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Israel’s Settlement Building Stands in the Way of Peace in the View of Many Jewish Observers

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
April 2013

Recent developments in the Middle East — the vote by the U.N. to upgrade Palestine to a nonmember observer state, and Israel’s decision to continue its plans for a surge of settlement building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank — is leading to the view, on the part of more and more American Jewish observers, that it is Israel which stands in the way of Middle East peace.  
In a column headlined “Which Side Now Stands in the Way of Peace?,” J.J. Goldberg, writing in The Forward (Dec. 7, 2012) states: “Just when the Palestinians are putting their best face forward, asking for international certification of their desire to live peacefully alongside Israel, Israel’s political system adopts a blueprint for government … that seemingly has nothing to offer the Palestinians but the back of a fist … The biggest mystery of all this is what Netanyahu actually wants. He’s on record accepting the principle of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. If he means it, the U.N. resolution should be welcome news. Practically speaking, it does nothing more than ratify the principle of statehood and set the table for negotiating the details. … Although he embraced the two-state idea in 2009, his government never endorsed it. His Likud party openly opposed it … He’s never tried to win approval from the government or the party. Critics question whether he ever really meant it.”  
The reaction to Israel’s settlement plans by American Jews has shown the growing division of opinion. Rahm Emanuel, mayor of Chicago and formerly President Obama’s chief of staff, accused Prime Minister Netanyahu of betraying America’s friendship. Leonard Fein, a Reform Jewish leader and columnist for The Forward (Dec. 12, 2012) argues that the settlement plan shows Prime Minister Netanyahu’s utter contempt for any two state solution that allows for a viable Palestinian state. It remains the case, the lamentable case, that (President Mahmoud) Abbas has no serious partner for peace.  
Editorially, The Forward declares: “Netanyahu has alienated some of Israel’s allies in Europe and rudely snubbed the closest ally of all, the United States, just after this nation fought a brave diplomatic battle in the U.N. on Israel’s behalf. The declaration to unilaterally build in the E-1 does not hold up to scrutiny … what did Mahatma Gandhi once say? An eye for an eye leaves the world blind. And he wasn’t even acquainted with today’s Middle East.”  
A resolution adopted by the Union for Reform Judaism in December states that the Israeli settlement decision “makes progress toward peace far more challenging, and is difficult to reconcile with the Government of Israel’s stated commitment to a two-state solution.”  
Jewish voices throughout the world are being heard in criticism of Israel’s settlement policy and treatment of Palestinians. Rabbi Michael Melchior, who was Israel’s deputy foreign minister and spent ten years as a Knesset member and is now Chief Rabbi of Norway and leads a synagogue in Jerusalem, declared that, “Peace is a Jewish value. The occupation is not just, is not moral, and is not Judaism.”  
Rabbi Melchior laments that, “Over the past 40 years, the Torah, Judaism, Zionism, and at times even God Himself have been hijacked both in Israel and around the world, both by friends and foes, by religious Jews and evangelical Christians … I believe that those who have created priorities where love of the land supersedes love of man and of peace are distorting the Torah. I believe that those who censor the Torah of such concepts as the natural morality of man, as the belief that God has created, every human being in His image, and as the basic human right to respect and dignity which stems from this belief, are desecrating the Holy name of God.” •

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