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Last Chance in Israel-Palestine

October 26, 2015

At the height of the current Israeli-Palestinian crisis, many of us are pleased to see John Kerry returning to the area to help break us free of this horrid cycle of violence.  As Kerry engages with my prime minister and with Mr. Abbas, we honor his devotion. He is a serious partner.

Kerry clearly knows how to listen, and God knows there is far too little listening here, especially now. But this time we need more than listening. On the issue of the Temple Mount, Kerry recently told a Madrid news conference that “We need to have clarity,” in Israel/Palestine. Mr. Kerry, we need you to be clear. With the backing of a President who will still be in office for 15 months, we need you and the President to step up and take a clear stand for a political resolution of our conflict with the Palestinians.

We Israelis are deeply reliant on the United States. Over the past year, Mr. Netanyahu and his team have repeatedly abused the precious Israel-U.S. relationship. Netanyahu has demonstrated that he will do everything possible to avoid a political agreement and anything that might lead to one. The current security crisis plays into his devious hands. As long as people are being stabbed to death and the ambulances scream through our streets, Netanyahu is safe. Yesterday, he poured more oil on the fire of fear and hatred for Palestinians by blaming the Jerusalem Mufti for the holocaust. Have four terms as prime minister not been enough for the United States to understand who this man is and what is his agenda? Has anyone ever heard the man envision the future of the country he purports to lead? Is he not to be held accountable for his repeated deceptions, his faking and feinting regarding the two-state solution?

As a former reserve munitions technician who served during the first Lebanon war, I am aware of the enormity of America’s investment in our security. Most of the artillery and tank shells I handled had English writing all over them. During the long night I spent in a truck rumbling through Sidon, my coat-pockets full of unstable detonators, I thanked God for the American technology that kept them from exploding. And yet, many wars and “operations” later, I know that we cannot make do with an endless supply of ammunition. Security will not come from military power, it will come from peace. The purpose of an army is to make the alternative to peace unattractive. Our strong army has been endlessly misused, we have turned military strength into a way of life. Yitzhak Rabin, whose fearsome security credentials made him a partner for peace, had the support of most Israelis, from left to right of center. But Rabin was taken from us.

In the present configuration, we require outsiders’ pressure. I don’t have a blueprint, and I wouldn’t presume to tell Kerry what he ought to do or say to Netanyahu. What I know is that the unstable detonator who sits in the prime minister’s office must be defused, and we Israelis cannot do that alone.  Many of us in the peace camp feel that Kerry and President Obama have allowed themselves to be handled. We need them to get tough, to condition America’s until-now-unconditional support for Israel on Netanyahu finally becoming a partner for peace.

I was in a delegation of peace activists who were invited to visit with President Abbas in Ramallah, some months ago. I listened to him for an hour, from ten meters away. I studied his face, his body language, his unrehearsed responses to people’s questions. The man is for real, he wants to end his life having brought hope to his people. The obstacle to peace is not Abbas and it is not the current wave of knife-wielding young Palestinians.

Perhaps in this decisive round, Kerry will now leverage an opening, cutting a path that may lead us out of this intolerable situation. We Israelis are fed up, sick of being frightened to send our kids to school, craving a new tomorrow. The Palestinians are in the depths of despair. The Israeli-Palestinian canoe is being swept toward the falls, an abyss from which we may not return.

I honor the way Mr. Kerry relentlessly drove through to the successful conclusion of the agreement with Iran. Can he and President Obama garner that same relentlessness now? It is time for President Obama to cash in his Nobel Prize and give it meaning.

Netanyahu must not be permitted to “survive” the Kerry initiative with his agenda intact. We need tough love, we need the Americans’ refusal to be made superfluous. My truest friends are intolerant when I am avoiding truth, when I am evading a path with heart. That’s the kind of friendship the Americans must offer us now.

Yoav Peck is a Jerusalem organizational psychologist and director of the Sulha Peace Project, bringing Palestinians and Israelis together for person-to-person contact.                                                 

 

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