By Michael Felsen
Boston, Massachusetts -- A few weeks ago, Israel and Hamas signed a ceasefire agreement. The firing of rockets and bombing runs ended. A ground invasion of Gaza was averted. Merely days later, the UN General Assembly accorded Palestine the status of a non-member state. History is being made before our eyes. And yet in the ensuing days, signs of movement toward lasting peace have been hard to find. Disheartening? Yes. But hopeless? No, for several big reasons.
The Gaza conflict gave the militant Hamas organization a prominence it hadn't had before, but Egypt's president Mohamed Morsi deftly navigated the ceasefire. Assuming Morsi constructively resolves the unrest on the Egyptian street following his recent unilateral expansion of powers, by his efforts in the Gaza conflict he's garnered gravitas as a potential peace-broker.
Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was side-lined in the Gaza conflict, has once again assumed a central role. On 29 November, the anniversary of the United Nations' 1947 decision to adopt the partition plan to divide the land into a "Jewish State" and an "Arab State," President Abbas brought a groundbreaking resolution to the UN General Assembly. With 138 countries in favor, nine opposed and 41 abstaining, the international body declared Palestine a non-member state.
Hence, while not yet a full member of the UN, Palestine's statehood has been recognized, predicated -- a as the resolution states -- on a "two-State solution of an independent, sovereign, democratic, viable and contiguous State of Palestine living side by side with Israel in peace and security on the basis of the pre-1967 borders."
With this vote, the international community, including most of Europe, spoke loudly: it is time to alter the status quo. Stagnation in the "peace process" is no longer acceptable. Almost sixty-five years after the founding of Israel, the conflict has dragged on long enough. It is time for a Palestinian state, and for peace between Israel and all its Arab neighbors.
The foundation is already there, in the Clinton parameters, the Arab Peace Initiative, the Geneva Accord, the Olmert-Abbas talks of 2007-8: a Palestinian state in pre-1967 borders; land swaps to keep major settlement blocs within Israel; a divided Jerusalem; and a very limited return of Palestinian refugees to Israel. In the Geneva Accord, negotiated by prominent Israeli and Palestinian visionaries, even the details have been worked out.
The two-state resolution is Israel's only road to a secure and democratic Jewish homeland. It's also the pathway to a bright future for the Palestinian people, in both Gaza and the West Bank. Neither side can afford to throw roadblocks in the way: whether the Israelis, by announcing new settlement building approvals or withholding payments to the Palestinian Authority; or the Palestinians, by bringing their grievances to the International Criminal Court. It's now time to compromise, not antagonize. And it's time for the Obama administration to use its considerable leverage to ensure that the negotiations succeed.
Almost four years ago, during the 2008-9 Israel-Gaza conflict, I was among a group of Muslims, Christians and Jews who crafted an Interfaith Declaration for Peace. The Declaration's preamble recognized "the legitimate needs of all peoples, including all those living in the Middle East, for dignity, peace, safety and security -- regardless of religion, race, or national origin."
As guiding principles, it acknowledged the painful history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the fact that all sides are capable of claiming justification for their cause and assigning blame to others. Avowing that there is no military solution to the conflict, it called for an immediate ceasefire and for the U.S. and the international community to work vigorously toward a just and lasting peace that addresses the national aspirations of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Its words remain timely today.
The declaration was signed by many leaders of the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities in Greater Boston. A few days later, the interfaith group stood together at a candlelight vigil in downtown Boston, and read the declaration aloud.
In the wake of the most recent Israel-Gaza conflagration, many of these same interfaith leaders began to mobilize for another candlelight ceasefire/peace vigil if the recent hostilities didn't end. Thankfully, they did, at least for now. And in the few days since then, the international community has recognized a state for the Palestinian people, urging that Israel and the new Palestine come to terms at last.
This moment of change cries out to be seized. The goal is clear and attainable. No more vigils for peace, in Boston or anywhere else. Instead, simply peace.
Michael Felsen is an attorney and President of Boston Workmen's Circle, a 110-year old communal organization dedicated to secular Jewish education, culture and social justice. The full text of the Interfaith Declaration of Peace and its list of endorsers can be found here. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Common Ground News Service (CGNews), Dec. 4. Copyright permission is granted for publication.