"THANK YOU MR. PRESIDENT" Thoughts on the "Road Map" and the Quest for Middle East Peace
Final Remarks by Rabbi Eric Yoffie UAHC Board of Trustees June 15, 2003 Washington, D.C.
We have discussed the conflict in the Middle East several times this weekend, and we have watched with horror the terrible violence of recent days. It is not my intention to analyze the intricacies of the political situation, but I do want to pick up on some of the themes that we heard from Ambassador Indyk two days ago. And the heart of the matter is simply this: by far the most important development of recent weeks is the decision of the President of the United States to throw his weight behind the search for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
The response of most American Jewish groups to this development has been, to say the least, unenthusiastic. Some have been openly critical, while most have been largely silent. Criticism of and reservations about the Road Map have received more attention than expressions of support for American actions. I find this response troubling, and difficult to understand, and I do not believe that it represents the sentiments of the great majority of American Jews.
Our response at the UAHC has been guided by the numerous board and Biennial resolutions that we have passed that express support for a mediating role by the United States. We are aware, of course, that the United States cannot impose a settlement that is not accepted by both sides, but those resolutions reflect the fact that in the last half century, political progress has only been made with the help of an outside mediator, usually the United States. And what was true in the past is even more likely to be true now. The United States is the world's only superpower and possesses unchallenged military might; and President Bush enters the arena after a victory in Iraq that has, at the very least, caught the attention of Arab governments and the Palestinians who are more sensitive now than ever to American wishes. We do not know if peace if possible, but if it is, it will be a Pax Americana or it will be no peace at all.
The concerns expressed by Jewish groups about the Road Map and America's role in it seem to me to have little merit. A frequently heard complaint is that the Road Map involves other parties that are hostile to Israel. And it is true that the Road Map was initially a project of the Quartet, and that its other three members - the United Nations, Russia, and the European Union-are not trusted by Israel, and for good reason. But the Quartet, we now see, has all but disappeared. This has become an American effort with American leadership.
And then there is the concern that the United States will not give sufficient weight to Israel's position on terrorism. In this regard, Prime Minister Sharon is right in stating that there will be no peace if terror continues; if Abu Mazen cannot put an end to Palestinian terror, then Israel has no reason to deal with him. But President Bush feels every bit as strongly about terror as does Prime Minister Sharon. He has declared his opposition to terror in the clearest and most unmistakable terms, and has spoken bluntly and forcefully to Arab leaders on the subject. One may agree or disagree with the President on his economic policies, but one cannot question his credentials as a passionate foe of terror and as a loyal friend and supporter of Israel.
Will there be tension between the desires of Israel's government and the wishes of the American administration? Probably.
When I first heard about the unsuccessful attempt by Israel to kill Dr. Abdel Rantisi, a spokesman and leader of Hamas, my first reaction was: I am sorry that they missed him. Rantisi's smirking face, justifying and extolling Hamas terror, has been a horrifying fixture on our TV screens for far too long. His most recent statement neatly summarized the hatreds that motivate him: "I swear," he said, "that we will not leave one Jew in Palestine."
But the issue of course was not whether or not Rantisi is evil; he is, by any standard that we might wish to apply, and on this the Americans and Israelis agree. There will be no agreement, ever, with the likes of Rantisi and Hamas. But the issue here was the American belief that the timing of the Israeli attack undermined broader political goals. The Americans appear to have backed away from that position in recent days. But whether they have or not, differences of opinion are inevitable, and when they occur, Israel will have to make every effort to adjust to American concerns.
We hear much bravado from Jews both in Israel and America who claim that Israel must go it alone and determine its own destiny, regardless of American wishes. But this is dangerous nonsense. The United States supplies most of Israel's military equipment and is Israel's only reliable ally in a very dangerous world. Indeed, Prime Minister Sharon has been the most emphatic spokesperson for this point of view. He has repeatedly insisted that Israel maintain its close ties to America and to President Bush because Israel depends on and values American goodwill. It is my hope that in the future the Prime Minister will heed his own instincts and ensure that Israel will work consistently to assure American support.
What are Prime Minister Sharon's true intentions? Is he capable of leading Israel to peace? I am distressed by those who demonize Sharon, as so many are inclined to do. The Prime Minister has made some good decisions in recent weeks. He told his own party that Israel's presence in the territories is an occupation, and that word, once stated, creates a new reality, and can never be retracted. I do not know what course he will ultimately take, and whether or not he will be able to confront the settlers who for so long were his political base; but it seems to me that in any case, a better question is whether the Palestinians are capable of offering peace. I have always believed that when the Palestinians are ready, the people of Israel will insist on peace, and if their Prime Minister does not agree, the Israelis will replace him with a Prime Minister who does.
What I do know now is that Israel desperately needs peace. Her economy is in shambles, her casualties are rising, her people are disheartened by the endless terror. Because we love Israel and because Israel has a special hold on our soul, we are heartbroken by that the pain that Israelis must endure. And for just that reason, we welcome American efforts to resolve the conflict and to end the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Therefore, while so many other North American Jewish groups look on with ambivalence or quiet disapproval, we say to President Bush:
"Thank you for putting forward the Road Map. Thank you for launching this initiative. Thank you for taking the risks that are associated with peacemaking in this troubled part of the world. Precisely because Israel is so dear to us, we urge you and your Administration not to waver in your commitment. If there is any chance for an end to terror and for a secure Israel living in peace alongside a Palestinian state, it will only happen with active and ongoing American leadership. In this effort, Mr. President, you have our support and the support and good wishes of the great majority of American Jews."
Let's hope and pray that when we gather in Minneapolis, we will be closer, if only by the smallest of steps, to the peace that we yearn for.
Have a wonderful summer. We look forward to seeing you at the Biennial in November.