Refusing to Let the Window Close

A message from Jeremy Burton, Executive Director and
Eli Cohn-Postell, Director of Israel  Engagement

Two polls were released in recent weeks, each of which highlights a disheartening aspect of the current state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A Pew Survey pointed to a sharply increasing partisan divide between Democrats and Republicans when asked about their sympathy for Israel. Meanwhile, a semi-annual poll of Israelis and Palestinians indicated less than 50% support for the two-state solution among both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza (support for a two-state agreement remains much higher among Arabs with Israeli citizenship). Both of these polls are concerning for those of us who are committed to Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and yet, they offer us glimmers of hope.

Interestingly, this data has not significantly impacted support for the two-state solution among American Jewish institutions. While we have disagreements about the obstacles to peace, the immediate next steps, and our own potential role in the process, it remains clear that most American Jews view the two-state solution as the only acceptable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We continue to have a broad consensus that the two-state solution is the only viable option for preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and we know that achievement of this goal requires Israelis and Palestinians to be committed to this solution.

How might we achieve the two-state solution given the increasing pessimism among Israelis and Palestinians and a growing partisan divide here in the United States? On the plus side, we know that at least some of the obstacles to the two-state solution are psychological and not political. For example, among both Israeli and Palestinians, there is a predominant feeling of distrust and fear toward the other. The recent poll of Israelis and Palestinians, mentioned above, reveals that 50% of Jews, Israeli Arabs, and Palestinian non-citizens believe that “nothing can be done that’s good for both sides.” Over 75% of both Jewish Israelis and Palestinians believe that the other side cannot be trusted. It is important to note that this refers to a distrust of individual Palestinians and Jews, and not to the Palestinian Authority or Israeli government. Similarly, 35% of Palestinians feel fear toward Jews and 57% of Jews feel fear toward Palestinians. Certainly, we cannot expect a conducive environment for peace when such a lack of trust exists.

On their face, these statistics offer little encouragement. But these attitudes can be changed. This kind of distrust and fear is built by separation, both literal and metaphorical. As American Jews, we can invest in projects that not only support our vision of Israelis and Palestinians living in peace, security, and dignity, but also help to reduce fear and mistrust. This includes supporting Palestinians who are building their civil society in ways that foster confidence in their ability to uphold democratic principles and future peace agreements, as well as Israelis and Palestinians who are breaking traditional boundaries in the name of a brighter future. JCRC will be hosting two such individuals in Boston on March 15th – grassroots activists from Roots/Shorashim/Judur.

In recent weeks and months, we have seen significant speculation that the two-state window is closing. It is right to be concerned, because we know there is no alternative that supports our vision of a Jewish and democratic Israel. Many people believe that recent actions by government leaders in the United States, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority have moved us further from a peace agreement. Even if this is true, engaging in this blame game does not serve the cause of peace. It is true that leaders’ actions have consequences, but so do the miraculous interactions between individuals that occur every day. We must continue to celebrate the Israelis and Palestinians who refuse to see the two-state window close even an inch. We must amplify the voices that continue to work for normalcy, legitimacy, recognition, and peace.

Shabbat shalom,

Jeremy and Eli