St. Louis Jews doubt Trump peace plan will succeed

Rabbi Daniel Bogard

President Donald Trump released his long-awaited Middle East peace plan last week alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

The proposal, like previous U.S. plans on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calls for a two-state solution but differs from previous ones in that it provides a specific map for the borders of the two states and would allow Israel to incorporate Jewish settlements officially as part of the country’s territory, rather than uproot some Jews who live in the West Bank. Palestinians would also be allowed to remain in their homes and have their own system of government but Israel would maintain security control over them. 

No Palestinian officials participated in peace talks or attended the announcement in Washington after relations between the Palestinian Authority and the United States broke down following Trump’s declaration that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there. 

Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, said of the peace plan announcement, “After the nonsense that we heard today, we say a thousand no’s to the Deal of the Century,” as Trump described it. 

Meanwhile, Netanyahu, who has been indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust and faces his third election in the last year, said following the announcement that he would immediately take steps to annex territory along the Jordan Valley containing 150 settlements. 

American Jewish and Israel advocacy groups offered a range of responses to the peace plan. The Light asked local Jewish leaders and community members for their takes on the proposal. Those surveyed criticized different people or groups, but there was a common sense that the plan is unlikely to actually achieve peace.

Rabbi Daniel Bogard, Central Reform Congregation, member of J Street, left-leaning Israel advocacy group: “The Trump administration has overtly positioned themselves as being on the Israeli government’s side — and I don’t think that’s in the best interest of Israel — as opposed to being on the side of advocating for a two-state solution. I tend to think that’s problematic; I think it gives license to some of the worst instincts to some of Israel’s worst leaders.

“I’m deeply scared that with the help of particular right-wing American and particular right-wing Jewish American support, we will see or have seen the end of the possibility of two states for two peoples.”  

Jonathan Mack, Washington University sophomore majoring in Middle Eastern studies and healthcare management, attends Chabad on Campus: 

“It’s not so much different than the last three peace deals that have been offered. The unfortunate reality is that the conversation isn’t about what areas of Judea and Samaria, (the biblical name of the West Bank) and the Gaza strip that the Palestinians want to become a future Palestinian state. What’s pretty clear is that at least the Palestinian leadership is only interested in a state of Palestine that takes up the entire borders of the state of Israel and a state that is completely Judenrein,” referring to the Nazi term meaning clean of Jews. 

Dr. Laura Goldmeier, retired OB-GYN, president of nonprofit Shaving Israel, chair of the social action committee at Congregation B’nai Amoona:

“Given that we’ve been trying to reach a peace agreement for many years, I don’t see any change as to whether peace is closer or further away. I think what needs to change for peace to occur is the Palestinian side needs to stop incitement, stop terror and stop the pervasive Jew-hatred that goes on throughout their society. I think otherwise there is not going to be any peace between Israel and Palestine, and I don’t see any signs of that changing.” 

 

Brian Herstig, president and CEO of Jewish Federation of St. Louis: 

“This is another step in an already long process that has seen many starts and stops. I look forward to watching developments and will look to leaders among our Jewish institutions, like AJC, JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council) and others who will be following along with us as we all support the lives of Jews everywhere.”

Michael Berkowitz, Washington University senior majoring in political science, J Street U board member, attends Chabad on Campus:

“When I first saw the plan, it was more or less what I expected, but it was still pretty devastating. I think it’s pretty obvious for those of us who were paying attention that this was never a deal made in good faith. 

“Palestinians were never consulted in the deal and it really seems more like a front for annexation.

“For most of us, there is a sense that annexation really would make a meaningful Democratic Israel impossible and that’s what a lot of us really care about. 

“I think what really troubles me about annexation, about the possibility of making these settlements permanent, is that even if people make the argument that (the Palestinians would not accept any deal) I don’t understand why we insist on making it worse? Why build more settlements? Why demolish Palestinian villages?”

Nancy Lisker, regional director of AJC St. Louis: “AJC welcomed the effort after years of inaction, but we are urging the two sides to go back to face-to-face negotiations as that is the only way to achieve long lasting peace. The fact that both major political parties in Israel support the plan says something about a broad Israeli support for the initiative.”

“The presence during the announcement of [Gulf] nations like Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates — as well as statements in support from nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia would have been unthinkable a few years ago. The people in the region yearn for peace. Nobody should expect an easy negotiation but you’ve got to start by sitting down and talking to each other. Neither side is expected to accept every element of the plan, big concessions will have to be made by both sides.  However, the repeated rejection by the Palestinian leadership of every peace plan over decades has only weakened their negotiation position and the lives of the Palestinian people who deserve better from their leaders.”