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I’m writing today from Jerusalem where I'm with a delegation of Members of Congress and J Street leaders on a weeklong mission to Israel and the West Bank. As the midnight deadline loomed for Prime Minister Netanyahu to form a government, we spent the day at the Knesset.
With little time to spare, the Prime Minister reached the last deal he needed to form a narrow 61-seat coalition with Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party – the farthest right party in the Knesset and the party most closely associated with the settler movement.
The result is a government of the far right, whose policies and vision for Israel’s future are diametrically opposed to the vision of what many of us in the American Jewish community and in Israel believe is necessary to ensure Israel’s security and its democratic and Jewish future.
The coalition agreements signed by the Prime Minister and his partners set a course that will likely undermine core pillars of Israel’s democracy, the independence of its Supreme Court, as well as efforts to better integrate the ultra-orthodox into the workforce and into the army.
All signs point to a government that will be committed to unbridled expansion of settlements over the Green Line and throughout the West Bank, creating further obstacles to a two-state solution and an end to the conflict with the Palestinians.
As the Times of Israel wrote, the extreme settler Jewish Home Party “will control the Settlement Division, an agency currently under the Prime Minister’s Office that is responsible for planning and building in West Bank settlements; and the deputy defense minister will control the IDF’s civil administration that administers civilian life in the West Bank. The nationalist-religious settler movement would effectively gain control of all the institutions that affect its public life.”
Despite the ideological alignment, the coalition will be fractious and unstable. Any single Knesset member in the coalition will be able to bring down the government.
The stage is also set for confrontation between this government and an international community that has lost patience with an occupation, which has gone on for 48 years without an end in sight.
The Obama administration should reaffirm its statements following the election that an Israeli government that abandons the two-state solution would be acting directly against Israeli and US interests.
The United States should join with allies in putting together a detailed framework for peace with timelines to present to the United Nations Security Council.
It should withhold its veto if a balanced UN Security Council resolution is brought forward that includes criticism of Israeli government policies, which abandon long-standing commitments to a two-state solution and run counter to international law.
The American Jewish community and its major organizations should also stand up and be heard. Many of even the most established leaders and organizations have deep reservations about the direction this government may take Israel, yet they have suppressed those criticisms for fear of fueling broader anti-Israel sentiment building globally.
But such self-censorship and blind boosterism isn’t helping the country we all love. If the Israeli public doesn’t hear from the American Jewish community that the direction this government is likely to lead will damage its long-term security and its international standing, then we aren’t doing our duty as friends and family.
J Street was formed seven years to support the view that being pro-Israel means standing up for a better Israel, not blindly endorsing any and every policy that the Israeli government adopts. Never has that role been as important as now.
We stand ready to offer a way to support Israel based on the Jewish and democratic values we were raised to believe in. J Street will back the US administration in putting weight behind its stated opposition to settlements and in playing a constructive role in shaping a UN resolution that is consistent with longstanding US policy and internationally accepted parameters on which a two-state solution would be achieved. The United States has both significant influence and responsibility when it comes to Israel’s security. It is J Street’s job to make sure the US uses its sway to ensure the viability and ultimate achievement of a two-state solution.
We will stand up for a healthy US-Israel relationship based on shared values and a vision of a just peace with the Palestinians. And – in our drive to promote a change of course – we will seek out allies and like-minded folk of goodwill both in Israel and in America.
Returning from the Knesset today, I look forward to hearing from the many dozens of friends and allies taking their seats in the new parliament who, unlike the coalition, share this view and plan to chart a different course and better future for the state of Israel.
P.S.- Speaking out against the actions of Israel's new far-right government isn't enough. In the months ahead, we're going to need to be louder than ever, speaking out for the Israel we believe in: a homeland for the Jewish people, alongside a homeland for the Palestinians. Can we count on your support? Donate $36 now, and make sure that our pro-Israel, pro-peace voices will be heard.
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