Friday, December 14, 2007

Will the US Step Up?

With thanks to correspondent friend, Don De Young, this piece from the Israeli group, Brit Tzedek, and yours truly, JRK

Largest National Jewish Peace Group Welcomes First Post-Annapolis Peace Talks

Brit Tzedek Calls on U.S. to Move Process Forward, Oppose Actions that Undermine Peace, and Support an Israel-Hamas Ceasefire

CHICAGO - Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the country’s largest Jewish grassroots peace movement, welcomed the peace talks yesterday in Jerusalem between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, which marked the first direct, high level Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations in seven years.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met Wednesday to begin talks aimed at reaching a peace agreement by the end of 2008. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas set the target at last month's Mideast peace conference in Annapolis, Md. The negotiations yesterday were led by Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and PA negotiator Ahmed Qureia.

Despite the symbolic significance of this meeting, reports note that little progress was made as Qassam rockets fell on southern Israel yesterday, a day after the IDF raid in Gaza, and a week after Israel announced plans for settlement construction in Har Homa. “The events of the past weeks, which have so clearly created obstacles to re-launching peace talks, underscore the critical need for sustained and active U.S. engagement to ensure that both sides abide by their commitments under the Roadmap and avoid taking actions that undermine the peace process,” said Brit Tzedek president Steve Masters.

Late last week, news reports revealed controversial Israeli government plans to build 300 new homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Har Homa, a settlement built ten years ago as a deliberate provocation to disrupt the progress of peace talks. Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai, the head of the Civil Administration, announced on Tuesday that at present there are hundreds, even thousands, of planned housing units in the West Bank that have building permits and do not need any further government approval before their construction can begin.
“Only two weeks have passed since Prime Minister Olmert pledged to freeze settlement expansion and to negotiate an agreement embracing all of the core issues, including the future of Jerusalem. In light of these solemn commitments, Israel’s plans to expand an East Jerusalem settlement are a slap in the face to the United States and the Palestinian Authority,” said Masters.

“Instead of announcing plans to dismantle an illegal outpost, Israel’s decision to expand its settlement of Har Homa gives ammunition to Palestinian extremist rhetoric that Israel’s true intent is to humiliate President Abbas.”

Brit Tzedek praised U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s strong criticism of the plan to increase settlements. “We are encouraged by Secretary Rice’s principled objection to Israel’s settlement construction plans in East Jerusalem as a sign that the U.S. will remain vigilant in opposing all actions that undermine the Annapolis peace process,” said Masters.

Brit Tzedek also expressed outrage at the firing of 353 missiles and 554 mortar bombs from Gaza at Sderot and the western Negev since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in mid-June. The firing of over fifteen Qassam missiles just before the talks began precipitated threats from Israeli officials to invade Gaza on the heels of an IDF raid there yesterday during which eight Palestinian militants were killed and many others wounded.

On one promising note, Ahmed Youssef, a senior political advisor to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, this past week wrote an open letter expressing a desire for dialogue based upon Hamas’ previous offers of a hudna, or long-term ceasefire, with Israel.

“Clearly, the constant barrage of missiles from the Hamas controlled Gaza Strip must be urgently addressed. Yet a heavy military invasion of Gaza by Israel risks a serious escalation of violence that threatens both Palestinian and Israelis lives,” stated Masters. “In order to stop further Qassam rocket attacks on southern Israel and to avoid a full scale military invasion into Gaza, the U.S. should take this opportunity to encourage Israel to reach a ceasefire with Hamas, whether through back-channel talks, a neutral third party, or other means of indirect diplomacy.”

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, is a national grassroots organization more than 37,000 strong, that educates and mobilizes American Jews in support of a negotiated two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom,
The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205Fax: (312) 341-1206