Just a few months ago, I was in the Israeli city of Be’er Sheva sipping mint tea in my cousin’s living room, which happens to be situated unnervingly close to his bomb shelter. I began to play with his baby daughter, Zohar. She kicked a ball straight into the shelter. I walked in reluctantly, feeling an eerie shiver at being surrounded by its cold, concrete walls. I was well aware that my playmate and her family had taken refuge in the shelter earlier this year as rockets flew toward them from the Gaza Strip.
It terrified me to hear my cousin recall that time. He explained how he had made a desperate trip to the grocery store, only to be caught in the middle of a rocket attack. Unable to find a nearby shelter, he was worried sick about his wife and daughter back at the apartment. Upon hearing his story, I asked myself, “What can I do to fix this?”
Many Israeli and American leaders believe that only a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can help negate the need for bomb shelters in the region and help residents feel safe in their own homes, and I agree. Now is the time to reach a peace agreement.
The peace talks that Secretary of State John Kerry has initiated are the first in a long time to have a real shot at success. The Palestinian leadership, led by Chairman of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, is proving to be and has been called by Israeli and American leaders a genuine partner for peace. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has renewed his commitment to a two-state solution, and Secretary Kerry has invested tremendous political capital in bringing Israeli and Palestinian leaders back into negotiations to reach a two-state solution.
But my cousin has no faith in the peace process. I love him dearly, but his resistance to this much-needed change saddens me. His pessimism only perpetuates the status quo, which allows my baby cousin to grow up under rocket fire while Palestinian children grow up under occupation. Changing the status quo and making the tough compromises for peace will be scary, especially to those who live under the reality of violence from extremist Palestinians. But the fact is that the occupation threatens Israel’s safe and democratic future.
It will be challenging to bring an end to the occupation while ensuring the security of both Israel and a Palestinian state. But it is not impossible. And, more to the point, it is necessary. After suffering through decades of violence and terror, both sides deserve to live in their own safe and secure states.
Some politicians have used security concerns as a reason to avoid committing to a two-state solution. But all former living heads of Israel’s internal security service, the Shin Bet, have made clear that a two-state solution is absolutely fundamental to ensuring Israel’s security. The occupation only pushes Palestinians to support terrorist groups like Hamas and encourages hatred and violence toward Israel.
If a peace agreement is not reached soon, there will be clear consequences for Israel’s security. Failed talks will strengthen Hamas, the moderate Palestinian Authority’s chief rival, which recently called for yet another Palestinian uprising.
Israeli and Palestinian leaders need to make tough compromises, especially on the issue of security. Current negotiators have already proven their willingness to do so. Mahmoud Abbas has publicly supported a demilitarized Palestine. Just as importantly, the entire Arab League has promised security guarantees to the whole region if Israel withdraws to its pre-1967 borders in addition to some land swaps.
Unfortunately, the two parties have proven their inability to solve this conflict on their own. American leadership is desperately needed to support both groups as they make the necessary compromises for long-term security and regional peace. As American college students, we must prove our commitment to strong American diplomacy in the region. The United States is in a unique position to bridge the gap between the two parties and to help ensure security for both peoples.
If you share my concern and my desire to help affect change, learn about the realities on the ground and the compromises necessary for peace. Let your political leaders know that you stand behind strong U.S. leadership to help the parties reach a two-state deal that will bring peace, human rights, and security to both Israelis and Palestinians.
We have a valuable opportunity to advocate for positive change in this region. It is not a time for complacency. At this crucial moment, if you care about peace and security for the next generation of Israeli and Palestinian youth, ask the same question I struggled to answer in my cousin’s bomb shelter: “What can I do to fix this?”
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