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

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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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….

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