John Kerry is not a naive man. I met him recently at a luncheon at Georgetown University with a small group of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith leaders brought together to hear the secretary of state’s frank reflections on the peace process.
While deeply aware of the complexities and obstacles to peace, Kerry is undeterred by the acrimony and intransigence that imprison Israelis and Palestinians in a devastating and soul-corrupting status quo even as the Middle East shakes around them. “At some point,” he said, “you just have to bet on peace.”
There are many legitimate reasons to be skeptical of this latest round of peace talks. To reach a lasting, negotiated two-state solution, both sides will have to make excruciating choices on core issues: refugees, security, settlements, Jerusalem.
This is a rare moment — a precious opportunity for the American Jewish leadership to improve the prospects for lasting peace and security by providing support that can embolden Israel to take the necessary steps to achieve both goals. Instead, too many leaders have opted for muted support of these efforts, shying away from the type of full-throated, sustained and public backing that will tap into our community’s desire for a negotiated two-state solution — offering instead quiet criticism, muttered cynicism or silence.
Driven by fear, distrust and even disdain, some in the Jewish community see the quest for peace — that is, an independent and viable state of Palestine alongside a secure and Jewish state of Israel — as driven by a reckless combination of naiveté and arrogance.
I don’t see it that way, nor do most American Jews — the quiet majority who love the State of Israel, believe that peace is possible and see its pursuit not as a sign of weakness but as an expression of courage, compassion and faith.
More and more young people identify with this camp, convinced that a two-state solution is the only way Israel can live up to its aspirations as a Jewish and democratic state and be free of war and terrorism.
If Kerry succeeds, it will be because his plan honors the narratives, agonies and legitimate aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. It will be because his tireless and seasoned envoy, Martin Indyk, cares deeply and passionately about the security and dignity of Israelis and Palestinians. It will be because the bipartisan vision of a negotiated two-state solution serves the national interests of Israelis and Palestinians far better than the present deadlock.
Kerry has demonstrated that he will not veer off course when critics snipe or cynics carp. If he succeeds, it will be because Israelis and Palestinians recognize that he has staked out a position that is firm, fair and, ultimately, sustainable — everything that today’s worrisome status quo is not.
If Kerry fails, it will be because the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships could not summon the courage to take the painful steps required for peace, security and dignity. And it will also be because those of us who so deeply want peace did not do enough to change the political climate in which the leaders are making decisions.
Failure will be, in part, because we have allowed a small minority of oppositional voices to be heard over those who support a two-state solution.
Let us not let that happen. This opportunity may not come again in our lifetimes, and the cost of failure will be unfathomably high, for both Israelis and Palestinians. Let’s help John Kerry succeed — let’s help Israelis and Palestinians succeed — by amplifying the voices of hope and possibility, in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah.
Rabbi Sharon Brous is the founding rabbi of Ikar in Los Angeles.