Obama administration must pursue Mideast peace

Across America, the Jewish community is joining with the rest of the nation to congratulate our next president. President-elect Barack Obama ran a campaign promising change, and Americans have made very clear that they are anxious to take him up on that promise. He will enter the White House at a time of great uncertainty, however, and those who would see real change take root will have to be very clear with the administration about their hopes for the future — particularly regarding the Middle East.

Many in our community have long prayed for Israeli-Palestinian peace, and in his acceptance speech, Obama sounded a promising note. “To those who seek peace and security,” he said, an hour after winning the election, “we support you.” As a lifelong advocate for a fair resolution to the conflict, I know the importance of such words — and know even more the importance of action.

The past eight years have seen an unprecedented level of diplomatic neglect on the part of the United States government, as President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said all the right things but have done very little to back up their words.

As a result, rather than move forward toward the resolution that all sides have already agreed must be our goal — a mutually acceptable two-state solution — Israelis and Palestinians remain locked in despair, and among both people, frustration has reached new heights.

Oddly, the current president seems to have forgotten that Israelis and Palestinians are not the only people who need an end to their entirely resolvable conflict — America needs it, too. Consider the blow it would be to Iran, Hezbollah and extremists across the globe if America were to mediate an end to Arab-Israeli fighting.

In the course of his campaign, Obama turned to the Jewish community to declare his support for Israel, saying that Israel’s security is “paramount.”

But if he really believes this to be true, he will have to understand that words of support are not enough. He will have to work to achieve the one thing that can bring the Jewish state true security: true peace.

If the newly elected president truly wants to advance Israel’s security, he will engage in genuine diplomacy from his very first days in office. He will vigorously pursue an agreement, appointing an envoy with the international credibility to do the hard work involved in negotiation. And he will make very clear to all parties that agreements made are to be honored.

It’s hard to believe this will happen, though, unless the new administration has gotten clear indication that it will be supported in its efforts by American Jews. To that end, the more than 85 percent of us who have said that we back a two-state resolution of the conflict have to take it upon ourselves to tell President Obama unequivocally: We will stand by you as you pursue a just, durable two-state solution. We will make our positions known in the House and the Senate, and we will communicate them to the American public. Because we are pro-Israel, we will advocate for peace.

American leaders have long turned to our community for guidance on the question of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and for that reason, I recently signed an open letter addressed to the president-elect, calling on him to dedicate himself to achieving a viable two-state agreement by the end of his first term.

Spearheaded by Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, the letter has been signed so far by some 700 members of the American Jewish clergy, all of whom know that our highest calling is to “seek peace and pursue it.”

The potential costs of failing to achieve a just two-state solution to this bloody conflict are too awful to consider. We must apply ourselves to seeing to it that the decades of death and fear are brought to an end, and a new era begins. Tell President-elect Obama and those he names to his government: The time for peace is now.

Rabbi Arnold Rachlis is the spiritual leader of University Synagogue in Irvine; a past president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; chair of MAZON – A Jewish Response to Hunger; and a member of the Rabbinic Cabinet of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom. He has served in Washington, D.C., as a White House Fellow and as a senior foreign affairs adviser in the State Department.