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Viewpoint: Let's make history together

BY YONAH LIEBERMAN AND MATAN NAAMANI

Published April 9, 2012

Two weeks ago, 20 University students descended on Washington, D.C. for the third annual J Street National Conference. The conference’s theme was “Making History,” and together with more than 2,500 other attendees — including more than 650 students from 125 schools — we made history.

This was the largest J Street conference in history. Never before have so many pro-peace advocates come together in one place to stand up for a two-state solution that includes a Jewish and democratic state of Israel alongside an independent state of Palestine.

There were numerous speakers of note. Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave the keynote speech at the conference’s Gala Dinner. He expressed his belief in Israel's partner in peace, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. His passion and conviction could have convinced any person who may have doubted the possibility of a resolution. Amos Oz, the most famous novelist in Israel’s history, told the conference that it was time for Israel and the Palestinians to move from their painfully tangled relationship to one where each could live separately and independently. Oz told J Street that he had waited a long time for our organization to exist.

The energy of the conference, however, can’t — and won’t — remain in D.C. Over the next two weeks, we will be asking student leaders from groups across campus to sign a simple, yet strong declaration: “We support vigorous American diplomatic leadership toward achieving a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

To many, this statement reads as obvious — of course our government should be encouraging peace. Yet, the harsh reality is that our politics, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, are broken.

We know they're broken when the Florida Legislature passes a unanimous resolution saying the occupied territories belong to Israel, when major candidates for the U.S. presidency say “There are no Palestinians,” and when an American president is hammered relentlessly as being insufficiently pro-Israel simply for proposing negotiations based on the parameters set since President Bill Clinton’s go at negotiations in 2000: the 1967 lines with mutually agreed-upon land swaps.

Despite this rhetoric, without a two-state solution, the conflict will likely continue for generations. We need to act now.

This does not mean it’s easy. Hamas continues to promote virulent anti-Semitism and refuses to even recognize Israel’s right to exist as a state. As long as Hamas unilaterally controls Gaza, condones sending rockets across the border and does not change its fundamental political outlook, a Palestinian state will remain inconceivable.

On the other hand, the continued expansion of settlements in the West Bank poses another great threat. Over the past two decades, the number of Israeli settlers in the area has more than tripled, which makes drawing the contours of a Palestinian state even more difficult. This is especially true in East Jerusalem, where Palestinians are being systematically evicted from their homes and replaced by ultra-religious Jews, as we wrote about in The Michigan Daily last semester. With each new settlement, it becomes harder for Israel to propose a state that the Palestinians can accept.

This is why it’s so unlikely that the parties will resolve this conflict on their own. This is why our government has such an important role. Unfortunately, in our politics there is little incentive for politicians to encourage a two-state solution. Reshaping this political landscape is why J Street was founded.

This is why our voices are so important. Two weeks ago at the conference, we — the future of pro-Israel — walked across Capitol Hill, talking to our members of Congress about the need to fight for a two-state solution. We want to thank Congressmen John Dingell, John Conyers III and Hansen Clarke for signing onto the Cohen-Connolly-Yarmuth letter asking President Barack Obama to recommit to the two-state solution.

We ask that you, the leaders of this campus, do that as well. Stand up and tell the public what the majority of us here on campus already know. Sign our declaration: “We support vigorous American diplomatic leadership toward achieving a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Let’s make the voice of our generation heard. Let’s continue to make history together.

Yonah Lieberman is an LSA junior, co-chair of J Street UMich and a Daily opinion columnist. Matan Naayami is an LSA senior and a general board member of J Street UMich.

Correction Appended: A previous version of this article misspelled the last name of Matan Naayami.