Rep. Keith Ellison: The Quiet Triumph of Diplomacy

The Quiet Triumph of Diplomacy

Rep. Keith Ellison

Co-chair, Congressional Progressive Caucus; U.S. Representative for Minnesota’s 5th District

I just returned from the Holy Land — Israel and Palestine — where I met with a diverse group of elected officials, civic advocates, and residents. The thing that struck me most was what was not said: I didn’t hear a word about Iran. That’s the quiet triumph of diplomacy.

I met with dozens of people, and nobody mentioned anything about centrifuges or reactors or imminent nuclear capability. Nothing about existential threats. I can’t count how many times I, and many Members of Congress, were urgently and passionately informed that negotiations with the Iranian menace was wishful thinking and the height of folly. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu even graced the United States Congress with his presence at the invitation of Speak John Boehner — and to the surprise of President Obama — to undermine the President’s efforts at diplomacy.

And now? Nothing.

This proves something: diplomacy works and it’s worth fighting for. Those of us who stood behind the President and defended our negotiations with Iran were under a ton of pressure to back down. Our common sense and our commitment to America’s ally, Israel, were questioned. We stood firm and it was worth it. So far, we have been proven right.

I don’t blame the Israeli Prime Minister for his concerns. As the world knows, the Jewish people barely survived genocide. My visit to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, was a sobering reminder of how essential Israel’s security is. I can understand the fear. But higher walls, more arms, and curtailing people’s rights will not lead Israel to security. Diplomacy is a better path. And it’s the only approach that can truly keep all parties secure.

It’s time to take another chance on diplomacy, to give it another opportunity to triumph. This time in the Holy Land.

Congressmen John Yarmouth and David Price are leading a resolution urging President Obama to bring Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. Inking a deal would allow Israel to experience a heightened level of security and would grant Palestinians a sovereign nation with the rights and obligations that entails.

Fourteen years ago, King Abdullah of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia offered the Arab Peace Initiative, which would have granted Israel full recognition by Arab states in exchange for a return to 1967 borders with agreed upon swaps. Recently both Prime Minister Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, no shrinking violet, acknowledged their willingness to discuss that same plan.

But the two-state solution needs action, not lip service. And Netanyahu’s government isn’t acting like it wants two states. The governing coalition has refused to meet the meaningful demands of the Labor Party which would move them towards a two-state solution. They’ve joined with Yisrael Beiteinu, an anti-two state party, appointed Avigdor Lieberman Minister of Defense, and looked the other way when Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said there will be no Palestinian state. And they’ve authorized new settlement construction in East Jerusalem.

Soon a number of key nations will meet again in France to try to move the peace process forward. This is not just a question for Israelis and Palestinians; it’s the world’s business. And the world is ready. On November 29, 2012, the United Nations General Assembly voted 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, to give Palestine ‘Non-Member Observer State’ status — a recognition of statehood.

Past American presidents have acted boldly to push the parties toward a resolution. President Ronald Reagan recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization. President George H.W. Bush conditioned aid to Israel on the freezing of settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip. President George Bush called for a Palestinian State and laid out a road map to get there.

As stabbings spike and the world waits on the fourth Hamas-Israel war in eight years, we need our President to take decisive action again.

President Obama needs to set forth parameters for a peace settlement and instruct Ambassador Samantha Power not to veto plans for peace in the United Nations Security Council. He needs to make it clear to the Israelis, the Palestinians, and the rest of the world that the United States can help make peace — and that peace is worth fighting for.

I dream of visiting a Holy Land where Israelis fear nothing, and Palestinians are building an inclusive democratic society. I imagine meeting with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders without the “conflict” coming up in conversation. We will talk about water, education, and all the challenges of governance.

And we’ll note another quiet triumph of diplomacy.

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