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A letter to the president 

Dear President Obama,

I'm an Israeli peace activist and I really need your help.  I've been working for over 20 years to make my country — Israel — a safe place for my children, and now is the first time I think I really have a chance to get there.  Because you're in the White House.

I know we're on the same page: Divide the land (more or less on the 1948 border) so that we end up with two sovereign states — Israel and Palestine — where both can live in peace and security. Divide Jerusalem so that Arab neighborhoods become the Palestinian capital and Jewish neighborhoods remain the Israeli capital — and ensure access to the holy sites for people of all religions. And apply the obvious and practical solutions to the other outstanding issues — water (a rational and equitable distribution), refugees (resettlement and reparations), and arms (control and security for both sides).

I'm not the only one in the Middle East who thinks this way: For a decade, polls have consistently shown that a majority of Israelis support a two-state solution as part of an overall peace agreement. So do public opinion polls of Palestinians. And most would go along with any arrangements that could be worked out between the sides because, well, we've all lost enough loved ones to the conflict.

One of the key problems seems to be that most politicians have given in to the demands of the extremist Israeli settlers in the Occupied Territories — people who prefer to live by the sword on someone else's land than forge a compromise that both sides can live with.

So many U.S. presidents — following the lead of Israeli prime ministers — turned a blind eye to the expansion of these colonies, expansion that led to deeper entrenchment of the occupation and greater Palestinian bitterness and rage. What a recipe for bloodshed! One cup occupation plus one cup violent resistance — and the bloodshed will go on for generations, as it has. 

It was a relief, Mr. President, to hear your clear statements in Cairo: “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements …It is time for these settlements to stop.”

And then Prime Minister Netanyahu affirmed his own acceptance of a two-state solution, meaning that the Israeli settlers would ultimately have to return to Israel, making room for the sovereign state of Palestine. What else could “a two-state solution” mean?

But somehow the need to “freeze” settlement construction — which Israel promised to do in previous agreements and our prime minister has been trying to sell to his coalition partners — has now “thawed,” as our government approved the construction of 455 more homes in the Occupied Territories. What is it about “It is time for these settlements to stop” that Netanyahu did not understand?

Therefore, Mr. President, I came to visit Little Rock to talk with some of the citizens there and, through them, to appeal to you to use your good offices to be a true friend to Israel by telling Netanyahu the truth: Occupation is not compatible with peace. Settlements are not compatible with a two-state solution.

The United States has the power to get it done: Your military aid — some $4 billion dollars a year — gives you the right and obligation to demand that Israel stop building the settlements and start withdrawing the settlers. Without U.S. financial aid, Israel would not have the wherewithal to keep building and protecting the settlements (at the expense of our schools and hospitals). Without U.S. backing in international arenas, Israel would be alone in pursuing its policies of occupation.

Mr. President, you can write a historic chapter of peace in the Middle East, if only you don't back down from your demand that both sides engage in good-faith negotiations. Don't let the extremists continue to set the agenda.

This occupation, like every other in history, will ultimately come to an end. I want that to happen before my two beautiful little grandchildren are also called up for duty.

 

Gila Svirsky of Jerusalem is chair of B'Tselem, Israel's foremost human rights organization in the Occupied Territories. She spoke in Little Rock from Sept. 18-24 at the invitation of the Arkansas chapter of Women's Action for New Directions. Ernest Dumas is on vacation.

 

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