Tough Decisions For Both Sides In Mideast Talks
PERHAPS the most significant part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress last week wasn’t any singular thing that he said, but where he said it.
The chamber of the House of Representatives is where the voices of the American people – through their elected representatives – clash and clamor until the laws of our nation are forged. Those laws give us a path for the future. That path may be revisited, amended, scrapped altogether or followed as a true guide by future generations. But none of it happens without the voice of the people.
It is also the epicenter of compromise in our political system. You don’t have to think back very far to recall impassioned voices in Congress coming from diametrically opposed viewpoints on critical issues. Still, landmark decisions have been made.
And so it is that any peace that is to be attained between Israel and the Palestinians must be representative of the peoples that will live according to it. The vast majority of Israelis and Palestinians seek a peaceful life for their children and families and it is in everyone’s self-interest to negotiate a peace deal.
This will mean tough decisions for both sides.
Israel unquestionably has the right to defend itself and its people from terrorism. I believe a two-state solution, rather than the status quo, is ultimately the only way for both peoples to have lasting safety and security.
The Palestinian Authority has shown a willingness to negotiate, but has recently taken a number of unproductive steps toward the path to peace. It announced that it intends to unilaterally declare statehood at the United Nations in September, a move that belies the very intent to negotiate an agreement.
Furthermore, Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza, signed a unity agreement last month. But Hamas, a terrorist organization, continues to refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist or renounce violence – two implacable barriers towards progress.
Additionally, continued construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank will only make any eventual peace deal harder to achieve.
I fear that recent events may move us further from the peace negotiations we seek. They undoubtedly contributed to a frustrated George Mitchell recently exiting as President Obama’s envoy to the region.
I believe that strong leadership from the United States will be required in order to bridge the gaps between the parties, and it is vital that we find a new mechanism to foster negotiations as soon as possible.
In any facilitation, we must ensure that the negotiations never lose focus of the essential truths I believe are critical to building a lasting peace:
1) Any credible deal must recognize two states, Israel and Palestine, each with their own representative governments and defensible borders negotiated by both sides.
2) Hamas must recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and accept prior agreements. An organization committed to the destruction of Israel has no place in the negotiations.
3) The people of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza must take their destiny into their own hands and be the driving force behind peace, as the countless people across the Middle East have shown us is possible.
I have spent much of my career in public service working to build bridges and connect the many diverse peoples of New Jersey’s Eighth Congressional District. While I understand the long histories and unique challenges of building peace in the Middle East, we must all continue to believe that it is possible for bridges to be built there as well.
What that peace will look like is a decision that should be made by the Israeli and the Palestinian people. However difficult, the negotiations must continue.