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Op-Ed: Only Israel making the effort toward peace

CHICAGO (JTA) — Like the people and governments of Israel, the pro-Israel community in the United States has long sought a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through direct negotiations between the parties that would lead to a lasting peace agreement and Israel’s acceptance by all its neighbors.

The Israeli people dream of peace, and their governments have worked and sacrificed for it. As American supporters of Israel, we are committed to helping them make it a reality.

Since assuming office, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pursued peace with Israel’s neighbors. Netanyahu declared his vision for peace — for two states — last June in a landmark speech at Bar-Ilan University, saying he supported the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state of Israel.

Underscoring Israel’s sincerity and willingness to make the most difficult choices in the pursuit of peace, a few months after his speech Netanyahu took another bold step, declaring a 10-month moratorium on all Israeli construction in the West Bank — a concession that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called “unprecedented” in advance of negotiations.

Alongside political gestures, Israel also has taken significant steps to ensure that life improves for Palestinians in the West Bank, such as dismantling hundreds of West Bank roadblocks and checkpoints, and enabling greater freedom of movement between Palestinian cities. Israel’s cooperation also helped produce double-digit economic growth at a time of global recession.

While the current Israeli government, like its predecessors, has proven its desire for peace, the leader of the Palestinian Authority refuses to meet or even speak on the phone with his Israeli counterpart. Given Mahmoud Abbas’ refusal to even sit down to speak face to face about a shared future, how can there be a chance for peace?

During his recent visit to the United States, President Abbas made several public appearances in which he expressed his desire for peace. Many of his comments were significant and noted as such. But words alone are not enough. Abbas still refuses to talk peace directly with Israel’s prime minister, despite American demands that he do so. Abbas has said that his strategy is not to make concessions in negotiations but to encourage the United States, and even more the international community, to pressure Israel for unilateral concessions.

Abbas rebuffed then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s sweeping offer in 2008, and like Yasser Arafat before him, refused to even engage in more serious deeper discussions with Israel, which leads us to today, when new preconditions and further refusals to talk with Israel sabotage the dream of peace to which we all aspire.

It’s not just Abbas’ refusal to talk that is problematic. In recent months, the PA has intensified its efforts to delegitimize Israel in the international arena and increased the incitement against Israel. By endorsing the Goldstone Report, the PA has pushed for senior Israeli leaders to be charged with war crimes. The PA also lobbied forcefully but unsuccessfully against Israel’s admission to the prestigious Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

In addition, the PA continues to name schools and streets after terrorists, including Dalal Mughrabi, who killed 37 civilians, and Yahya Ayyash, a suicide bombmaker who is responsible for hundreds of deaths. The PA media carries outrageous programs portraying Israel and Jews in the most negative ways. Rather than seeking to isolate Israel in the international arena and to incite its population to hatred of Israel, the PA needs to prepare its people for genuine peace.

On a topic as complicated and emotional as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is easy to get caught up in the day’s news cycle and forget the history of Israel’s actual effort, sacrifice and good will in the pursuit of peace.

As American friends of Israel we must, and we will, continue to remind our leaders about how badly Israel wants peace — and how tragically the PA has only increased its demands and pulled away from the negotiating table.

In the interim, the United States and Israel are attempting to engage the PA through “proximity talks” — a significant departure from direct talks of the past 20 years. The Palestinian leadership now is refusing to engage directly unless it gets Israel’s concessions in advance, and the PA pays no price for its obstinate stance.

Peace may be a dream, but it takes work and courageous leadership in real life to achieve it. Don’t blame Israel for the lack of progress.

(Lee Rosenberg is president of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and Alan Solow is chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.)

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