Unrealistic expectationsRead the whole thing and I'll have some comments afterward.
On many issues, J Street isn’t nearly as representative of American Jewry as it likes to think. But the anguished query posed by its communications director, Alan Elsner, last week is undoubtedly shared by a vast swath of American Jews: “Why are Israeli politicians of all stripes almost totally disregarding what we see as the main issue facing the country, the need to reinvigorate negotiations with the Palestinians toward a two-state solution?” Indeed, the former head of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, voiced similar frustration in October, saying he was “stunned” that “Israeli-Palestinian peace is no more than a peripheral issue” in the election campaign. And unlike J Street, Yoffie’s pro-Israel credentials are unimpeachable.American Jews (indeed, Americans in general) who advocate that we 'just to get to the damn table' or act unilaterally, remind me of the Israeli Left., who for years argued that there has to be peace because we just can't live without it. The fact that the Left has been and will again in the upcoming elections be eviscerated, combined with the fact that even Tzipi Livni understands that there's not going to be peace anytime soon (see above), show that the Left is mouthing platitudes that really don't mean anything, and that American Jews are doing the same, albeit without the recognition that what they advocate is impossible.
Most Israeli Jews would counter with one very simple question: “What exactly do you expect us to do?” Because until someone produces a credible answer to that question, Israelis see little point in wasting time and energy on it. And overwhelmingly, they view the answers produced by American Jews as non-credible.
The most popular American Jewish response was perfectly captured by America’s (non-Jewish) defense secretary, Leon Panetta: “Just get to the damn table!” To which most Israelis would reply, “We’d like nothing better, but how?” After all, despite having promised to resume negotiations immediately after the UN recognized “Palestine” as a nonmember state, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is still refusing to do so without preconditions that Israelis deem unacceptable. And there’s no way to get to the table if the other side refuses to show up.
Just last week, for instance, Abbas set three preconditions for resuming negotiations: a settlement freeze, agreement that talks would start from where they left off under former prime minister Ehud Olmert, and agreement that the final borders would be based on the 1967 lines. Now consider what one of Israel’s most dovish politicians, someone who actually has made the “peace process” her flagship campaign issue, has to say on these subjects:
At a conference of foreign diplomats last week, Tzipi Livni said it was “clear … there would not be return to 1967 borders,” and that “the only way for the conflict with the Palestinians to end is for Israel to keep” the settlement blocs. Interviewed subsequently by The Jerusalem Post, she said she wouldn’t agree to start the talks from where Olmert left off, because “The idea that the Palestinians think they can take any Israeli offer to their pocket and say ‘let’s start from this’ is completely unacceptable.” She probably would agree to something like the partial settlement freeze Israel instituted in 2009-10, but Abbas deemed that “worse than useless” and refused to negotiate. And neither she nor any other Israeli politician would acquiesce in the full freeze Abbas demands, covering even the huge Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem that everyone – Palestinians included – agree would remain Israeli under any deal.
So given that Abbas will only negotiate under preconditions all Israelis consider non-starters, how do American Jews expect Israel to “get to the damn table”? Do they believe Israel should simply forfeit its vital interests by, say, not only agreeing to the 1967 lines, but doing so upfront, without even getting any reciprocal concession? Or do they have some more feasible idea – and if so, why aren’t they sharing it?
The more realistic, like Yoffie, do recognize that negotiations are probably impossible. But their solution is equally unfeasible: returning to “unilateral action.”
Is it really necessary to remind American Jews that Israel tried unilateral withdrawals twice, from Lebanon in 2000 and Gaza in 2005, and both times got nothing in return but rockets on its cities and cross-border raids that kidnapped and killed its soldiers? Very few Israelis would agree to repeat that experience in the West Bank, whence even short-range rockets could easily reach Israel’s major cities and commercial hubs. It’s no accident that Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has advocated turning to unilateralism, recently quit politics after polls showed his party barely squeaking into the Knesset.
So do American Jews have a magic solution for how to withdraw unilaterally without creating a security nightmare, or do they simply think Israelis should be willing to live with endless rocket fire for the sake of “peace”?
Then there’s the minor matter of the nature of our “peace partner.” How can Israel make peace with people who, for instance, accuse it of “one of the most dreadful campaigns of ethnic cleansing and dispossession in modern history”; praise Hamas for launching rockets at it; and claim it infects Palestinians with AIDS – all recent statements by senior PA officials? Or who deny Jewish history, glorify terror in their official media, demand that Israel commit demographic suicide and indoctrinate their children to view Israel’s eradication as their ultimate goal?
And another minor detail: Even with all this, the PA is too moderate for most Palestinians. As The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh noted last week, when Abbas returned to Ramallah after the UN recognized “Palestine” in the 1967 lines, “fewer than 5,000 Palestinians … turned out to greet him.” But when the head of Hamas came to Gaza and vowed “to liberate all Palestine, ‘from the river to the sea’ … because the country belonged only to Muslim and Arabs, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians showed up to welcome [Khaled] Mashaal and voice support for his plan to eliminate Israel.” So where does that leave prospects for peace?
All this explains the shocking findings of a poll commissioned by the Saban Center last month: Fully 55% of Israeli Jews don’t think “lasting peace” with the Palestinians “will ever happen.” And only 4% see peace as possible “in the next five years.”
So unless American Jews can credibly explain to Israelis why they’re wrong, and then present a credible plan for achieving this as-yet elusive peace, it’s ridiculous to expect Israelis to consider “peace” a major campaign issue. Politics, as Otto von Bismarck famously said, is the art of the possible. And as long as peace talks don’t appear to be within the realm of the possible, Israeli politics will quite rightly focus on issues that are.
It takes two to tango. There is no 'Palestinian' partner for peace.