*This op-ed ran in Haaretz on July 7, 2022. Read the original HERE.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaking on Wednesday. Image source: Haaretz.
On this visit, my first as President of the United States, I look around and I am deeply gratified to see a strong, creative, prosperous country. I see an entrepreneurial culture, a world leader in technology, with a powerful military and a thriving economy.
I have always been, as most Americans are, staunchly committed to the vision of Israel as a liberal democracy and as the national home of the Jewish people.
My friends, I have always been known in the United States as a no-nonsense guy. I call things as I see them. I was told that there is an expression for that in Hebrew: to talk tachles.
Well, let’s talk tachles.
Tachles, it has been 55 years since Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip. More than 90 percent of the Palestinians in those territories have been born into Israel’s occupation. For two generations, Israel has been ruling over another people, denying them the most basic freedoms, and not providing them with a horizon of hope for freedom and independence.
What was supposed to be a temporary anomaly has been normalized in the eyes of most Israelis, tolerated and perpetuated by policies of successive Israeli governments. This is the painful truth.
Tachles, my friends, my administration concurs with the international consensus that this must end. It must end for the benefit of both peoples who live between the River and the Sea, for Israelis and Palestinians.
You know as well as I do that the occupation must end. And my administration is determined to do what it can to help bring about that end.
While we know that the occupation will end as a result of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, we are not willing to sit back endlessly and let such peace talks become a hollow aspiration. We will strive to lead toward them. We will work to pave the road to peace. We have the tools to do so, and we will use them.
Tachles, what does that mean? Well, first and foremost, it means that we demand that the government of Israel – any government – stop the construction of settlements in the West Bank. Settlements are illegitimate. They are the chief physical obstacle to peace. They perpetuate the occupation and create constant tension on the ground. Settlements – most of them, at least – will have to go when an Israeli-Palestinian accord is signed.
Settlement construction is an intentional act that Israeli governments use to create facts on the ground that would hinder a peace agreement and sabotage peace. For a peace agreement to be achieved, the settlement enterprise must be reversed. And before it is reversed, it must be stopped.
To encourage the government of Israel to end settlement construction, my administration will reestablish the practice introduced by past administrations, of offsetting the cost of settlement construction from the aid package we provide to Israel. Our aid is intended to enhance Israel’s security. Settlements hinder security.
To pave the road for a two-state solution, my administration will invest in helping the Palestinian Authority, the transitional caretaker body pending independence, lay the foundation for statehood. This assistance will be not only financial, as we have done in the past, but also diplomatic. We expect the government of Israel to accommodate and participate in this effort and call on other world leaders to do the same.
It is important to establish the notion of Palestinian independence in people’s mind even before it takes place on the ground. We will normalize the concept of future Palestinian statehood, sovereignty, and independence in the international arena.
As we work to broaden and energize Israel’s circle of peace, we will urge and incentivize influential Arab states to play a constructive role in the process of Palestinian state-building and in paving the road toward Israeli-Palestinian peace. We staunchly support Israel’s normalizing relations with Arab states, but we don’t view these relationships as an alternative to Israeli-Palestinian peace. Indeed, we believe they should serve as a tool for facilitating peace between Israel and Palestine.
Tachles, my friends, Israel’s perpetual occupation of the West Bank, a military rule that severely limits the basic freedoms and human rights of Palestinians, denies Palestinians the hope for a future of liberty and dignity. My administration will work with Israel to create a horizon of hope for peace for both Palestinians and Israelis. They both need it. It can be done and it must be done.
When I visit the West Bank this week and meet with Palestinian leaders, I will talk tachles with them too. You can count on that. The perpetuation of the status quo is not only a result of Israeli policies. There is a lot that Palestinians, too, can and should do to pave the road toward peace.
But as the occupying power, Israel is the stronger side. Israel holds the cards and should play them in a way that liberates itself and the Palestinians of this shameful occupation.
My friends, you have demonstrated that your country can do great things. As an American, I am proud of the role my country has played in helping Israel become what it is today. I know you can accomplish this vital goal of peace with your Palestinian neighbors. And I pledge, in the name of the United States, and as a good friend should do, we will be by your side as you march toward peace.
Tachles, it’s been 55 years. It’s been a long time coming, but now, the occupation must end.
Thank you, and may God bless you.
Hadar Susskind is the President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now. Twitter: @HadarSusskind