Arab-Jewish cooperation in U.S. could send a powerful signal

Last week, the Arab American Institute (AAI) and Americans for Peace Now (APN) released a joint public opinion poll of Jewish and Arab Americans’ attitudes toward Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Roughly 87 percent of Jewish Americans and 97 percent of Arab Americans surveyed agreed that Israelis and Palestinians alike have the right to live in secure and independent states. When polled about the likely details of such a two-state solution, including the evacuation of most Israeli settlements from the West Bank and Gaza, implementation of a right of return for Palestinian refugees to the new Palestinian state, and sharing Jerusalem as the capital of both states, support remained high with 52 percent of Jewish Americans and 79 percent of Arab Americans favoring such a compromise.

In addition to revealing that our two communities are more moderate and less fanatic on Middle East-related issues than people are often led to believe, the survey results also send a clear message to our decision-makers that Jewish and Arab Americans want to see the United States follow policies that will encourage the Israeli-Palestinian peace process rather than detract from it. The results also raise some key questions that must be addressed both among and between the Jewish and Arab communities in this country.

First, if Jewish Americans overwhelmingly support the establishment of a Palestinian state and a majority of them say they would support the terms of a just and lasting peace, then why is the Jewish American establishment pursuing an anti-peace agenda? For the past two years, as Palestinians have fought for their right to live in an independent state free of a foreign military occupation, the overtly racist, anti-Palestinian rhetoric of these organizations has become even more shrill.

Instead of supporting steps toward peace, the Jewish American establishment, headed by the America Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Council of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, has actively sought to punish the Palestinian Authority through Congressional legislation designed to limit its ability to engage in diplomacy, as well as through attempts to suspend U.S. and U.N. humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people. This fundamental disconnect between the leadership of the Jewish American community and its grassroots demonstrates how this establishment is less interested in being representative than it is in advancing actions that demonize and hurt Palestinians.

Second, if both Arab and Jewish Americans seem to agree on the path toward a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, then why is there so little cooperation between the organizations charged with representing our respective communities? Although the teamwork between AAI and APN that brought about this survey is commendable, unfortunately it represents an exception rather than the rule. Both Jewish and Arab organizations, along with the grassroots of both communities, need to make a redoubled effort to work together and send a powerful message to both our decision-makers in the United States and to Israelis and Palestinians that peaceful co-existence is possible based on mutual respect and acknowledgment of full and equal rights.

Third, if there is indeed so much convergence of views on Middle East peace between our two communities, then why are the interests of Jewish and Arab Americans often portrayed as being inexorably at odds? This misconception often leads decision-makers into the dangerous trap of believing that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is a zero-sum game in which the positions they adopt will necessarily alienate one or the other community. Most politicians are under the false impression that in order not to upset their Jewish American constituents, they have to adopt a blatantly one-sided position that strictly aligns U.S. foreign policy with Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian people. The AAI-APN poll shows the falsity of thinking in zero-sum terms and should signal to politicians that they can support a balanced foreign policy é which caters to the needs and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians é and still enjoy the support of both their Jewish and Arab constituents.

Fourth, if Arab and Jewish Americans are supportive of a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, then which special interests are responsible for preventing the United States from adopting a balanced foreign policy toward the conflict? As it stands today, U.S. foreign policy unconditionally supports Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians economically, diplomatically, and militarily. Not only is the Jewish American establishment advocating for the continuation of this injustice, but they are backed by the fundamentalist Christian Zionist lobby and the arms industry, each of which have ulterior motives in supporting policies that have nothing to do with the well-being of either Israelis or Palestinians.

It is time for politicians in this country to cast aside the special interests and listen to the grassroots of their Arab and Jewish constituencies, along with the vast majority of all Americans who want to see a lasting peace finally take hold in the Middle East. When this happens, we will have an example of a healthy, functioning, representative democracy combined with a morally sound foreign policy.

Josh Ruebner is co-founder of Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel (JPPI). Rania Awwad is Washington, D.C. Regional Coordinator for Palestine Media Watch.