Why choose right now to urge putting half the present US military aid to Israel in escrow, to be paid out starting after the Israeli government ends the blockade of civilian goods from entering Gaza , and to be paid for resettling settlers in decent homes and neighborhoods inside Israel proper?
The proposal also calls for strong insistence by the US for a full peace treaty between Israel and Arab states, guaranteeing Israel's security.
(See the proposal in the "Bold Action" essay on our Home Page.)
A few weeks ago, on the national TV news show "Democracy Now," I vigorously opposed – on ethical and practical grounds -- a program of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions aimed against the whole of Israeli society. I argued it was unethical to target Israel only, and even worse, to demonize Israeli society by targeting all aspects of it. And I argued that in practical terms, the real change had to come in US policy, not private boycotts.
But I can tell you this: If every effort fails to get the US government to act boldly with economic and diplomatic power to insist on a two-state/ regional peace, the Palestinians will suffer even worse, and the BDS movement and its tendency to demonize Israel will grow enormously.
And Prime Minister Netanyahu is acting exactly in ways to make this scenario unfold. He acts like the Pharaoh of the Exodus story. Not only is he tormenting and oppressing a people he considers "foreign," but he is deliberately not just thumbing his nose but giving the finger to Israel's closest friend and ally, the United States.
Like Pharaoh, he is addicted to his own power, his own arrogance, and his own stubbornness. When rebuked by the highest levels of the US government, he nevertheless proclaims again that there will be no let-up in settling Israelis in East Jerusalem.
Let us be clear: It will not be possible to achieve a viable and peaceful Palestinian state unless it includes East Jerusalem. A make-believe Palestine shorn of East Jerusalem would be culturally, economically, and politically crippled. Its citizens would reject this status, and would constantly foment violence against Israel and its allies, including the United States. And Mr. Netanyahu knows that.
At the AIPAC convention this week he insisted that -- -- since King David 3000 years ago made a tiny part of what is now Jerusalem his capital -- the whole balloon-inflated area now called Jerusalem is permanently and irrevocably part of Israel. That argument is false, stupid, and vicious.
Far wiser were the rabbis of two thousand years ago who parsed the name of the city, "Yirushalayim," this way: Abraham, they said, had named it (after almost turning his son into a burnt offering but being allowed by God to see a ram as a substitute) the Mount of Seeing, Yireh (Gen 22:14).
Meanwhile, there was a Canaanite king named Malki-Tzdek ("my king is Justice") who was a priest of God Most High and with bread and wine blessed Abraham. (Gen 14:18). The city of which he was king was called "Shalem" ("wholeness") and according to tradition, it was at the same place as Abraham's Mount of Seeing.
So, said the rabbis, God and the people did not want to insult either great teacher by abolishing the name he had given the place. Both traditions, both communities, must be affirmed there. So they named it Yiru-shalayim, affirming both names.
Today the city called "Jerusalem" is in truth two cities. East Jerusalem is in fact a Palestinian city. The only way to break that truth is to evict Palestinians, wreck their homes, and import Israelis to make new "Jewish" neighborhoods.
That is what Netanyahu is doing. And (like Pharaoh bringing down plagues on his own country) he is perfectly willing to bring down on Israel the plagues of hostility from even its closest ally, and to ignore the values and wishes of even the American Jewish community.
Perhaps he was drawn into this posture by the reaction of President Obama and his Administration last year, when they called for a total settlement freeze, were refused, and merely whimpered.
But the US and all Americans have a vital interest of our own in making sure that a real and peaceful Palestine emerges alongside Israel, and that all the Arab states also enter a peace agreement that makes Israel secure.
Of all people, General David Petraeus has joined those liberals and progressives who have been saying for years that the willingness of the US to backstop the Israeli government's occupation of the West Bank was a major cause of rage against the US, and a major element in recruitment of anti-American terrorists.
At last, the Obama Administration seems to be stiffening its backbone. Perhaps they learned a lesson from the near-debacle of the health-care bill.
The escrow proposal says three utterly clear things:
1. The US remains deeply committed to support and protect Israel -- the country, the society, the culture, the people, the state. In fact, it will actually commit to helping Israel with money for Israel – build peaceful homes for settlers at home -- to do what the US has been urging.
2. The US utterly rejects the policy of Israeli domination and oppression of another people.
3. The US will gladly give its money to support building homes and neighborhoods for Israelis in Israel, but not the robbery of Palestinian homes and neighborhoods, food and fuel, and of the only land on which a Palestinian state can be created.
Why raise this issue NOW? Because if Netanyahu gets his way, he will make it impossible for there to be a two-state peace – and he is very close.
Will the Israelis be so outraged by this US effort that they will stiffen in support of Netanyahu? Till now they have let him do what he wants. But if they are offered the carrot of money to resettle the settlers, plus the carrot of a peace treaty from all the Arab states, plus the carrot of continued US friendship, plus the "stick"of military aid suspended, there is a greater likelihood they will want to join the effort to make peace.
Why put half the military aid in escrow, rather than all of it? Because the fear-ridden Israeli public might support its arrogant government in a reckless military adventure if they were feeling "abandoned" and thought they must act “with nothing to lose” and "before it would be too late."
So the shock of halving military aid might bring the Israeli government and people to its senses, while reassuring them they had not been abandoned.
Can American Jews, Christians, and Muslims build coalitions around this call for "Bold Action" by the US government?
The outcome is not solely in Netanyahu's hands, nor in Obama's. It is in our own.
Shalom, salaam, peace -- Arthur (Rabbi Arthur Waskow)