Grandstanding Won't Stop History

Yes, Hamas is a terrorist organization, but simply asserting that fact is not a policy.

Lara Friedman
Lara Friedman
Lara Friedman
Lara Friedman

This week Capitol Hill got a one-two punch on Israel. Members of Congress got to hear Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lay out his vision of what Israeli-Palestinian peace must look like - the details of which contradict the very notion of peace-making, but no matter. They also were treated to the spectacle of thousands of AIPAC supporters coming to lobby them, hard, to support positions AIPAC presents as the epitome of "pro-Israel" but that in fact are anything but.

This year, the focus of AIPAC's Hill lobby day was going after the Palestinians for their efforts to seek United Nations recognition of a state and for trying to achieve national reconciliation.

Members of Congress who truly care about Israel need to look past the self-righteous narratives and the self-serving talking points and recognize that far from helping Israel, support for such positions makes peace and security less likely for Israel.

Peace for Israel requires Palestinian national unity. Congress should welcome reconciliation efforts, not undermine them. For years the United States has erred by opposing Palestinian reconciliation rather than encouraging it. Congress does Israel no favors by compounding this mistake today.

The Gaza-West Bank split is a very real hurdle to peace. Critics of past peace efforts were correct when they argued that Israel can't make peace with only half the Palestinians. Instead of criticizing and threatening the Palestinians for their national reconciliation effort, Congress should welcome the potential emergence of a Palestinian government that represents all Palestinians and that can take responsibility for security and governance in both the West Bank and Gaza. Such a government is essential to achieving and implementing any peace agreement.

Yes, Hamas is a terrorist organization, but simply asserting that fact is not a policy. Years of American sanctions against Hamas failed to significantly weaken or sideline the group. It is time to embrace another approach. A unified Palestinian government will be more capable of making peace with Israel, and it will make Hamas genuinely answerable to its people. This is more likely to lead to a change in behavior, or a loss of domestic credibility, than American sanctions ever could.

Likewise, the real threat facing Israel today is not the Palestinians' diplomacy campaign. The real threat is the void created by the absence of any credible peace effort - a void this campaign seeks to fill - and the danger of what else may fill this void. The demonstrations and subsequent violence witnessed recently in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and on Israel's borders with Lebanon and Syria, are a foreshadowing of what could be on the horizon.

Given these realities, rather than demanding that the Palestinians desist from their diplomatic efforts, Congress should be demanding that U.S. President Barack Obama show real leadership by getting serious about Middle East peace, as he began to do with his speeches last week and this week.

Such leadership, not congressional threats and bluster, is the only thing that will convince the Palestinians to suspend their recognition campaign. Absent such leadership, the Palestinian people will continue to ask why the Arab Spring, with its promise of freedom and democracy, doesn't apply to them, and recent demonstrations offer ample evidence that many will no longer sit quietly and wait. And absent such leadership, Palestinian leaders will have no reason to question their conclusion that they can no longer wait for U.S.-led peace efforts to deliver Palestinian dignity and self-determination. After two decades of disappointment, it should surprise nobody that they have come to believe that until the U.S. is ready to get serious, they must pursue their own course, irrespective of what the White House or Congress think.

America has a stake in all of this. The Middle East is in flux and there is growing sympathy in the international community for the Palestinians' efforts to break out of the current peace process paradigm. As President Obama mentioned in his speech to AIPAC, even America's closest allies are making it increasingly clear they are ready to pursue their own independent foreign policies in this arena.

President Obama spoke the truth at AIPAC. Absent a reinvigorated peace effort, international readiness to engage a unified Palestinian government and support recognition of Palestine will only gain momentum. Congressional grandstanding will not stop this trend. It will only exacerbate growing U.S. and Israeli isolation and further undermine the chances of achieving peace and security for Israel.

In this season of "pro-Israel" point-scoring in Washington, members of Congress would do well to keep in mind that the most pro-Israel Congress is not the one whose members try to outflank each other with dogmatically hawkish positions on the Palestinians or the Arab world. The most pro-Israel Congress is the one whose members understand that Israeli-Arab peace is essential to Israel's security, well-being and viability as a Jewish state and a democracy. It is a Congress whose members recognize and embrace this fact: Sustained, credible U.S. efforts to achieve Israeli-Arab peace are an essential element of U.S. support for Israel.

Lara Friedman is director of policy and government relations at Americans for Peace Now.



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