NEW YORK (JTA) – In his speech at the AIPAC policy conference in May, Vice President Joe Biden described the U.S. position regarding the Middle East peace process as “a show-me deal.” In other words, it is no longer enough for Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states to offer up positive rhetoric followed by inaction on their respective obligations.
A pro-Israel stalwart throughout his many years in the Senate, Biden understands that without concrete steps toward ending the conflict, threats against Israel will increase and opportunities to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state will diminish. President Obama also understands this — and that now is the time for action.
That is why, following his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Obama declared, with the Israeli prime minister seated next to him, “The United States is going to do everything we can to be constructive, effective partners in this process.”
That is why the president, after recent discussions in the White House with leaders from Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, is traveling to the Middle East this week for his much-anticipated speech in Cairo to the Muslim world, preceded by a meeting in Saudi Arabia with King Abdullah.
The numerous challenges facing Israeli-Arab peace and security cannot be underestimated. Chief among them are a divided Palestinian society, a weak Israeli government and a meddling Iran brandishing a nuclear threat. At the same time, the contours of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement have been known for more than a decade, and blueprints for getting there have been laid out numerous times. What has been missing is political will — from the Palestinians, Israel and, perhaps most important, the United States.
Now is an increasingly propitious time for diplomatic action. Obama’s election and his first months in office have captured the attention of the entire world — including the peoples of the Middle East — giving his administration latitude enjoyed by few, if any, of his recent predecessors. The stakes are too high for the United States to allow any more time to be wasted.
Obama reiterated his determination to achieve a two-state solution based on the kind of “show-me” policy outlined by Biden. After his meeting with Netanyahu, the president said: “There is no reason why we should not seize this opportunity and this moment for all the parties concerned to take seriously those obligations and to move forward in a way that assures Israel’s security, that stops the terrorist attacks that have been such a source of pain and hardship, and that we can stop rocket attacks on Israel, but that also allows Palestinians to govern themselves as an independent state that allows economic development to take place, that allows them to make serious progress in meeting the aspirations of their people. And I am confident that in the days, weeks and months to come that we are going to be able to make progress on that issue.”
In the days and weeks ahead, we believe Obama should develop a “show-me” policy based on the following five readily achievable steps:
1) an immediate renewal of U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian negotiations toward the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel;
2) the cessation of Palestinian terror attacks on Israelis and of weapons smuggling into Gaza, and an increase in the number of American-trained Palestinian security forces in the West Bank;
3) a freeze on West Bank settlement construction, the dismantling of superfluous checkpoints and illegal settlements, and the cessation of demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem;
4) the immediate reconstruction of Gaza with a focus on civilian needs and the local economy;
5) the pursuit of a comprehensive peace between Israel and its neighbors, including Syria, using the Arab Peace Initiative as a basis for negotiations.
These are the kinds of steps that can deprive extremist rejectionists of their ability to subvert progress, and provide momentum for moderates who seek a more peaceful and secure future for the region.
Taking these steps requires the leadership of an American president who will convey to the parties a sense of urgency built on a clear, immovable and lasting commitment to a two-state solution. This is in the national interest of the United States, Israel, the Palestinians and the people of the entire region.
Obama is providing this leadership. Thankfully, the American Jewish community supports him. Seventy-eight percent of American Jews voted for him, and recent polls show a majority continues to support a two-state solution.
Jewish Americans should rally behind the president as he implements a “show-me” policy that advances America’s and Israel’s shared interests.
(Peter Joseph and Larry Zicklin are the president and chair, respectively, of the Israel Policy Forum.)