Just about three months before the recent Presidential election, I participated in a conference telephone call, featuring the executive director of J Street, a new Jewish not-for-profit combination lobby group and political action committee.

News – HCEF
Author: Russell O. Siler

The executive, Jeremy Ben-Ami, responding to a question as to what he felt our main message for the two Presidential nominees—with regard to the Israeli and Palestinian peoples—should be, stated without hesitation that we should all encourage the nominee to put resolution of the conflict at the top of his priority list for the first year. Ben-Ami, of course, had no idea which man would win, nor did it matter; the message would be the same. He then went on to make the case that this conflict is of such a nature that it demands the direct, personal efforts of the President of the United States; no other person carries the force and the weight to lead the way to peace with justice. By the same token neither he nor any of us could know the depth or the breadth of the economic crisis now threatening the entire world. Still, the response is the same: a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians still must be at the top of the priority list for the administration of President-elect Barack Obama.
However, as much as I agree with that assessment, present circumstances force all of us to sprinkle a healthy coating of reality atop our hopes, prayers, and dreams. Unless I am completely mistaken [and this is one instance when I would be overjoyed to be wrong], there is little possibility that this particular Middle East conflict will struggle to the top of Mr. Obama’s “to do list.” There are simply too many other domestic and global crises whose perceived significance will quickly force this one far down the sheet of Year One essentials. In spite of the fact that many observers—far wiser than I—hold passionately to the view that the road to peace in the entire Middle East “runs through Jerusalem,” the size, nature, and duration of the Israel-Palestine conflict usually prompts an analysis that excludes that opinion. So, it must seem to many, many people around the globe that the United States—in the person of our President—will once again be forced to put off its efforts for peace and justice there until a better day. That is particularly sad news for many of us, since, in this instance, justice delayed may quite well be justice denied…forever. There is so little time left for people of reason and integrity on all sides to prevail. Soon the opportunity will be lost, only to re-surface once more—far too late—in the tail end of a term so filled with hope at its beginning.

This was pretty much my reply to a friend who asked recently what I anticipated from President Obama. Then she pressed on by asking if there was anyone else who could do the job for the President. It didn’t take long for me to name all the living Presidents and disqualify each of them for one reason or another. But she still wasn’t satisfied. Finally, I took a deep breath and blurted out the best answer I could think of, but wasn’t certain I wanted to utter aloud. “If we assume that President Obama simply cannot commit the time and energy necessary, then he ought to send the team of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice as his personal emissaries.” Since then I have thought of at least one hundred reasons why they should not be sent, but I have been unable to think of superior options. These two Americans have served their country and their world in both partisan and non-partisan ways. They have both made huge mistakes, and both have taken heat for the mistakes of others. But they are two of the most recognized and recognizable figures on the planet. If we disqualify all candidates for the post because of errors committed or because they have done the bidding of previous party or president, there may quite possibly be none left to send. Two former secretaries of state who have been the face of American might and diplomacy in virtually every corner of the globe can offer a powerful witness to warring peoples who live their lives in fear, despair, and hopelessness…especially if soon-to-be-President Barack Obama sends them as the embodiment of the hope he has already come to symbolize for so many of the world’s peoples. If they arrive with the same old rhetoric that we have all grown weary of, they will soon return home, defeated. But if they bring to the Israeli people and to the Palestinian people the promises of real security and real freedom and real prosperity that I believe Mr. Obama will entrust to them, both we and they may dare to hope again.

One of the reasons I decided to write this letter was a message my wife received on Wednesday, November 5, from a young Palestinian friend, “Congratulations on the new president. I hope you are happy. We are putting all our hopes on him to make some changes for the whole world.” I know where she lives. I know what she sees. And I know something of what is in her heart.

Now the world has hope that change can come. Now the world believes how much is possible. Now is the time to act!