We’ve written about Obama’s November surprise before: The liberal Zionist hope that President Obama will do something to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine before he leaves office, but after the election, because if he did anything now it would hurt Hillary Clinton.
Debra DeLee of Peace Now says Obama can make “a gift” to the next president by taking steps in international fora on the two state solution after the election. She gave voice to this hope at an Arab American Institute panel at the Democratic Convention last month that I’ve been meaning to catch up to. DeLee conceded that over the last eight years Obama “did not make progress on the Israeli Palestinian conflict. I mean there’s no way to say that he did.”
But he could do something over the next five months. Here’s how:
If you look at the overlap of politics and policy and what we could reasonably hope for, I think the small window of opportunity is the time between election day and inauguration day, and I think there are a number of things that Obama can do after that. One, I think it’s important for him to articulate clear parameters of what a two state solution should look like. I should say, I believe that a two state solution is really the only path to resolve this conflict, where one preserves both the Jewish and democratic nature of Israel and provides freedom, dignity and sovereignty to the Palestinians…
So I believe one, he needs to clearly state, develop and state parameters that are based on the Clinton parameters. I think he needs to take a strong position on settlements, demand a settlement freeze immediately. I think that he needs to engage the potential allies to work with him on this, the EU, revive the Middle East Quartet… And the Arab world, to revitalize the Arab Peace Initiative, to work with the Arab world on that, and I think most importantly during that period of time, which we have urged him to do, is either to initiate or to lead or to support a UN initiative at the Security Council. If it’s based on two states, it is totally in keeping with US policy, I think it’s a critical move, and I think it is a gift that he could give to the next president.
Ronald Reagan opened up unprecedented talks with the PLO, which was a gift that he gave to Bush 1 which resulted in the Madrid Peace Conference. Bill Clinton… laid out the Clinton parameters which was a gift to Bush 2 and allowed Bush to be able …to support two states and to establish, or put forth he road map.
I believe the gift that Obama can give to the next president is a UN resolution that gives some effort and some availability on allies and some opening to move forward.
DeLee’s hope is threatened by two large political realities she mentioned: Netanyahu and the Israel lobby.
First, nothing will happen with Netanyahu in power.
I believe and we [at Americans for Peace Now] believe that as long as Bibi Netanyahu is the prime minister with this right wing government, that not only will we not have a successful peace negotiations, but that it will be non-productive, not successful, and that it will set back American diplomacy and leadership.
She did not say how you get Netanyahu out of the way, except that you work around him, go to the U.N.
As for the Israel lobby, the way to subvert the role of Jewish money in the elections is for Obama to wait till after November, and meantime, get liberal Zionists to reform the Jewish community. DeLee:
The reality will be raised… that if Barack Obama does it [takes an initiative] it will affect Democrats running up and down the ticket, particularly with the Jewish vote and particularly with Jewish money… The critical window of opportunity is from election day until the next president takes office. So you can set aside the political constraints that might come up with the election, and then you do what needs to be done. You have to be preparing for it now.
Liberal Zionists have to work with politicians to show them that many Jews believe that supporting Israel doesn’t mean Israel is always right.
I think we’ve done it, I think J Street has made enormous strides. We have to get politicians up and down the ticket, to understand that there is not unanimity in the Jewish community. That the Jewish community does not all speak with one voice. The definition of being pro-Israel is not what politicians believe what pro Israel has been, Israel right or right. There are Jews who will come out and say what Israel has been doing is wrong… That is changing every day. I think we have to continue. We have to be everywhere… We have to change what the understanding of what the Jewish community is and what the Jewish community feels.
In fairness to DeLee, let’s see if Obama does anything in that three-month window. Myself, I believe this is just another way of not endorsing real pressure on both communities, by supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, and countering Zionism in the American Jewish community. In the first case, the reality is that Netanyahu is actually beloved by the Israeli Jewish electorate on security grounds. Just look at Israeli Channel 2’s investigation of how he flipped the last election, and won big, or Larry Derfner’s latest column showing that most Israelis have no problem at all with the occupation. That’s who Israeli Jews are; and nothing will change that– except isolation. As for the US Jewish community, the primaries and 7-1/2 years of Obama making “no progress” have made it clear that the dead hand of the older Jewish generation is still controlling American electoral politics on this question. That’s why Hillary Clinton has embraced Netanyahu and sworn to fight BDS. If you want to counter that Jewish effect, the only answer is to have a real debate in the Jewish community. And a real debate means asking American Jews two questions DeLee doesn’t want them to answer: Do you want to live in a society that does not separate religion and state and gives more rights to the religious majority than the minority and denies some people the right to vote on a racial basis? If the answer is No, then why are you supporting such a system in Israel? Jewish Voice for Peace, Open Hillel and IfNotNow are having that discussion right now inside the Jewish community, and Peace Now should get with the young leadership now.