One Voice for a Two-State Solution
By Darya Shaikh
Executive Director, PeaceWorks Foundation
President Obama's speech in Cairo on Thursday did not do a number of things: it did not completely mend a history of broken trust and animosity between the west and the Muslim world; it did not erase the legacies of 9/11, Iraq, or Afghanistan; it did not set in motion a detailed point-by-point plan of action for how to resolve conflict in Israel and Palestine. It could not have been expected to do these things - it is, after all, just a speech.
But what it did accomplish was no small task: before the Muslim world and the world at large, President Obama said what needed to be said, about settlements as well as violent extremism, about Israel's right to exist as well as Palestine's, and about the personal responsibility that all of us have - Israelis, Palestinians, and the international community - to work together to resolve the conflict. He did so without pandering or whitewashing, and without being self-righteous or patronizing.
This was more than mere rhetoric. With this speech, Obama set a new tone and direction for achieving a two state solution - one that starts with earnestness. "It is time," he said, "for us to act on what everyone knows to be true" but which most only acknowledge in private: that it is in everyone's best interest, the US included, to see two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace.
On this front, Obama is working with a clear mandate from the ground. Recent polling conducted by OneVoice finds that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians - 78% of Israelis and 74% of Palestinians - are willing to accept a two state solution. The poll also reveals that 77% and 71% respectively strongly desire a negotiated peace.
But the poll also reveals some serious problems that - if left unaddressed - could spell the downfall of yet another peace process: by and large, Israelis and Palestinians have yet to come to terms with the compromises that will be required of them in order to reach an agreement. What's more, no one wants to take responsibility: neither Israelis nor Palestinians acknowledged their own personal or national responsibility in failing to resolve the conflict; both blamed the other or outside elements.
Most people are willing to talk about two states, so long as we avoid the sticky topics - refugees, settlements, Jerusalem, violence, and occupation. Most are supportive of peace as long as they can blame somebody else for failing to achieve it. Or, as Tom Friedman put it in Wednesday's New York Times, "everyone wants peace, but nobody wants to buy a ticket."
Obama has made the call for us to get in line and figure out what it means to buy a ticket. OneVoice, among other organizations, is working to give Obama's call a mantle of legitimacy - bringing a grassroots mandate for a two-state solution to Washington DC, and an earnest discussion about what it will take to make real progress.
There are no easy answers in the Middle East - no easy route past the political quagmires, no easy solutions to the conflicts and wars that dot the landscape, no easy remedy for decades of patchwork American involvement in the region. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is certainly no exception. There have been so many missteps, false starts, disappointed hopes, and stalled processes it is hard to know how to begin working toward a negotiated resolution that fulfills the aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians for life in secure, independent, internationally-recognized, and peaceful states.
But perhaps the best place to start is simply saying what needs to be said - that which numerous leaders, both past and present and on all sides, have been artfully avoiding saying: That the settlements and occupation, as much as violence and incitement, are an impediment to building a secure and safe Israel. That violence and incitement, as much as the settlements and occupation, are blocking the way forward to a free and independent Palestinian state. And that being an "honest broker" has to mean more than empty rhetoric without action: the US has to be prepared to make its friendships in the region and its support for a two state solution mean something.
We need to deal with the issues at hand with sincerity, courage, and candor. Obama's Cairo speech was a first step at doing just that. Mr. President: We - and hundreds of thousands of Israelis and Palestinians - are with you.
Darya Shaikh is the Executive Director of the PeaceWorks Foundation and the Chief Operating Officer of the OneVoice Movement.
By Darya Shaikh |
June 5, 2009; 11:59 AM ET
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