The other night I went to the Israel Policy Forum’s annual
leadership event at the Grand Hyatt in New
York, and I’m going to blog about a number of things
that happened there, including my own conversion to
a two-state solution. “Two States: A Global Imperative,” the event was titled.
But let’s not bury the lead. The most important statements at the conference
were from two Israeli politicians and one Palestinian on the tremendous
importance of American Jews coming out in favor of a two-state solution now.
These three men all acknowledged the crucial role that is played by the
Israel lobby. American Jews believe that they by maintaining unwavering American support for Israel they are safeguarding Israel against existential threat. The three statesmen all said that the greater threat is
allowing the Annapolis opportunity to pass. So former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh said that if a just solution is not
reached within a year, Hamas will be sure to take over the West
Bank, making “a military confrontation inevitable.” He went on,
“No one will see the end of it. It means another century of war.” Wow.
keynote speaker Haim Ramon, the vice prime minister of Israel, made much the same point when he said
that Israel had reached an existential moment brought on by its own actions. “The Occupation is a threat to the existence
of the state of Israel
as a Jewish and democratic state.” On the other side, Afif Safieh, the head of the PLO Mission to the United States, said that the people in the room
had the ability to make history. Arabs were pragmatic. For 25 years, since the
Yom Kippur war, the Arab world has been
wiling to make an accommodation with Israel. They had learned from ’73 that if you want to meet Mike Tyson, don’t do it in the boxing ring, he quipped. But the treatment of the
Palestinians is the absolute key to Israel’s acceptance in the region,
and security and peace would only come from regional acceptance not “territorial
aggrandizement” and the “hell on earth” Israeli governance has ensured Palestinians. “We Palestinians are the key for acceptance
from Oman to Morocco. We are ready for a historic compromise.” For 25 years Israel backed by the
religious left here has delayed the inevitable. Now is the time.
A few comments. There was throughout the evening the strong
feeling, and what a testament to the IPF this is, that Yes there is an Israel lobby,
and it is many of the people in this room, and the time has come to take your
foot off the breathing tube of the Palestinians. It was a wonderful evening
because here was a strongly Jewish and Zionist audience but it was willing to
hear from Arabs and Arabists. There was no noxious whiff of stinking neoconservatism the whole
night. God bless. There was also the strong sense that without the American
Jewish community allowing Washington to become more independent, this moment will be lost. Israelis and the
Palestinians cannot do this on their own, they require muscling intervention. One-time negotiator Robert
Malley pointed out that the Israelis are so hunkered down and fragile that an explicit
statement of principles could not be released in Israel before Annapolis, out of
fear that the word Jerusalem would create political uproar. When anyone with
the least bit of judgment knows
latest religious conqueror must be pushed to an understanding of the importance of keeping that place
open to the followers of three great religions.
The message of the night was an awareness that so long as the American Jewish community reflexively lines up
on Israel’s side and does
not question the policies of occupation and oppression, the American role as mediator will be
nullified, as it was at Camp David when Clinton allowed a bad offer to be called equitable. Now of course I am talking about
lobby. The only one who addressed this directly was Safieh. He said “Our battle
for freedom and statehood will be won in Washington.”
And in Washington, he said, there has been an intellectual battle. Between those who
support the Oslo
process and those who completely erase the humanity of the Palestinians by
insisting that there is no one to negotiate with. Those of course are the
neocons and their wide circle. But here IPF and Safieh offered light at the end
of the tunnel. “Everyone speaks of the lobby,” Safieh said. “I have always
believed in the theory of the lobby. Bu I think the American Jewish
community–like Hamas—is diverse. The Jewish community here is mature and enlightened."
And it must provide leadership. I have been to many Jewish leadership events where I am
angered and saddened. At this one I was in tears. What a glory to my community
that it is capable of such recognitions. There was an atmosphere of worldliness
and real leadership at the event, and a feeling that Jews know that they are
powerful in American society, and that brings responsibility, not
self-regard. The neocons are yesterday’s papers. Note MJ Rosenberg’s latest column, saying that a "seismic shift" is occuring even in the opinion of conservative Jewish organizations. Hallelujah.
I say I was converted to the two state solution, with an asterisk.
I never imbibed the Zionist dream; and the dream that Sneh and Ramon spoke of, maintaining a
Jewish state in part of Eretz Israel,
is not something I really care about, or that I think most Americans ought to care
about. As Ali Abunimah, author of One Country, has argued, the great goal that
is proffered in these visions, of partition on a religious basis, isn’t that different from
the South African dream, of an Afrikaans state and a black state. And yet the real dream that realistic Americans must seize now is an end to the cycle of violence, a dream of regional cooperation and interdependence, and this was the imperative of the
IPF event. Two states are a necessary step. Once the
states are up and running, and the Palestinian doctors are working in
Israeli hospitals and trucks of oranges are crossing the borders, and a road runs from Damascus to Jerusalem that all can drive on, idealists like myself will talk about a
federated solution, but the IPF event was about leadership and opportunity, and let us celebrate the initiative.
(P.S. Thanks to a commenter, I have corrected my bad i.d. of Sneh as having been a Defense Minister…)