become a common imperative. Long-standing prejudices and misperceptions must be jettisoned if we are to play the role required of us. No other groups in the US have deeper ties, more connections, or a more sophisticated understanding of the history and perceptions that motivate both parties to the conflict than Jewish- and Arab-Americans. We cannot leave this to the government alone.

The history of rivalry and alienation between Jewish- and Arab-American communities has left deep scars, but must be moved beyond. Sincere, responsible people in both communities can demonstrate their constructive intentions by combating their peers who would continue to advocate rejectionism, violence, occupation and conflict.

Many Jewish-Americans remain suspicious that the support of Arabs and Arab-Americans for a peace agreement based on two states is merely the first step in a "plan of phases," intended ultimately to lead to Israel's destruction. Equally there are many Arab-Americans who have yet to be convinced that Israelis and their supporters who say they favor peace negotiations are not simply trying to buy time to build more settlements and consolidate the occupation so that no Palestinian state will ever be possible. Mutual distrust masks that most people in both communities are articulating the same goal. They are certain of their own sincerity, but extremely dubious of the intentions of those on the other side. Rather than assuming at the outset that the other party is playing a game of deception, it would make more sense to test the waters and see if it is not possible that, because Israelis and Palestinians have similar needs, their friends in the US can sincerely work together in that direction.

It is necessary, of course, to gauge each other's sincerity, but this can only be done through active engagement and a sustained effort to forge a serious alliance based on common interests. But, it is neither necessary nor helpful to try to analyze opposing motivations, or insist that competing narratives become harmonized. It should be understood from the outset that, just as Israelis and Palestinians require the same peace agreement each for their own purpose, their friends and supporters in the US will have very differing motivations for joining a national coalition in support of a two-state agreement. A great virtue of a two-state resolution is that it does not require that Israelis and Palestinians reconcile their narratives. Each can live in its own state, with internal minority groups, and forge its future according to its own understandings and imperatives.

Since Obama called for more concrete measures to achieve peace, we should not only be increasing our efforts at outreach and dialogue. Responsible organizations and individuals should develop joint statements and efforts in pursuit of peace to support the president's initiatives. It is time for mainstream and politically significant Arab- and Jewish-Americans to think about articulating a formal statement of principles that can give shape to an effective national coalition for a two-state agreement in the Middle East. Religious and other peace-oriented organizations and corporate entities with a stake in Middle East peace should be included in these efforts from the earliest opportunity.

The urgency and intensity of Obama's political and diplomatic emphasis on building momentum toward peace brings an extraordinary, possibly unique, perhaps even final opportunity for Jewish- and Arab-Americans who both say they want Middle East peace based on a two-state solution to begin seriously working together to achieve this result. The president is doing his part. It is now up to all of us who agree with him to do ours.


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