US Jews lend support to peace talks in new letter

US Jews lend support to peace talks in new letter

140 prominent figures, including former conservative politicians, laud Netanyahu for readiness ‘to make painful compromises’

Lazar Berman is a former breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Senator Joseph Lieberman in Washington. (photo credit: AP/Susan Walsh)
Senator Joseph Lieberman in Washington. (photo credit: AP/Susan Walsh)

One hundred and forty prominent American Jews have signed on to a letter applauding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support of renewed peace talks with the Palestinians.

The letter, released Thursday, was organized by the Israel Policy Forum, which says it’s a non-partisan US Jewish organization that lobbies for robust American engagement in pushing for a two-state solution. IPF was founded in 1993 with the support of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to enlist support for the Oslo peace process.

The letter was signed by many liberal rabbis and businessmen as well as  Democratic congressmen Robert Wexler, Barney Frank, and Gary Ackerman.

Perhaps surprisingly, recently retired senator Joseph Lieberman, an outspoken supporter of Israel who’s seen as a security hawk, also attached his name to the letter, as did former AIPAC head Thomas Dine, Republican Jewish Coalition board member Morris Offit, and attorney Alan Dershowitz.

The support of Dov Zakheim, a former advisor to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, was perhaps most notable.

“We recognize that achieving a two-state solution will require a territorial compromise that provides for a Palestinian state without jeopardizing Israel’s security,” the statement reads. “That is why we applaud your understanding that one must be ‘willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace.’”

“It is our hope,” the letter continues, “that [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas will be similarly prepared to make the difficult decisions that achieving an agreement will require.”

The missive concludes with encouragement for Netanyahu and his government as they “embark on the challenging and delicate path ahead.”

“Our goal in bringing together this diverse group,” IPF executive director David Halperin said, “is to demonstrate the broad base of support among American Jews for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s entering the diplomatic process initiated by Secretary Kerry aimed at bringing about a two-state solution that would ensure Israel’s security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

But not all Jewish Middle East observers were impressed with the effort.

“That’s a sweet and charming letter,” said Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, “but I’m interested in what’s good for America. And best I can tell, there’s a wholesale collapse happening in the Middle East… Not between the Palestinians and Israelis, but between Arabs and Arabs and Arabs and Iranians. And I’d like the secretary – notwithstanding the good intentions of many of my friends – to focus on that, rather than on his own self-appointed mission to bring peace between the Jews and their enemies on the West Bank.”

The letter comes as the IPF is trying to regain its former prominence. During the Clinton administration, it was a centrist, non-partisan forum that many American and Israeli leaders worked with closely. Clinton even used an IPF gala to lay out the “Clinton Parameters” for a peace agreements.

As peace efforts faltered in the wake of the second intifada, and more-partisan organizations rose to the fore pushing for a two-state solution, IPF’s influence waned. In 2009, it was folded into the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank with close ties to the Obama Administration. CAP ran into some controversy around Israel in 2011 when writers at its ThinkProgress blog wrote about AIPAC pushing for a war with Iran and tweeted about “Israel firsters,” a term widely seen as carrying anti-Semitic undertones. The authors have since apologized.

IPF left CAP in late 2011, and its attempts to reposition itself as the responsible voice representing the broad American Jewish mainstream has been led by Jewish notables including Birthright co-founder Charles Bronfman and Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt.

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