*By Darya Shaikh
On Monday night, millions of Americans sat down in front of their televisions and watched the two U.S. presidential candidates go head to head for the very last time before Election Day. President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney faced off on foreign policy issues ranging from Iran and Libya to Afghanistan and China.
They spoke at length about 'the changing Middle East' and the threat it poses to the world. Yet despite overtures about strong leadership and upholding principles of peace, both candidates seemed to forget that one of the biggest threats in the Middle East today actually stems from the lack of change, that being the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Aside from a fleeting reference to the conflict, which you may have missed, neither candidate laid out concrete steps that could help get the Israeli and Palestinian peace process back on track. Neither the President nor Governor Romney seem to think that delivering a comprehensive and just two-state solution to the conflict is a U.S. priority.
The current stalemate and toxic status quo endangers not only the futures of the Israeli and Palestinian people but should be a grave concern to all of us, as Americans. Ending the conflict is -- as successive presidents have consistently affirmed -- a vital American national interest. Middle East stability is jeopardized by the ongoing conflict, and this affects a broad swath of U.S. political priorities, placing national security and the recovering economy in danger.
The American leadership, whomever is at the helm, has to be accountable to the thousands of Israelis and Palestinians who are waging peace every day. As the conflict continues to be used as a political football, tossed around by both parties in order to gain votes, it consequently grows increasingly disconnected from the voices and interests of Israelis and Palestinians, who are calling for strong American leadership to push the parties to take the necessary steps that will enable a return to serious negotiations, ending the conflict once and for all and ensuring a better future for millions.
There is so much unknown about the changing landscape of the region. However, what we do know is that every day that goes by without a two-state solution makes it harder and harder to achieve. The American government has been the broker of negotiations for decades. As such, it retains a moral imperative to serve as an honest, unwavering mediator, despite the current diplomatic challenges, which deserve not be minimized.
Ending the occupation and achieving the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines, in accordance with international resolutions and previous bilateral agreements, is the only viable, mutually acceptable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is the only solution that fulfills the national aspirations of both peoples by establishing an independent Palestinian state at peace with the State of Israel. This is a policy of vital interest to Israelis and Palestinians, as well as to Americans. Unfortunately, as negative facts continue to grow on the ground, we are witnessing the rapidly growing distance between the reality of the present, and the ideal of peace.
As American citizens, we have a responsibility too. We have a role to play in making sure that we close this divide. We need to tell whoever is elected that achieving the two-state solution must be a foreign policy priority. An excellent way to do this is by signing the petition that the OneVoice Movement's American network initiated. OneVoice is grassroots undertaking working in parallel in Israel and Palestine to build political and grassroots civic capacity to bring both parties back to the table and ensure a viable, effective negotiations process with clear terms of reference and a limited timeframe that will fulfill the national aspirations of both peoples. This petition crystalizes that work and asks Americans to get behind it.
OneVoice's Israeli activists recognize their role and mobilize in a different city each week, bringing residents and local politicians together to promote the two-state solution and countering the agenda of expanding settlements in the West Bank by calling for a settlement freeze. OneVoice's Palestinian activists embrace their role by leading community initiatives to transform frustration and hopelessness through non-violent activism. OneVoice Palestine pushes for national reconciliation and a two-state solution that ends the occupation, resolves all final status issues based on international resolutions, establishes an independent Palestinian state, and ends all claims.
Through this petition in the U.S., we can amplify the calls of OneVoice Israel for a settlement freeze and of OneVoice Palestine for a final status agreement that ends all claims, demanding that the American leadership -- whether Republican or Democrat -- commits itself to pushing this process forward.
We cannot substitute political rhetoric for effective policy towards conflict resolution in Israel and Palestine. We must seize back this conversation today so that President Obama and Governor Romney know that the majority of Israelis, Palestinians and Americans will not settle for anything less than real American leadership toward a just and lasting peace.
*Darya Shaikh is acting CEO of the OneVoice Movement. Her blog was originally published on The Huffington Post: http://huff.to/SiDBKH.