An open letter to John Kerry. Senator Kerry,

In discussing Israel’s election results during your confirmation hearings, you told the Senate:

I pray that maybe this will be a moment that will allow us to renew the effort to bring [Israelis and Palestinians] to the negotiating table and go down a different path than the one they were on in the last few years. I would like to try and do that.

Prayers are a good thing. I have nothing against prayers. But—and I say this with deep respect for and real gratitude to you for your service to this country—praying is my job.

I’m a typer of words and woman of faith—you, on the other hand, are about to become the world’s most powerful diplomat. The part of your statement that matters is that last sentence: “I would like to try and do that.”

I’m already on record as believing that, under the current circumstances, the next Israeli government will be no more inclined toward peace than the current one—but that doesn’t mean that you and the White House can’t change the circumstances.

You’re hearing that Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid is a centrist, and J.J. Goldberg has made an excellent case against pessimism like mine regarding Yesh Atid’s potential—but whatever Lapid may say about insisting on a return to the negotiating table, he’s made very clear that he doesn’t personally understand what he’s up against.

Lapid’s insistence that Israel need only stand firm and the Palestinian people will give up on East Jerusalem is deeply troubling. As you and President Obama (and Prime Minister Netanyahu) know, there are simply no Palestinians, anywhere, who will ever agree to ceding all of Jerusalem to Israel. With that as his starting point, Netanyahu would be more than happy to agree to Lapid’s “negotiations.”

His approach to the settlements is of at least equal concern: While it’s clear that there would be land-swaps in any two-state agreement, most settlers would have to leave the West Bank—but Lapid insists that building won’t stop in major settlement blocs. Yet again, as both you and President Obama know, any construction serves to humiliate and tie the hands of Palestinian negotiators (in addition to being in direct contradiction to the Road Map for Peace that Israel signed with the U.S. in 2003). Moreover, the limitation of “major settlement blocs” is squishy at best. Even Netanyahu’s 10-month settlement “freeze” was more chimera than concession, in that construction never actually stopped, and was redoubled the instant the putative freeze ended.

Simply put: Every single home and road added to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land is another nail in the coffin of a two-state peace. Whatever and whoever Yair Lapid might be, Benjamin Netanyahu is almost certainly going to be the next Prime Minister, and moreover, Yesh Atid is not the only party with which he’s discussing a coalition. Netanyahu has made it very clear that he wants to transform the so-called E-1 section of the West Bank into a major settlement bloc (again: in direct contradiction to promises made to successive American governments), and if the E-1 plan moves forward, it will in fact cut the West Bank in two. There’s no way to both establish a Palestinian state, and continue to coddle Israel’s settlers and their government backers.

I don’t think I’m telling you anything new. Not only do you know what a two-state peace requires, unlike most of Congress, you’ve actually been to Gaza. You’ve seen what the lives of Palestinians look like up close.

And I suspect that you also know that if you and President Obama can’t facilitate some kind of serious return to the negotiating table, the dream of a two-state peace will die on your watch.

I may have little faith in Yair Lapid and none in Benjamin Netanyahu as peacemakers—but I have enormous faith in the ability of the United States to lead, to change the international atmosphere in which Israel’s politicians function, and to encourage boldness.

Once in your new office, you can clarify to the next Israeli government that the U.S. will be standing by its own policies more firmly in the future. American vetoes at the U.N. need not be a foregone conclusion, the tax-exempt status of settlement-supportive American charities might be examined, and as Lara Friedman wrote in these pages, a simple change in official tone would go a long way. On the other hand, in exchange for concrete Israeli steps (rather than the winks and nudges of the past), the U.S. might offer the kind of financial support that would help relieve many of the social worries facing the vast majority of Israelis who live legally within Israel’s internationally recognized borders.

It might not work, and not least because you’ll still have Hamas to deal with. No risky undertaking is ever guaranteed. But as an Israeli, as an American, and as a pro-Palestinian activist, I think it’s immeasurably important that the United States make the effort.

The continuing failure to achieve a durable peace not only provides extremists with anti-American recruiting tools, it serves to grind down the courage of Israelis and Palestinians—and they will need courage to leave the conflict behind.

So please, Senator. I’m grateful for your prayers, but I would be much more grateful for action. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel reminded us in Selma: Sometimes we have to pray with our feet.

Crossposted from Open Zion/The Daily Beast.


  1. I sometimes wonder if the current state of affairs has gone on so long in Israel, that no one is capable of seeing things any other way, except those outside? Meaning: the road to peace is pretty clear: stop taking land the Palestinians currently have and turning it into settlements, open the borders to the West Bank and Gaza to allow free trade and prosperity, and work through the details of a two-state governmental structure that will allow Palestinians & Israelis to coexist. I know, I know, it’s not that simple, but those aims seem so achievable.

    Except… I think people are so mired in this, that it sometimes seems easier to accept what is and not strive for what could be. Both sides seem to be locked into a continual cycle of we-attack-you-then-you-attack-us that drowns out the voices of peace because all either government cares to do is keep fighting the wars of several centuries.

    To be frank, Israeli-Palestinian peace is the true third-rail of an American Presidency. No American President has ever really brought both sides into a room and successfully hammered out an accord both sides could live with; to do so threatens their viability.

    • Want2Know

       /  January 28, 2013

      “No American President has ever really brought both sides into a room and successfully hammered out an accord both sides could live with…”

      Has anyone ever been able to hammer out such an accord?

  2. As the blog says, nothing is guaranteed; but, ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. The ‘west’ has to find a way out of this bind where we choose which ‘terrorist’ (agent of terror on civilians) we back. Israel must comply with international law or face consequences and the way the international community dispenses justice must be fair and equitable and visible.
    Jews worldwide are probably in a more precarious place than at any time since the Nazi era and the principal reason is Israel’s behaviour with US & Europe acquiescence.
    I too am a ‘prayer’, an evangelical Christian, and one of my prayers is that we will read again the Hebrew prophets and understand them and take notice of the words of our founder, ‘Love your enemies’.

    • Want2Know

       /  January 28, 2013

      “Jews worldwide are probably in a more precarious place than at any time since the Nazi era and the principal reason is Israel’s behaviour with US & Europe acquiescence.”

      You comment is troubling on several levels. First, historically, what was the excuse for the situation of Jews in the Nazi era? How about Tsarist Russia and the progroms? France at the time of Dreyfus? Poland in the 1930’s? The point is that the situation of the Jews in the world before Israel existed was certainly not better. Second, some might read your comment as offering a justification or even excuse for attacks on jews–for supporting Israel or for not speaking out against Israel. Hopefully, that is not your intent.

      • I’m puzzled; your ‘levels’ don’t seem to ‘fit’ with my comment; and your terminology, ‘Jews in the world’, is too broad. And I’m afraid this reply may be rather lengthy.
        I didn’t think there was anything particularly controversial in the first clause of my sentence referring to the Nazi era, the ‘historical’. So in one sentence you sweep up 1000 years of European history. But historians and commentators are still trying to understand ‘Hitler’s Holocaust’, and for good reason. Russian pogroms, France in the 1890’s are evidence of the much wider persecutions experienced by Jews in most of Europe but Jews in Germany from unification (1870’s) and earlier were the most assimilated in the world, including USA. What happened in 1930’s Germany was multi-factorial and included in those factors were surely; the ‘useful enemy’, and the need for a scapegoat – someone, or an identifiable people group, to blame. That there were other factors is undeniable & I have neither the space nor the competence to deal with it here.
        ‘Jews in the world’ I take to mean every Jew everywhere. Its accepted that within any generalisation there will be particular differences, people or groups that don’t fit the ‘norm’. For a generalisation to be useful it must be applicable not simply to a majority but to a substantial majority and I’d want to argue that when we are dealing with a supposed people group account must be taken of small but significant dispersed groups. Thus, pre-1940’s there were substantial Jewish populations in Britain, North America, South America, the Near East, and Middle East whose life experience was broadly comfortable.
        May I make my point again: Jews in the diaspora are beginning to experience higher levels of anti-Semitism and it is my view, and that of many Jewish commentators, that one factor at least is Israel’s behaviour towards Palestinians.
        To your second concern. Why my comment might be seen as offering ‘justification’ or ‘excuse’ for attacks on Jews of any kind bewilders me. It is Israel, not Jews, that should be held to account, in the same way we hold/held accountable other countries such as North Korea, Iran and apartheid South Africa. Why is it, by the way, that sanctions are believed to be effective against the aforementioned but are not appropriate in the case of Israel?
        If the ‘excuse’ is to be found in the second clause of the sentence, ‘the principal reason is…’ I can only remark that I cannot be blamed for people’s foolishness. Read the context; in what sense does the command ‘love your enemies’ justify attacks on Jews, who, I stress, I do not regard as enemies, how could I, the dozen or so I know are really nice people, even those who disagree with me.

        • Want2Know

           /  January 29, 2013

          “Thus, pre-1940′s there were substantial Jewish populations in Britain, North America, South America, the Near East, and Middle East whose life experience was broadly comfortable.”

          Comfortable is a relative term. In Pre-1940’s North America Jews faced substantial discrimination in housing, education and socially. Have you heard of the term “restricted clientele” which was common in many hotel and resort ads? Do you know about the quotas the existed in many universities. Do you know about the 1924 Immigration Act? Or the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which then President Truman, in his signing statement, described as “anti-semitic.” The Near and Middle-East? Yes, the situation of Jews there was on the whole better than in Europe. However, it is also true that Jews and other non-muslims has the status of tolerated minorities in the region. Their situation could change depending on a particular ruler. Long story short–the status of the Jews in most regions of the world pre-Israel was not better, legally or socially, than today. Final question I’d ask–what is the source of much of the documented anti-semtisim that may exist today? You may want to look at the Pew Global Attitudes Surveys for the answer.

          • If we’re not careful we’ll go round in circles here. I am not arguing that Jews pre-1940 were ‘better off’ than now, that would be ridiculous. And you are right ‘comfortable’ is a relative term; I’d hoped I’d been clear by qualifying it ‘broadly comfortable’. (there’s a whole essay in there).
            As to the sources: I read the news, hard copy & on line, including Europe, Near and Middle East (US too). (not all of it I’m not that masochistic). I also listen to my Jewish friends and acquaintances including academics for whom this is a major interest.
            Once again, and for the last time; my point is that increased anti-Semitic feeling is significantly to the behaviour of Israel’s governments towards the Palestinian people. A genuine care for Jews includes the duty of rebuke. If you see someone inadvertently setting fire to their own house, wouldn’t you tell them?

  3. Jueseppi B.

     /  January 28, 2013

    Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat.Com™ and commented:
    Amen. Stand up against the oppression of Palestine by Israel….Mr. “Secretary Of State.”

  4. Want2Know

     /  January 28, 2013

    “…the tax-exempt status of settlement-supportive American charities might be examined…”

    Regarless of the practial merits of that idea, it will likel create a major constitutional issue, particularly if these are religious-based charities. Any broad attempt would be unlikely to survive a court challenge. I very much doubt Obama will want to do down that road.