As I wrote several weeks ago, Obama made basically no effort to secure an actual peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians during his recent visit. When John Kerry also visited the region, it became clear that the new Secretary of State is much more concerned about Syria and Iran, and isn't really interested in pushing for a deal between the Israelis and their neighbors. But he should be, and Obama should be, too. Here are five reasons why:
1. It's the Right Thing to Do:
Obama certainly seems to believe this, as he made clear in his speech to Israeli university students. "It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of their own. Living their entire lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements not just of those young people but their parents, their grandparents, every single day," he said.
But Obama's own actions undermine his lofty words. The U.S. was one of the few countries that voted against Palestinian statehood at the UN, and the U.S. is the primary source of funding for the "foreign army that controls the movements" of millions of Palestinians.
As Israel continues to add to its long list of war crimes and human-rights violations against the Palestinian people, it's increasingly clear that the U.S. has two options if it hopes to keep the moral high ground: stop all military aid to Israel, or make that aid contingent on an immediate withdraw from the Palestinian territories.
2. It will Increase Regional Security:
In a press conference in Israel last week, Kerry what the United States wants is for Israel's security to be guaranteed and Palestinian aspirations to be reflected in that dialogue."
But the U.S. has long failed to recognize that the Palestinians must be able to reach their "aspirations" in order for Israel to be truly secure. While there's no excuse for Hamas firing rockets at civilians, it's also true that rocket-fire doesn't happen in a vacuum. Since the Gaza cease-fire in November, Israel has continually violated the truce, and has killed at least four Palestinians in Gaza.
The vast majority of Palestinians want nothing more than to live in peace and freedom. But, as in any society, there exists a minority prone to violence, and when the Palestinian people are forced to live under a regime of checkpoints, raids, and indefinite imprisonment, it serves to legitimize the forces calling for violence. The best — indeed, the only — way for Israel to be truly secure is for it to be at peace with its neighbors, especially the Palestinians.
3. The World Wants Them to:
Last week, the Irish teachers union approved a full academic boycott of Israeli institutions. They are hardly alone. The BDS movement continues to grow, and the UN vote in favor of Palestinian statehood showed that the vast majority of the world's countries support the Palestinian right to self-determination. By blindly supporting Israel without making a serious push for justice in Palestine, the U.S. only further isolates itself from the world.
4. It's Hypocritical not to:
And besides isolating itself, the U.S. also delegitimizes its calls for human rights around the globe. For example, the U.S. recently condemned Syria's membership on a thirty-country human-rights panel at the UN.
It's certainly true that the brutal Assad regime is not among the top countries that should be charged with defending human rights. But the U.S. really has no business sitting on a human-rights panel, either, when it's supplying Israel with the weapons used to do things like this.
5. It's Now or Never:
Time is running out for the two-state solution, and if the U.S. doesn't act immediately, there will be no possibility for a Palestinian state. As settlement construction continues, more and more of the West Bank is disappearing, absorbed by Israel.
Israeli officials claim they are putting a settlement freeze in place, but it remains to be seen how long it will last. And with extremist settlers like Naftali Bennett forming a crucial part of Israel's coalition government, it's unlikely that a total settlement freeze will indeed be enacted. If settlement construction continues, soon the point of no return will have passed, and there will be no future possibility for Israel to live side-by-side with an independent Palestinian state.
This is probably the last chance the U.S. will have to reach a lasting, sustainable peace deal between Israel and Palestine. Obama and Kerry have to start putting real effort into solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they have to do it now. Because by the time their successors have taken their place, it will be too late.