Did Jewish Identity Stand in the Way of the Peace Process at Camp David?

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 29 Comments

First an apology. I can be narrow in spirit; and I think I went overboard yesterday with that poem. Jerry Slater has reminded me that words really do matter, words like genocide. He’s right. Though I would say that many times in the last 60 years, thoughtful people have recoiled from Israeli actions in Palestine, saying they are reminiscent of Nazi actions. For instance, some Israeli soldiers felt this way during ethnic cleansing operations. I don’t think it’s genocide against Palestinians; but it’s oppression. The Israeli right frequently has likened Palestinians to Nazis; and the resonance of the Holocaust reverberates and confuses.

Today Jerry Haber has a simply brilliant post, reading the books on Camp David 2000. As anyone who has read the literature knows, Clinton’s team was almost all Jewish. I think there was one Arab member. I’ve always found this troubling, but am not sure how to address it. Of course there are (many) Jews who are more universalist in their thinking. So maybe Clinton’s team had rays of light in it?

Also, I don’t want to blame my people in a blanket way for failure to make any progress on Israel/Palestine. Yes the Israel lobby is to blame, but that is the body of establishment Jewry, not all Jews. And yet as I frequently state on this blog, the construction of Jewish identity in this day and age is so parochial, so particularist, so Is-it-good-for-the-Jews, as Norman Mailer complained, and so wed to the Jewish state as some democratic ideal– that Jewish identity itself is something of an impediment to progress.

Haber agrees with me; he says that Jewishness itself was a hindrance to the effectiveness of the team. He begins by quoting from negotiator Aaron David Miller’s new book:

"Dennis [Ross], like myself, had an inherent tendency to see the
world of Arab-Israeli politics first from Israel’s vantage point rather
than from that of the Palestinians. Not that he didn’t understand Arab
or Palestinian sensitivities. But his own strong Jewish identity, and
his commitment to Israel’s security combined with something else: a
deep conviction that if you couldn’t gain Israel’s confidence, you have
zero chance of erecting any kind of peace process. And to Dennis,
achieving this goal required a degree of coordination with the
Israeli’s, sensitivity toward their substantive concerns, and public
defense of their positions. [Bush Sec'y of State Jim] Baker’s good judgment and toughness  balanced and controlled this inclination, which was not the case under Clinton."

In subsequent posts, I will be citing more from the books by [Dan] Kurtzer
and [Scott] Lasensky
, and by Aaron Miller. There are must-reads for my readers,
especially for American Jewish liberals who cheered the American
involvement in the peace process… For when you get down to it, the peace-process team under two US
presidents was composed of three talented individuals, all Jews, and
all liberal Zionists.
Now we know — from Kurtzer and from Miller, two-thirds of the
trio — that America, Israel, and the Palestinians would have been
better served by a more diverse team. [emphasis Haber's]

The genius of Haber’s post is that he, a religious intellectual who lives in Israel but is politically shrewd about the U.S., is getting at the Zionist construction of Jewish identity. Even "secular" professional Jews are invested in these structures, and the pity in their case is that it is unconscious; I have heard friends loudly protest about the fairmindedness and evenhandedness in the Clinton team, without examining their investment.

Alas, we are tribal creatures; and as Tony Judt has observed, our age has amplified tribalism, rationalizing a "crippling" degree of identity politics even among intellectuals. That is the promise that so many of us see in Obama. That a mixed-race leader will lift us out of parochialisms. And have a diverse team negotiating in Israel/Palestine….

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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29 Responses

  1. Darius Goodwin
    March 31, 2008, 10:23 am

    Speaking of triablism, these creative thinkers have managed to synthesize two of your most recent favorite topics. A must read!

    link to stormfront.org

  2. liberal white boy
    March 31, 2008, 11:18 am

    Ungrateful Palestinian bastards! Didn't they know liberal Zionists were working on their behalf for Peace. I bet they even called for a slow down in the theft of West Bank land and other resources while the peace process was being discussed(Not that Israel would give a shit). War criminal and now Diaper Dan Ariel Sharon made where they stood very clear back in 2001 a few weeks after 9/11. "Every time we do something you tell me America will do this and will do that . . . I want to tell you something very clear: Don't worry about American pressure on Israel. We, the Jewish people, control America, and the Americans know it."
    – Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, October 3, 2001.

    I'm sure no one has thought of this but if America actually integrated our peace negotiation teams perhaps the Palestinians might think we were actually interested in peace. Just a thought.

    I should point out Sharon didn't say Zionist people here did he?
    link to homo-sapien-underground.blogspot.com

  3. liberal white boy
    March 31, 2008, 11:29 am

    Oh and perhaps some affimative action in our News Media might also be helpful to the peace process. Or as I have suggested many times before maybe we just need to put Palestinian Casinos on our road map to peace.

    Should The Road Map To Peace Include Palestinian Casinos?
    link to homo-sapien-underground.blogspot.com

  4. Phil Weiss
    March 31, 2008, 11:34 am

    lwb you are making me laugh

  5. Joachim Martillo
    March 31, 2008, 11:50 am

    "As anyone who has read the literature knows, Clinton's team was almost all Jewish. I think there was one Arab member. I've always found this troubling, but am not sure how to address it."

    From link to eaazi.blogspot.com .

    Israel Advocacy organizations worked for fifty years to delegitimize Arabist points of view in the foreign service and state department, to drive out Arabist officers or bureaucrats, and to replace them with Israel sympathetic personnel (see The Marginalization of U.S. Mideast Experts).

  6. Rowan Berkeley
    March 31, 2008, 1:16 pm

    The story of how that Sharon-to-Peres remark was first reported then denied is extremely revealing, i think – this seems to have been the last word : geyer retracted and apologised.
    link to camera.org

  7. Jim Haygood
    March 31, 2008, 1:49 pm

    .

    "Dan Kurtzer … would become … a distinguished US ambassador to Egypt and Israel. His ambassadorial residence in Cairo was strictly kosher … Dan is deeply committed to the Jewish state." — Aaron Miller

    Oh, my. It's always a respectful gesture to appoint ambassadors who have some affinity for the foreign culture, and know the language. But sending one who is "deeply committed to the Jewish state" first to Egypt, then to Israel? Who the hell makes these decisions?

    The obvious problem in Egypt is that such an ambassador will be suspected of being an Israeli spy. In Israel, when U.S. interests conflict with Israel's, where does the loyalty of such an official lie?

    Presumably, the era when homosexuality was considered a disqualification for foreign service owing to the potential for blackmail is long since over. But sensitivity to national loyalty conflicts of interest seems entirely lacking.

    Wasn't it the Wall Street Journal which described Madeleine Albright's State Department as being almost exclusively Jewish at the deputy and undersecretary levels? There's a problem, in a big, diverse country like the U.S., when its foreign ministry and ambassadorial corps don't "look like America." Part of the problem is money: it's increasingly common for ambassadorships to be handed out to wealthy political donors, rather than to career State Dept. employees.

    But also, State seems to indulge in some preferential hiring. It evinces an Ivy League tilt … and with their 30-40% Jewish enrollments, those universities don't "look like America" either. However, a polished presentation — the ability to speak passable French, munch exotic finger foods and hobnob socially with the elite — is highly valued at State … as I learned at some diplomatic cocktail parties. Hell, even being from sophisticated New York earns you some extra brownie points in their eyes. And so the social profiling continues.

    How long can this charade continue? How can I get appointed as His Excellency, the Ambassador to Slambovia?

  8. syvaen
    March 31, 2008, 3:17 pm

    Rarely mentioned but what should be stressed is the that the I/P policies of the Clinton administration not only failed but they may have even made things much worse. Most progressives supported the Oslo peace process at the time but in retrospect it is clear that it was a charade that distracted attention and allowed an acceleration of the settlement growth. The actual wording of the documents signed in 1992 permitted settlement expansion and the Israelis took full advantage. Then the Camp David fiasco allowed Barak to return to Israel and announce that 'there was no one to talk to' and Clinton supported him. Since then nothing.

    Sharon has likely won, those settlements are probably irreversible facts on the ground today. Clinton is largely responsible for this. The fact that he entrusted two aipac operatives, Indyk and Ross, to important ME policy positions is how it happened — they of course knew what they were doing and probably duped Clinton into going along. However, the important thing is rarely talked about and that is the failure and setbacks belong to Clinton. Why is he not being held accountable? We can't blame aipac since they were just doing what they do, every politician in Washington knows what they are. Clinton made the decision to trust them.

  9. David
    March 31, 2008, 3:27 pm

    I disagree Phil. I thought the poem was brilliant and on target. It's inspired me to write one of my own–about a genocide that I suffered here in New York.
    Here's an extract:

    The Nakba in New York

    So what happened to my father is not a Nakba?
    OK, then find another word.
    It's the same thing.
    Wiping out the place names.
    I can't find my father's street
    on a map of New York, what he called Mount Morris Avenue is "Marcus Garvey Avenue" now.
    And the settlers who have stolen his home do indeed murder,
    rape,
    humiliate,
    and destroy.
    And boy do they ever piss there too!
    Mt Morris Park, his childhood haunt, is heavy with the stench
    of their piss.
    Palestine isn't on a map.
    And so isn't Mt Morris Avenue.

  10. Ed
    March 31, 2008, 3:27 pm

    Joachim wrote:
    "Israel Advocacy organizations worked for fifty years to delegitimize Arabist points of view…"
    Here’s a related article about how conservatives were pro-Palestinian up until the 70’s, by which time Neocon Jewish Zionist like Leo Strauss had wormed their way into conservative institutions and used their credentials to poison the cause of the Palestinians in conservative circles:
    link to sanseverything.wordpress.com

    It appears that Jewish Zionists of both the left and right have been worming their way into American institutions for years for the explicit purpose of turning those institutions pro-Zionist. Because there have been few counterbalancing Arab/Islamic US citizens engaged in a flip-sided anti-Zionist enterprise, the Zionists have won by default. White gentile Americans simply didn’t care enough about the Arab Palestinian cause to fight it out with the tenacious Jewish Zionists, and so basically turned over Mideast policy to the Jewish fanatics. And look where it's taken them: all the way to Iraq.
    Americans need to retake US Mideast policy formulation from the Jewish Zionists, who care more about Israel than America, and be weary of any Jewish Zionist in any institution. They just can’t be trusted, and have proven it time and again. “By way of deception” is their nature.

  11. bondo
    March 31, 2008, 3:31 pm

    " words really do matter, words like genocide. He's right. Though I would say that many times in the last 60 years, thoughtful people have recoiled from Israeli actions in Palestine, saying they are reminiscent of Nazi actions. I don't think it's genocide against Palestinians; but it's oppression."

    get real, phil. what jews have done for 60 years, 100 years and continue to do today and into the forseeable future is genocide using the worst possible definiton of that word.

    notice, look into a mirror, that jews, no matter how progressive, still protect jewish crimes, atrocities.

    per jews, jews have experienced greater suffering than all others combined, even when jews suffer nothing. per jews, jewish crimes are lesser than the crimes of others, even when jewish crimes are greater.

  12. bondo
    March 31, 2008, 3:32 pm

    " words really do matter, words like genocide. He's right. Though I would say that many times in the last 60 years, thoughtful people have recoiled from Israeli actions in Palestine, saying they are reminiscent of Nazi actions. I don't think it's genocide against Palestinians; but it's oppression."

    get real, phil. what jews have done for 60 years, 100 years and continue to do today and into the forseeable future is genocide using the worst possible definiton of that word.

    notice, look into a mirror, that jews, no matter how progressive, still protect jewish crimes, atrocities.

    per jews, jews have experienced greater suffering than all others combined, even when jews suffer nothing. per jews, jewish crimes are lesser than the crimes of others, even when jewish crimes are greater.

  13. bondo
    March 31, 2008, 3:34 pm

    " words really do matter, words like genocide. He's right. Though I would say that many times in the last 60 years, thoughtful people have recoiled from Israeli actions in Palestine, saying they are reminiscent of Nazi actions. I don't think it's genocide against Palestinians; but it's oppression."

    get real, phil. what jews have done for 60 years, 100 years and continue to do today and into the forseeable future is genocide using the worst possible definiton of that word.

    notice, look into a mirror, that jews, no matter how progressive, still protect jewish crimes, atrocities.

    per jews, jews have experienced greater suffering than all others combined, even when jews suffer nothing. per jews, jewish crimes are lesser than the crimes of others, even when jewish crimes are greater.

  14. bondo
    March 31, 2008, 3:40 pm

    sorry about the double post. trouble with comment site.

    re dennis ross (and all other 'neocons'): " But his own strong Jewish identity, and his commitment to Israel's security"

    israel is not insecure. israel is land and resource stealing and palestinian people torturing and murdering. this is what ross and his bros protected then and protect now.

  15. bondo
    March 31, 2008, 3:40 pm

    sorry about the double post. trouble with comment site.

    re dennis ross (and all other 'neocons'): " But his own strong Jewish identity, and his commitment to Israel's security"

    israel is not insecure. israel is land and resource stealing and palestinian people torturing and murdering. this is what ross and his bros protected then and protect now.

  16. bondo
    March 31, 2008, 3:41 pm

    sorry about the double post. trouble with comment site.

    re dennis ross (and all other 'neocons'): " But his own strong Jewish identity, and his commitment to Israel's security"

    israel is not insecure. israel is land and resource stealing and palestinian people torturing and murdering. this is what ross and his bros protected then and protect now.

  17. Klaus Bloewmker, Frankfurt
    March 31, 2008, 5:04 pm

    The genocide of the Goyim
    __________________________

    Well, the real ideological parallel to the Nazi's genocidal action towards the Jews would be an attempt on the part of the Jews to exterminate ALL GOYIM. To kill just the Palestinians wouldn't do. It would be as if Hitler had tried to kill just one sub-tribe of the Jewish people.

    Actually, we Goyim – except a tiny 'righteous' minority of us – may face this fate at the arrival of the Messiah.

  18. peters
    March 31, 2008, 7:18 pm

    I totally don't get the apology for the poem. What does this mean "narrow in spirit", for what? For expressing horror and compassion for human suffering , we need to be careful? Not to offend anyone? And who is protesting the poem and for what reason? I would really like to hear the complaint. Because of the word 'genocide'? The poem itself explains that is is a made-up word that is 'owned' by Jews. Do the complainers about the poem object that Jews 'own' the victimhood of genocide?

  19. peters
    March 31, 2008, 8:35 pm

    I get it now. We mustn't hurt the Zionists feelings. We must be sensitive to both sides. The poem was only expressing the Palestinian suffering. Phil "got the call". "Getting the call" is what happened to my friend,a Unitarian minister, when a Palestinian was booked to speak at her church.

  20. the Sword of Gideon
    March 31, 2008, 8:47 pm

    The Palestinians,. ( which actually meant Jews before 1948 ) should thank God every day that there opposition are Jews. And that the gulf states have oil. If not for that they'd be a a dim memory and nobody would give a shit. No other country in the world would put up with this shit, Hamsas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, rocket barrages, Disloyal populations. Only Jews would let this shit slide year after year. If it were anybody else, including the United States, Gaza would be a theme park by now.,

  21. Jim Haygood
    March 31, 2008, 8:56 pm

    .

    Here we go again! From the AP this evening:

    JERUSALEM – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had barely left Israel on Monday after her latest peacekeeping mission when Israeli officials announced plans to build 1,400 new homes on land Palestinians claim for a future state. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vowed to keep building in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, dismissing Palestinian claims that construction on contested land is the greatest obstacle to peace.

    link to news.yahoo.com

    Opposition to Israeli settlements has been a bedrock feature of U.S. policy for more than forty years. Here's chapter and verse, for those who need it:

    link to cmep.org

    Yet the 6% annual growth rate of the Israeli settlement population also has been an unvarying attribute of Israeli conduct. And so has the sneering humiliation of U.S. envoys which Israel regularly employs just before, during, or after their visits, by openly defying U.S. policies and initiatives.

    We pay $5 billion a year to Israel and Egypt for this defiance? For that princely sum, I expect "snappy service," not an upraised middle finger six inches from my nose. After forty years of spreading its cheeks to take this nonsense, the U.S. must regarded as a complicit codependent in a sadomasochistic abusive relationship with Israel. Any abused-spouse shelter can tell you the urgent solution: pull the plug and LEAVE TODAY!

  22. Joshua
    March 31, 2008, 9:55 pm

    I've never had the chance to read Haber's blog but I will check it out ASAP.

  23. patrick
    March 31, 2008, 11:25 pm

    Thanks for that good post Mr. Haygood. Who is the client state in this relationship?

  24. neocognitism
    April 1, 2008, 2:37 am

    Phil, what's happening to the Palestinians is genocide, according to the Convention on Genocide, to which the US is a signatory.

    link to en.wikipedia.org

  25. Richard Witty
    April 1, 2008, 4:16 am

    Its good that you offered the question as a question, even with the inference of a prejudicial answer.

    Camp David furthered the peace process, even as it disappointed.

    Do you think the second intifada furthered the peace process?

    I know that it scared Israelis. The first did as well, but more importantly communicated.

  26. MM
    April 1, 2008, 4:21 am

    "I get it now. We mustn't hurt the Zionists feelings."

    Yes, that, of course, of course we mustn't, and also, if not calling it "genocide" means a few more thousand Palestinian Arab homes can come down for Jewish homes to go up, for several more years on end, well then really, let's NOT call it "genocide". Maybe we can rebrand the Palestinian dispossession, and give it a reality show. Put some half-nude IDF girls, some kick-ass bulldozers, and call it "Extreme population makeover".

    So Phil, please, if you could just respect the different sensitivities of all parties involved in the conflict, and refer to the situation in the so-called West Bank as "occuring on the set of Extreme Makeover: Judea," that would really be appreciated.

    Any way, Raphael Lemkin's statement from 1943 makes it pretty clear that genocide could not possibly be happening to the Palestinians:

    "Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be the disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups."

    That doesn't sound like the Israel that I imagine, when I dream of life on the kibbutz surrounded by nothing but the vast blooming desert…

    And I don't understand why anyone would assume any conflict of interest involved with avowed zionists leading a peace process dealing with constrictions on zionism? It seems really far-fetched… Phil, are you sure you want to insinuate that those negotiators didn't have Americans' best interests at heart?

    "Who is the client state in this relationship?"

    I see your point, but then again, how could Americans live in peace from Islamic terror without zionist tactics to foment and fight it?

    And would American hegemony be so bloody & profitable without the extreme population makeover and extreme government makeovers proposed by zionists?

  27. bar_kochba132
    April 1, 2008, 4:24 am

    Thank you Klaus for reminding us of what some of the thinking In Germany is today. Apparently you have never read the Bible which talks about the Messianic period being one of universal peace and brotherhood between the nations. Sorry to bother you with the facts.

    For the rest of you who worried about "too much Jewish influence" at Camp David, I can only remind you that it was the non-Jew Clinton who picked these guys and almost all of them were recruited by the other non-Jew George Bush I.
    Don't forget that when Stalin decided to purge a certain group or nationality, he would usually pick a member of that group to be seen to be doing the purging. Similarly, it was Jews like Roy Cohn and Judge Irvin Saypol who railroaded the Julius and Ethyl Roseberg into the electric chair. Both Clinton and Bush understood that if you want Israel to make insane concessions that could lead to national suicide, as they and Arafat were maneuvering Israel to do, it is best for it to be seen to be Jews making the pressure on Israel ("Barak, you know I am a Jew, do you think I would force you to do anything that would harm Israel"?). You should give Clinton and Bush more credit for using their brains.

  28. Jim Haygood
    April 1, 2008, 7:19 am

    .

    "Don't forget that when Stalin decided to purge a certain group or nationality, he would usually pick a member of that group to be seen to be doing the purging." — bar_kochba132

    That's a compelling point, BK; one of your better ones.

    But it has a mirror image as well. If one assumed that Jewish groups were in the driver's seat, then of course they would choose non-Jews such as Clinton and Bush as their front men, to sell their demands to the gentile masses.

    No, I'm not asserting the "Jewish control" canard; it's not so clear-cut as that. But forty years of U.S. toleration for Israeli settlement expansion strongly suggests that the U.S. is impotent when it comes to restraining Israel. If I wanted to pay lavishly for the privilege of being humiliated, I'd ring up Mistress Matisse, thanks very much, instead of grumpy old Uncle Ehud.

    link to mistressmatisse.com

  29. Rowan Berkeley
    April 1, 2008, 8:54 am

    watch out, Jim – I think it's Ann Coulter:
    http://mistressmatisse.blogspot.com

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