Ben-Ami to Foxman: I agree, there’s too much focus on settlements


When last we left it yesterday, the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman had responded in an open letter to J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami’s open letter to the ADL’s New York Times ad entitled "Mr. President, the problem isn’t settlements, it’s Arab rejection." Now, Ben-Ami has responded once again.

First, let’s go back to Foxman’s previous letter, in which he told Ben-Ami in his letter that they do agree on a number of issues, but have one big disagreement:

Not only do we share the goal of a two-state solution and normalization of relations between the Arab world and Israel, but we have no problem as well with the President’s belief in the need for greater U.S. engagement in the process and his outreach to the Muslim world.

And if the immediate goal is to get the parties to come to the table to negotiate, we’re all for that, too.

When, however, the suggestion is made that the Arab world and the Palestinians have taken concrete steps toward a true peace with Israel, and then policy is based on that, the problems begin.

Foxman goes on to note Camp David, the Gaza disengagement and other Israeli moves toward the Palestinians, and concludes:

We have no doubt that we share similar goals. We believe the President does as well.  The assumptions that seem to underlie the Administration’s path toward those goals are, in our view, misguided and troubling. We believe they won’t lead to the results desired, will cause unnecessary tensions between the two allies, the U.S. and Israel, and divert the region from its ultimate challenge, from Iran and other Islamic extremists.

Ben-Ami welcomed Foxman’s reply, and responded that the Arab world had taken some important steps toward peace:

First, the Arab world has in fact taken a major concrete step toward true peace with Israel through the Arab Peace Initiative, which offers full recognition and acceptance of Israel in return for a negotiated comprehensive resolution to the conflict.  I would ask why this Initiative, which holds exactly the promise that Israel has sought for 61 years – full acceptance by the Arab and Muslim worlds – is so rarely mentioned by the ADL or other American Jewish organizations.  The Initiative is not a peace plan ready to be accepted tomorrow.  It is, however, a clear statement of what stands to be achieved should negotiations succeed: in the words of the Saudi Foreign Minister just last week, comprehensive regional peace on the basis of two states for two peoples, with an agreed solution to the issue of refugees and an equitable settlement of other key issues from borders to security.

Second, the Palestinians have, in fact, begun serious implementation of obligations under the Road Map in terms of security.  The Israeli Defense Forces and other security services have publicly acknowledged the strides made by the Palestinian Authority.  You are correct when you say that it would be false to say that Israel has never undertaken steps to move toward peace.  Why is it not possible to acknowledge that, in fact, the Palestinians too have taken a "concrete step" toward a true peace with Israel?

But Ben-Ami said he and Foxman do — surprisingly, in Ben-Ami’s words — agree that there’s been too much attention on settlements:

Yet I think we also probably agree – surprisingly – on the need to move beyond a focus merely on settlements.

I would hold that the most urgent need of Israel today is to get to a two-state solution, while addressing Israel’s legitimate security and other concerns. The only way to end the dispute over settlements is the establishment of a permanent border between Israel and Palestine, accepted by both parties and recognized by the international community.  When that has been achieved and implemented, Israel can build to its heart’s content – and to the limits of the local zoning ordinances in those towns located within the internationally-recognized boundaries of the State of Israel (I am told, for instance, that "natural growth" is not seen by Tel Aviv city planners as legitimate cause for adding another story to an apartment building or for putting up a new home).

You are right on one final point as well: the challenges on the way to peace should not be minimized.  As starting positions, the Palestinians make demands that are unlikely to be met by the Israelis, and so too the Israelis make demands that are unlikely to be met by the Palestinians. …

Yet the answer is not to paper over the differences between the sides, but to resolve them.  And that’s where the international community, and in particular the United States, come in.  Only a serious, credible and fair international mediator – namely, the United States – can help to close the gaps and reach a resolution.

Meanwhile, Americans for Peace Now sent around an e-mail to its supporters saying that the ADL ad Tuesday was "wrong" and that settlements are an "impediment to peace." It also urges its activists to tell the ADL to "rethink its stance on settlements and the path to peace." Their full e-mail is after the jump:[[READMORE]]

Yesterday, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published a full page ad in the New York Times challenging President Barack Obama’s approach to bringing peace to Israel.

The ad urged the Obama administration to stop pressuring Israel over settlements. "The settlements are not the impediment," it claimed.

But you and I know that the ADL is wrong. Settlements are a serious impediment to peace. They constitute a burden to Israel’s security services. They create points of friction between Israelis and Palestinians. They drain Israel’s financial resources. They erode support for Israel among its friends and allies. And they generate doubt as to Israel’s commitment to a two-state solution.

Click here to ask the ADL to rethink its stance on settlements and the path to peace.

At this time it is vital that President Obama continue his effort to arrange a real settlement freeze as an important step towards meaningful negotiations over a two-state solution.

For President Obama’s strategy to succeed, he will need all sides — Israel, the Palestinians, and Arab states — to do their part. And it is up to all of us to make sure he has the domestic support he needs to get the job done.

But The ADL ad suggests that President Obama is wrong to ask Israel to do anything. It suggests that he should put the entire onus on the Palestinians and the Arab states.

This is a recipe for failure. Without a settlement freeze, Palestinian moderates who engage in negotiations with Israel will become marginalized. Without a settlement freeze, a two-state solution will become increasingly more difficult to achieve.

Without a settlement freeze, Israel’s chances for peace are diminished.

The ADL is a remarkable institution with an important history of service. It is unfortunate that its leaders would misuse the ADL’s reputation to stand in the way of progress and to undermine Israel’s prospects for peace.

Please join me in asking the ADL’s leadership to stand for peace.


Noam Shelef
Director of Strategic Communications
Americans for Peace Now  

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