Cong. Mark Pocan (D-Madison) is a progressive leader whom I have known since before he was elected to the Wisconsin Assembly in 1998. I have had the pleasure of meeting with him many times and he is always eager to learn from whomever he meets.
Recently, his local Chief of Staff reached out to invite me to attend a talk Cong. Pocan was giving in Madison to share what he learned from his trip to Palestinian territories this past June. Fortunately, my calendar was clear and earlier today, I attended his very interesting presentation.
Cong. Pocan has had a human rights lens to his world view dating back to his visits to Madison sister cities in Colombia and El Salvador when he served on the Dane County Board 25 years ago. As such, although he entered Congress with little knowledge of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he was eager to learn and see what he could do to promote peace in the region. Although he had traveled to Israel on previous Congressional delegations, he wanted to visit the Palestinian territories and meet with their leaders and citizens. An opportunity arose when the Humpty Dumpty Institute (which seeks to put the pieces back together in broken situations), sponsored a trip for him and a few other progressive colleagues in Congress to see what was really going on in the Palestinian territories. It was the first Congressional delegation to Palestine.
Cong. Pocan met with the US consul to Palestine, had lunch with Israeli Arab members of the Knesset (Israel’s parliament), met with Palestinian youth and students, as well as leaders including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and chief peace negotiator Saeb Erekat. He visited E. Jerusalem, Hebron and Bethlehem and candidly admitted that he is still learning about this complex situation and does not claim to be an expert.
During his talk, Cong. Pocan made it quite clear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman are obstacles to peace. He reminded everyone of Netanyahu’s snub of President Obama when he refused to meet with him but created a political commercial for himself when he spoke to Congress. Cong. Pocan refused to attend that talk along with 60 other members of Congress.
Rep. Pocan also reminded the audience of the tremendous blow back that he and other members of Congress took for supporting the Iran nuclear agreement. He singled out Sec. Clinton for her strong effort to sway Congress to support it.
Pocan noted that continued Israeli settlement expansion violates any meaningful effort towards achieving a peaceful 2 state solution. Daily checkpoints along the barrier wall which Israel has erected, manned by young Israeli soldiers makes life difficult for both sides.
When the delegation went to Hebron, they saw the inequity between Israel’s protection of approximately 800 settlers in a Palestinian city of 270,000. He noted that many settlers are actually American citizens. While the delegation was able to see whatever they wanted in the West Bank, visiting Gaza was another matter altogether.
They were told by both the Israeli and the U.S. government that it was unsafe to go to Gaza. However, that did not deter Cong. Pocan, as he heard the same things when he went to Colombia and El Salvador in the 90s, and in fact, was held captive for 5 days by Colombian rebels during one visit. His delegation had arranged for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) to escort them through Gaza. Unfortunately, however, the Israeli government refused to let the delegation enter Gaza. Cong. Pocan hopes to visit Gaza in the future and he said that J Street has agreed to help sponsor another Congressional trip there.
While Cong. Pocan noted the Israeli government’s obstacles to achieving a peaceful resolution, he also noted that Gaza has no effective government and that Palestinian students are dismayed with the Palestinian Authority as it has made no progress in achieving statehood. He mentioned that students at Bir Zeit University recently voted to support Hamas and now support a 1 state solution.
Cong. Pocan will continue to encourage President Obama to set forth the groundwork for peace before he leaves office. He pledges to push the next President to work hard to achieve peace and believes that a multi-national effort is needed. He looks forward to bringing his views to the floor of Congress in September. He believes that real people, not politicians, want peace in both Israel and Palestine and to support those people, he wants the US to support human rights in the region.
In conclusion, Cong. Pocan made clear that achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians is the strongest blow back that we can make against ISIS, which uses the Palestinian struggle for statehood as a recruiting tool. As Chair of J Street Madison, I look forward to continuing to work with Cong. Pocan to help his effort to achieve a peaceful 2 state solution.
For more information on how I can help you accomplish effective, progressive systems change contact Jeff Spitzer-Resnick by visiting his website: Systems Change Consulting.