VIENNA — It’s a long way from Maine to the Middle East, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Yet there’s a history, and high levels of concern.

The organization Seeds of Peace, which brings Israeli and Palestinian young people to reconciliation, is based here.

The Jewish community has a natural interest, and the Portland-area organization, Maine Voices for Palestinian Rights (MVPR) has, including a previous incarnation, been around for almost a decade.

It was MVPR, in cooperation with other concerned organizations, which brought to Portland in early April Dr. Izzedin Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician who lost three daughters and a niece to Israeli shelling, yet went on to write a book called “I Shall Not Hate.”

About 800 people came to hear this extraordinary man.

Whatever else that evening represented, it testified to the desire of many Mainers to see the Israeli and Palestinian people come to a just and lasting peace.

In early 2009, our Legislature adopted, with overwhelming bipartisan support, a Joint Resolution praising both President Obama and former Maine Sen. George Mitchell on the latter’s selection as special envoy on the Middle East, and urging that they pursue peace vigorously.

Now Mitchell has resigned. What started out hopefully has ended inconclusively, as with many Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in the past.

What will happen? Some time ago, the fine Jewish weekly The Forward published an analysis which suggested that Mitchell had been eclipsed by Dennis Ross, a more clearly pro-Israeli figure. That may be indicative. The next 10 days could tell. Mitchell’s resignation takes effect Friday, the day when President Obama meets with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The president may by then have made a policy speech on the Middle East which may deal significantly with Israelis and Palestinians.

If the past is any guide, our ever-pragmatic chief executive will not give Netanyahu a hard time concerning Israeli refusal to suspend settlement activity or even this weekend’s harsh repression of nonviolent marches on Israeli borders.

Mr. Netanyahu will go on to a warm welcome at both the annual conference of the America-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and before a joint session of Congress.

Mr. Netanyahu may there make a genuine offer of agreement based on 1967 borders.

Or he may offer a truncated state which the Palestinians cannot accept. Or he may feel no pressure to concede anything – in line with his settler constituents’ demands.

In the same period, a number of pro-Palestinian groups will gather in Washington too, to protest AIPAC’s meeting and Mr. Netanyahu’s visit.

The less obstreperous organization I represent in Maine, Churches for Middle East Peace, will be meeting, too. It will be an interesting few days.

All else being equal, however, the Israelis are likely to be left to “manage the conflict,” however heavy-handedly they may do so. That has traditionally been the American response to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Whether that policy serves U.S. interests, or the parties’, is another matter. That will be the scenario, unless the president and Congress hear shortly from substantial numbers of the kinds of Americans who turned out to hear Dr. Abuelaish some six weeks ago.

Mainers, like Americans generally, have a great sense of fairness, and continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank, and resultant repression of and discrimination against Palestinians is not fair.

At the same time, Israeli concerns for security are well understood. The solution lies in compromise, implemented soon. Specifically, the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza – the so-called two-state solution – is needed. Unfortunately, the tendency on both sides has been to see things as “us versus them” and thus to make compromise more difficult.

Our president, if he knows that he has broad public support for pressing for peace, has the power to overcome the parties’ reluctances. He has to hear that he has the needed backing. Let’s hope that Maine helps to bring such backing to the president’s attention.


– Special to The Press Herald