By Vic Rosenthal
Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, an American Jewish organization which claims to be “pro-Israel and pro-Peace” is asking people — especially Jews — to sign a petition which says:
I call on your Administration to urgently promote talks between Israel and any party – including the Palestinians, Lebanon, and Syria – that accepts Israel’s right to exist by engaging in direct negotiations, back-channel contacts, and/or an international peace conference.
At first glance, this is ambiguous. Does it mean that Israel should talk to anyone who accepts her right to exist, and should do so in any of several ways? Or does it mean that anyone who engages in negotiations, back-channel contacts, or a peace conference thereby accepts Israel’s right to exist and Israel should talk to them?
Unfortunately, it must mean the latter. First, there is no comma after “right to exist”. Second, Israel has said many times that she will talk to anyone who recognizes her right to exist, and has in fact signed peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan on this basis; so there should be no need for a petition if that’s all it asks for. And third, none of the parties mentioned officially accepts Israel’s right to exist.
As I’ve said before, the kind of ‘recognition’ implied by mere contact resembles the way I recognize a tiger on the sidewalk: I can’t ignore it, but I don’t admit that it has a right to be there. This is not recognition in the relevant sense.
So Brit Tzedek is asking the US to force Israel to sit down with with entities whose official position is that there should be no Israel (you can read founding documents of the PLO, Hamas, and Hezbollah here).
Brit Tzedek claims to favor a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. It’s hard to see how one could negotiate this with a party that refuses to start off with the assumption that one of the states has a right to exist at all.
And keep in mind that since Palestinian terrorism against Israel is ongoing, this would also be negotiation under fire. The very least that can be asked of a partner in negotiations to become your next-door neighbor is to stop shooting while they are talking.
This petition is not the only thing about Brit Tzedek that is not entirely straightforward. Diane Balser, BTvS “National Advocacy Chair” writes
The fact of the occupation raised new questions, however, creating tension and debate over the growth of religious nationalist sentiment. The ideology of “Greater Israel” — the idea that Israel should settle the lands it had so recently conquered in order to claim them in perpetuity for the Jewish people — appeared alongside the hope that Israel could now forge peace with its neighbors. There were always small numbers of Israelis who expressed sincere unease over their country’s occupation of another people, and since at least the 1980s, growing numbers have fought for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Is she trying to say that there’s a large “Greater Israel” movement that is preventing Israel from moving forward with negotiations for a two-state solution? That’s how it appears. But of course this is not the case; the majority of Israelis would accept a two-state solution with territorial compromise if this could be achieved with security. In fact, Balser herself says this earlier in the same article:
Over the past two decades, the acceptability of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has emerged as the majority opinion among American Jews, American Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis.
This is certainly true (at least about American and Israeli Jews). So what’s the problem? It’s this: Israelis simply do not believe that Palestinian organizations that continue to officially hold that Israel is illegitimate and should be destroyed by “military struggle”, that continue to send suicide bombers and fire rockets into Israel, and that continue to shoot and stab and kill Israelis by any means possible, are acceptable partners for negotiations that will lead to a state next door governed by these organizations.
I propose that BTvS rewrite their petition. Instead of asking the US to “promote talks” (i.e., force Israel to talk), it should ask the US to insist that the Palestinians and anybody else who want to talk do the following:
1) Accept Israel’s right to exist in peace and security; and
2) Stop terrorism, support of terrorism, and incitement to terrorism against Israel.
Once this happens, there will be no obstacle to negotiations for a two-state solution.