US Jews urge Israel to take ‘confidence-building steps’ for talks

Citing Obama’s March trip to Israel, 100 prominent US Jewish leaders call on Benjamin Netanyahu to ‘demonstrate commitment’ to peace

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meet in Jerusalem in 2010 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meet in Jerusalem in 2010 (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO/Flash90)

NEW YORK – A group of influential American Jews delivered a letter to Benjamin Netanyahu’s office on Wednesday urging Israel’s prime minister to take “confidence building steps” that might encourage peace talks with the Palestinians.

“We believe that this is a compelling moment for you and your new government to respond to President [Barack] Obama’s call for peace by taking concrete confidence building steps designed to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to a ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” read the open letter, which had over 100 signatories by Wednesday.

The missive came several days before US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to return to the region in to bolster efforts to restart peace negotiations between the sides.

“Your leadership would challenge Palestinian leaders to take similarly constructive steps, including, most importantly, a prompt return to the negotiating table,” the letter explained. “We urge you, in particular, to work closely with Secretary of State John Kerry to devise pragmatic initiatives, consistent with Israel’s security needs, which would represent Israel’s readiness to make painful territorial sacrifices for the sake of peace.”

Though the letter was sponsored by the left-leaning Israel Policy Forum, the list of signatories includes names from a relatively wide spectrum of American Jewish opinion, including former senior Defense Department official Dov Zakheim, former AIPAC executive director Tom Dine, well-known philanthropists S. Daniel Abraham, Charles Bronfman, Lester Crown and Stanley Gold, Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, former Union of Reform Judaism president Rabbi Eric Yoffie and current URJ president Rabbi Rick Jacobs, Hebrew Union College president Rabbi David Ellenson, leaders from the Jewish organizational world, and others.

High-level talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen since 2010, at the tail end of a 10-month settlement building moratorium. Ramallah demands settlement construction must cease before they will return to the negotiation table, while Israel has called for talks without preconditions.

During his visit last month, Obama called for the Palestinians to drop their demands, but Kerry’s trip may include efforts to coax Israel into making a number of concessions in exchange for security guarantees. The concessions may include another settlement freeze, the agreement to the 1967 lines as a starting point for talks and the release of Palestinian prisoners.

In the letter, the Jewish leaders struck a complimentary tone toward Netanyahu and backed Obama’s assertion in a speech delivered in Jerusalem that “so long as there is a United States of America, Ah-tem lo le-vad [You are not alone].”

“[We join] President Obama in expressing our steadfast support for your efforts to ensure Israel’s future as the secure and democratic nation state of the Jewish people,” the letter read.

The leaders also complimented Netanyahu for the “rapprochement with Turkey,” which they said was “achieved in great measure due to your leadership.”

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