Use Humanitarian Aid to Bring Parties Back to the Table



The recent Hamas election victory that secured the majority of seats in the Palestinian legislature poses a dilemma for the supporters of Israel. Hamas is committed in its charter to the destruction of Israel and to acts of violence, yet it is the legitimate government of the Palestinian Authority.

We are committed to a safe and secure Israeli state, and we want to live in peace with our neighbor. How then do we treat Hamas? This has to be determined by the outcome we wish to achieve.

The outcome desired by the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians is clear.

According to a study conducted by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2005), 66 percent of the Israelis support a mutual recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and Palestine as the state of the Palestinian people after the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and the settlement of all issues in dispute.

A poll conducted two days after the Palestinian Parliamentary elections by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed that 84 percent of Palestinians (including 77 percent of Hamas voters) support a peace agreement with Israel; 73 percentage said Hamas should change its position on the elimination of the State of Israel.

The great majority of American Jews agree.

A poll conducted by Zogby International in 2004 showed that 85 percent of American Jews support the "right of the Jewish people to statehood and the right of the Palestinian people to statehood." In the same poll, 75 percent believed the United States should push both sides to move toward a peace agreement, even in the face of objections from Israel or the Palestinians."

Acting Prime Minster Ehud Olmert has declared that if elected, he'll move toward ending the occupation, and creating secure and permanent borders for Israel. The result of that policy will be a two-state solution. That will leave us with some questions:

• Is it better to bring this two-state solution about through negotiations or unilaterally?

• Is it better for Israel to have an economically healthy state for a neighbor, where people have jobs, housing, basic services and an investment in their prosperity, or is it better to have a neighbor that is impoverished, with high unemployment and a population with no hope, and a great deal of anger and resentment?

It is how we answer these two questions that will guide us on how to treat Hamas. More than 400 American rabbis from across the country and the denominational spectrum, including 34 from the Philadelphia area, have answered these questions in a March 3 letter to President Bush.

It calls for "promoting constructive engagement with moderate Palestinians, and continued humanitarian aid as the best way to preserve the future possibility of bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table, which is the only path to achieve true peace and security for both peoples."

It specifically addresses the need for sustained humanitarian aid for the pressing needs of the Palestinian population as a tangible means to try to mitigate the radicalization of the Palestinian population. Deterioration of their plight only increases support for extremism, which, in turn, endangers Israel.

Additionally, the letter recommends that the administration take steps to engage – and thereby, bolster – moderates within Palestinian society and government.

Cutting ties with moderates in the Palestinian leadership will undermine, if not make obsolete, in Palestinian eyes the principles they espouse.

The administration clearly wants to continue sending humanitarian aid to nongovernmental organizations that provide for the Palestinian people. There is a bill in Congress supported by AIPAC and others that would severely limit this aid, in addition to the ability to talk to Hamas even if they moderate their positions.

The Israeli government has called on these lobbyists to soften their rhetoric. The rabbis who signed the March 3 letter agree. They are concerned that H.R. 4681 – the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006 – would curtail their flexibility in their approach with the P.A. It is important for American Jews who care about the peace and security of Israel to call their representatives and tell them to vote against this bill.


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