The visit to Pittsburgh Sunday by Gershom Gorenberg, an Israeli historian, journalist and blogger, was particularly timely, given the announcement last week that President Barack Obama and new Secretary of State John Kerry would be visiting Israel and Palestine next month.
Mr. Gorenberg, who lives in Jerusalem, spoke to an audience of several hundred at Rodef Shalom Temple in Shadyside after an invitation from the Pittsburgh chapter of J-Street, a Jewish-American organization that favors a peaceful, two-state, Israeli and Palestinian resolution of the longstanding issue of the fate of those two peoples in the former Palestine.
His visit came at a key point in the future of the territory and the region. The United States, which has played a critical role in seeking to foster negotiations, elected Mr. Obama to a second term in November. The Likud-Israel Beiteinu party of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won a narrow election victory on Jan. 22. Israelis are still in the process of putting together a new coalition of parties to govern the country. The process may be completed by the time Mr. Obama arrives in Israel on March 20.
Mr. Gorenberg said he did not feel confident in predicting the outcome of the confluence of events in terms of either U.S.-Israeli relations or prospects for a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian problem. It depended on the climate in both countries. Eighty-two percent of Jewish-American voters in the 2012 elections supported a two-state solution.
Mr. Gorenberg said he saw three serious problems in Israel in need of resolution: separation of state and synagogue, full equality for all Israeli citizens including Arabs and an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank, a key block to the creation of a Palestinian state. Asked what he saw as prospects for resolving these problems, he replied that despair in the face of them was an excuse and a luxury.
He said he would advise Mr. Obama to address his message to the Israeli and Palestinian people, not just to their fractious leaders. Discussion of both ends of the U.S.-Israel relationship will heighten as Mr. Obama's visit approaches. Mr. Gorenberg's points in Pittsburgh made an important contribution to that discussion.