Video streaming by UstreamAs Amira Hass of Haaretz and Kareem Jubran of B’tselem, spoke at length about about the reality of Israeli housing demolitions on the West Bank at the New America Foundation (NAF) in Washington on April 3, John Kerry’s painstakingly-arranged negotiations were on the verge of collapsing in a volley of recriminations..
Yet in the course of a 90-minute discussion, no one—not the speakers, not moderator Lisa Goldman, and no one in the crowd of 35 people—had one word to say about Kerry’s actions, rhetoric, or proposals, one of which was said to be a “partial freeze” on West Bank settlements.
A high moment for U.S. policymakers, it seems, had zero relevance to a discussion of how Israelis and Palestinians coexist on the West Bank.
In Washington where the “two state solution” is right up there with “bipartisanship” ” and watching “House of Cards” as sacred social ideals, I was slightly surprised. Maybe I shouldn’t have been. The wonks at NAF, previously known as the playground of Washington’s techno-liberals, are taking a novel approach to Israel/Palestine for a Washington think tank. They’re paying attention to the reality of the conflict.
Goldman, co-founding editor of 972 magazine and contributor to the late Open Zion blog, is now running a new “Israel/Palestine Initiative,” which sponsored Hass and Jubran. In a phone interview, Goodman was reluctant to define the mission of the initiative. “I’m not ready to talk about it,” she said. (I had the distinct feeling she didn’t care to take a two-state litmus test just yet; I didn’t want to administer one, so I didn’t press.)
She did say: “We will approach the Israel/Palestine from two perspectives: journalism and policy.”
But Goldman and New America’s agenda can be discerned from the events she is sponsoring. The appearance of Hass and Jubran in Washington followed two New York events earlier this year, which also featured human interest stories. One focused on women novelists across the region. The other focused on Palestinian women and social media in the resistance to Israeli occupation.
“We’re going to be looking at lot of things happening just below the surface, ” Goldman said, citing regional economic trends as an example.
New America’s intervention in the Middle East political debate is guided by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton professor turned State Department official, who took over as the head of New America last September. In addition to Goldman’s initiative, the Foundation has a Middle East Task Force, headed by Leila Hilal, a former adviser to Palestinian authorities, who has been known to ask the no-longer heretical question, “Is the two-state solution still-relevant?”
The Task Force seeks to “deepen the debate on U.S. policy toward the Middle East,” a formulation, which suggests that U.S. discourse has been shallow (as opposed to say, one-sided, corrupt, or unjust. But, hey, it’s Washington; polite indirection is the local idiom.) Until recently, New America’s take on the Middle East, was defined by the two-state passion of Daniel Levy and the prudent counterterrorism of Peter Bergen.
Goldman says the NAF’s plans are still influx, but whatever the organization and the personnel it seems clear that Slaughter’s agenda is more humanistic, feminist, and ambitious.
(I requested an interview with Slaughter; her assistant said she will be traveling for the next few weeks and would not be available.)
New America’s idea production about I/P idea also differs from other Washington think tanks.
The Center for American Progress, which can fairly be described as the Democratic party’s think tank, spent the week trying to figure out how to tip-toe away from Kerry’s shuttle diplomacy without abandoning the two-state gospel. “From Automatic Support to Critical Assessment,” was the name of a CAP Panel in Jerusalem on April 1.
The most influential Middle East analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations is neoconservative Zionist Elliot Abrams who has been heckling Kerry from the right.
At once-liberal Brookings, the experts at the Zionist-funded Saban Center view the Israel-Palestine conflict mostly through the lens of Israeli security and (same thing) the Iran nuclear program.
At the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the trifles of human rights and self-determination seldom complicate an astringent analysis of a situation in which “Israel has so much access to U.S. public opinion.”
So what difference can the words of liberal think tank make in a city where unlimited dollars from AIPAC and Sheldon Adelson can buy votes, influence, and silence? Maybe not much. That’s the challenge facing New America. Foundation on Israel/Palestine.