25 March 2009

Visit to J Street

I spent the day in DC--on Capitol Hill and in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building--with J Street, a pro-Israel and pro-peace group that is new to the DC scene. J Street founder Jeremy Ben Ami and his incredible staff put together a great day which began with a briefing from J Street's pollster Jim Gerstein, who shared his findings which indicate that the American Jewish community strongly supports a two-state settlement between Israelis and Palestinians as well as strongly supports an even-handed approach to both sides in the conflict, recognizing that terror and settlement expansion BOTH need to be curtailed.

With these polling numbers we visited several Congressional offices and I'd have to say found a surprising degree of welcome and relief from Members of Congress who were very heartened to hear that a large segment of the American Jewish community supports these views.

For lunch we were briefed by members of the Obama Administration on their own plans for moving ahead, most fundamentally with the appointment of Senator George Mitchell and an able team of State Department veterans dedicated to seeking a diplomatic solution region-wide.

Besides being impressed by J Street's organization and professionalism, I was also struck by the tone coming from members of the Obama Administration, who, when referencing diplomatic efforts used sentences like, "We plan to try to normalize the mechanics of these relationships" and "we are committed to frequent, meaningful, deep engagement and dialogue."

Heck, I'm for that in our synagogue!

But seriously, the sense of relief that from the President on down there is a distinct effort to set a new tone, to try a new path, and to do so while remaining firmly committed to Israel's strength and security--understanding fundamentally that Israel's Jewish and democratic character is preserved and strengthened by the two-state solution--was a powerful testimony to the new mood in our nation's capital.

Around the room today were rabbis, activists, diplomats and other interested parties--all convinced that dialogue is the way. "Frequent, meaningful, deep engagement and dialogue." We were asked to give Senator Mitchell a vote of confidence, a chance to tour the region, to listen, and to prod all the parties toward peace. What we heard, remarkably, yet not surprising, is that Arabs and Israelis would very much like to travel down that road. Our job, it seems to me, is to encourage and support those risks for peace.

There seems to be a deep fear and concern on all sides that this window of opportunity is closing and with further radicalization, we risk a remade map of the Middle East that could endanger Israel even further.

And so to quote an early sage, Hillel, known as a lover of peace:

If not now, when?

If not frequent, meaningful, deep engagement and dialogue now, when?


afor said...

Talk is cheap in our tradition. Deeds are what count. Therefore, I'm dubious, even cynical about the value of "meaningful, deep engagement and dialogue." We can't do much to transform our adversaries but we can perform a deed that would show our bona fides on the subject of peace and, hopefully, move the process along in a meaningful way. Israel must stop the addition and expansion of the settlements and begin to pull them back now. This will not undermine its security but would show in a concrete way that it really wants to make the two-state solution a reality.

I'd like to believe that the political will still exists in Israel to do this, but I'm not sure anymore. While a majority of Israelis agree that a two-state solution would be for the best, it's not clear that the body politic is willing to pay the price in civil strife and the loss of cheaper housing that dismantlement would entail. I hope I'm wrong but the last election suggests otherwise.

In any case, constantly stating that we want peace but have nobody to talk to is a disingenuous posture set up to fail almost by design. The progressive supporters of a Jewish state need to favor something more honest, daring and meaningful -- the beginning of withdrawal. If peace is our true aspiration, we must do something more than offer to talk, we must act. It's also the best way to find out once and for all if there is anyone worth speaking to on the other side.

Andy Bachman said...

I think both the State and NSC points of view were that in contrast to the last 8 years in which there was very little engagement, we need much, much more. Many diplomats said there is tremendous will to move to action in the Arab world. And that with increased pressure, both sides will see this. Remember, Olmert is nearly at peace right now. There will be pressure on Netanyahu to continue in that direction.