The re-‘birth’ of hope?


Truisms are born to be disproven. The assertion that the era of the two-state solution is over has been frequently propounded of late by Israelis from left to right. To make their case, they point to the irreversibility of Israel’s presence in the West Bank. 

Another truism of great resonance, especially in the American Jewish community, is that Israel’s PR efforts are woefully inadequate. I mention these two — among many truisms pervading the Middle East—because they were the subject of withering scrutiny on an eye-opening visit I paid several weeks ago to Molad, a newly formed think tank that rests atop the popular Burgers Bar restaurant on Emek Refaim Street in Jerusalem. Molad, which means “birth” in Hebrew, describes itself as the Center for the Renewal of Israeli Democracy.  The group undertakes various research projects with an eye toward regaining some of the ground of democracy lost in recent years in Israel. Looming over all is a grand, 10-year vision: to overturn more than a decade of right-wing control in Israel by returning progressive forces to political power (quite akin to the concerted plan laid out by the Center for American Progress in the United States to return Democrats to power after the Bush era). 

Perhaps the most remarkable feature of Molad is the path followed by its youthful leaders. Avner Inbar and Assaf Sharon are both 30-something, American-educated political theorists who were among the organizers of the weekly protests in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighborhood of East Jerusalem where Palestinian families who have resided for decades have been forced out of their homes and replaced by Jewish settlers. A third leader of Molad is Mikhael Manekin, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, the group of former and current Israeli soldiers who report on aberrant or illegal behavior committed by the Israel Defense Forces.

A few years ago, the three were, figuratively speaking, throwing stones at the establishment. Today, they are methodically attempting to gain control over it, through democratic means — and, indeed, through the expansion of democratic principles in Israeli society. It is stunning to behold the lightning transformation and maturation of these three from radicals to pragmatists, a process so rapid that they are, in some cases, more moderate than their parents — a curious inversion of the generational norm. For example, I had assumed that the youthful leaders of Molad would have maintained that a tipping point has been reached on Israeli settlement activity, and that the challenge ahead was to think of a post-two-state world. Quite to the contrary, they maintain that Israel doesn’t have the luxury of such despair. The two-state solution, they argue, is the only one that can work in a land riven by bitter conflict for over 100 years. To believe otherwise is to engage in delusional fantasy. Accordingly, they are devoting all of their substantial intellectual energies to restoring the two-state idea to the top of the political agenda.

This requires dispatching with facile assumptions through careful and uncompromising research. One of the latest examples to emerge from the Molad shop is the study undertaken by researcher Shivi Greenfield regarding the efficacy of Israel’s hasbara, or public relations, efforts. The conventional view in the Israel advocacy community, as we hear on occasion on the pages of the Jewish Journal, is that Israel is losing the battle on the public diplomacy front. The argument goes that Israel’s hasbara operation is far less sophisticated than that of pro-Palestinian forces, including but not limited to advocates of BDS — Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. The result is a deep erosion of Israel’s standing in the international community. 

The Molad report examines the various claims and arrives at three important conclusions. First, there was a marked improvement in Israeli public diplomacy following a scathing report condemning previous efforts by Israel’s State Comptroller in 2007. More centralized control of various government public diplomacy outlets has yielded a more coherent and effective voice. The report utilizes seven criteria (e.g., coordination, crisis management and branding) to challenge “the common perception that the Israel hasbara apparatus is ineffective.” On the contrary, it concludes, “Israel has an elaborate, professional and sophisticated hasbara apparatus.”

The report then moves on to a second conclusion that flies in the face of what we often hear in Jewish communal conversation: that supporters of the Palestinian side belong to a well-oiled, sophisticated and amply funded PR machine. Using the same seven criteria discussed in the case of Israel, the report points to the absence of a single centralized anti-Israel hasbara operation — not in Iran, not by Hamas, not by the Palestinian Authority nor by the advocates of BDS. Its various organs are poorly coordinated, often excessively shrill in tone, and diffuse in their use of media and branding. The lack of coherence reveals a measure of organizational chaos that helps explain why “Israel earns widespread sympathy in the United States, much more so than Palestinians in general and anti-Israel organizations in particular.”  As a general matter, the report asserts, the anti-Israeli “public diplomacy network can be said to be significantly inferior to Israel’s.”

This leads to a final, powerful, though barely articulated conclusion. To the extent that Israel is the target of international criticism and has a negative image, it is manifestly not the result of failed public diplomacy. It is about Israel’s 46-year occupation of the West Bank, in the absence of which the country’s international standing would not be faltering nor would there be calls for boycott. 

Molad’s mission in investigating the claims about Israeli public diplomacy is not to give Israel a bad name, but to do the hard work of distinguishing between ikar and tafel, between what is central and what is peripheral. The organization’s youthful leaders want to save Israel’s body and soul by declaring with Carvillean bluntness: “It’s the occupation, stupid!” Seeing their rare combination of piercing intellect, political realism and future-oriented vision can, at least for a fleeting moment, cure one of a fatalistic certainty regarding the end of the two-state era.  Whether they ultimately turn out to be right, it would be foolhardy not to place a bet on this group of supremely talented and committed young Israelis.


David N. Myers teaches Jewish history at UCLA.

Kerry tells Peres he sees ‘road ahead’ on peace


U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Israel said he sees “a road ahead” on the two-state solution for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Kerry made his remarks in a statement Monday afternoon following a meeting with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

“It has been expressed by your leaders and others for years that people believe in the possibility of the two-state solution. I am convinced there is a road forward,” Kerry said. “would say to everyone that I have no illusions about the difficulties, we've seen them. But you have to believe in the possibilities to be able to get there. You and I believe in them and I'm convinced there is a road ahead.”

Kerry and Peres met on Israel's Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom Hashoah, after Kerry participated in the national wreath-laying ceremony at Yad Vashem. The secretary of state said it was an honor “to share in the uniqueness of that expression of sorrow and honor for this remarkable moment in history which we mark,” adding that the wailing of the siren marking the Holocaust remembrance “had a profound impact on me.”

Peres said the “Iranian regime with its hegemonic ambition is the greatest threat to peace, security and regional stability. Today of all days we should condemn that regime, which denies the Holocaust and threatens another one. We have full faith in you, in President Obama and in the global coalition which is committed to preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power.”

Kerry responded that the Obama administration “understand(s) the threat of Iran and as the president has said many times he doesn't bluff. He is serious and we will stand with Israel against this threat, and with the rest of the world who have underscored that all we are looking for is Iran to live up to its international obligations.”

Also Monday, Kerry met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad after meeting a day earlier with P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas. No statements were issued after the meetings.

Kerry was scheduled to meet with other Israeli officials on Monday and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday before leaving the country.

It has been reported that Kerry is pushing for the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which offered Israel a comprehensive peace with the Arab countries in the region in exchange for all land captured in 1967.

Obama in Israel: ‘Put yourself in their shoes’


It’s been just two days since President Barack Obama touched down in Israel, and no doubt you’ve probably read and heard it all by now. The ribbing banter with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his Best Frenemy Forever. The constant ovations during his speeches. The Presidential Medal from Shimon Peres. The fact that Obama gave a traditional toast in Hebrew. (Note to his critics:  Barack Hussein Obama now officially speaks more Hebrew than the average American Jew.)

After such a warm and successful visit, the biggest shock seems to be that Obama didn’t just make aliyah.

But for all the coverage, I still think the media missed the single most important story: Barack Obama has more in common with young Israelis, and with young American Jews, than Bibi Netanyahu. There is a Jewish “Arab Spring,” and its leader is the American President.

Just after the visit began, the press was asking whether what Obama had to do to succeed in the eyes of American Jewry.  But as I told one reporter, American Jews already like Obama — it’s Netanyahu they’re testing.

Politically, Israeli and American Jews are each other’s mirror images.  They poll against Obama; we overwhelmingly vote for him.  They supported the Iraq War, we opposed it. They only thing we love equally is hummus, and Bar Raphaeli.

So from the point of view of American Jewry, it wasn’t Obama who had anything to prove, it was Netanyahu.  Would Bibi put on his gracious, appreciative, compromising and welcoming face?  Or would he be the rude, demanding Bibi he’s shown himself to be in some meetings past?  We like the Bibi who likes our Barack.

And young Israelis seem to really like Obama, too.

At the Jerusalem Convention Center on March 21, Obama addressed some 2,000 Israeli college students and received numerous ovations.   The press called his speech “tough love” — which it was — but if that’s the case, young Israelis seem to like it rough.

Obama is the first American president to speak directly to Israeli youth and apply the language of the American Civil Rights movement to the Palestinian cause.  Here’s what he said:

“But the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes — look at the world through their eyes. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished. It is not right to prevent Palestinians from farming their lands; to restrict a student’s ability to move around the West Bank; or to displace Palestinian families from their home. Neither occupation nor expulsion is the answer. Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.”

Put yourself in their shoes. You would think that line would be greeted with boos and catcalls.   But it received an extended ovation.   The young Israelis didn’t see this as “tough love.”   They saw it as “about time.”

“Standing ovations from young Israelis for an endorsement of a Palestinian state by an enthusiastically Zionist African-American President whose middle name is Hussein,” wrote Jeffrey Goldberg, the Atlantic writer who witnessed the speech. ” How, exactly, did he pull that one off?”

Obama pulled it off not by speaking to the Israel these young people know, but to the one they aspire to, the one they believe in.

One thing this means is that the noisiest, hardline “mainstream” pro-Israel voices do not speak for or to the next generation of Israelis, as they don’t for most young American Jews, for that matter. That doesn’t mean, as Peter Beinart and others would have it, that young American Jews don’t care about Israel, any more than you could say these young Israeli Jews don’t care about their country.  They’re both  just frustrated that the Israel they believe in, the one they aspire to build upon or support, is not reflected in the actions of the Bibi government or the pronouncement of Jewish American leaders.

In retrospect, none of this should be surprising.  An October 2012 Jerusalem Post poll showed that a center-left megaparty could defeat Netanyahu in the 2013 elections.   Israelis overall are more centrist than their American supporters, or their media critics, make them out to be.

Among the young, even more so.   They care more about opportunity than ideology.  Born in the 1980s and ’90 s, they would like, finally, to put the 1967 war behind them.

Obama correctly assumed this generation feels as much kinship with the striving, riled up Arab youth across their borders in Egypt, Syria, Jordan—even Palestine—as they do with a calcified and resistant political order back home.

“One of the great ironies of what is happening in the broader region is that so much of what people are yearning for – education and entrepreneurship; the ability to start a business without paying a bribe, to connect to the global economy – those things can be found in Israel,” Obama said.

In other words: They want what you want: freedom, security, a chance to make it.

This isn’t to say these Israelis would support the terms of whatever peace process comes along—and unless what Obama said resonates just as deeply with Palestinians, there won’t be much of one.

But if the Cairo speech Obama gave at the start of his presidency set the president back in the eyes of Israelis, his Jerusalem speech showed that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Israelis: and Obama has put himself in their shoes.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Some reasons for Israel’s skepticism towards the Palestinian Authority


The biased news coverage on Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, is frightening. It is therefore of vital importance to mention in discussions about the Middle East all relevant facts, in order to give the audience a full and balanced picture. I would like to illustrate this with two examples.

The Jerusalem issue

The Arabs deny the historic rights of the Jews in the Holy Land and the special link of the Jewish people to Jerusalem. And today, even the building in large parts of the Jerusalem area is heavily disputed! Let’s look into some facts of the Jerusalem issue:

Since thousands of years (see 1. Book of Kings, 8,48), Jews all over the world have prayed towards Jerusalem – not least for the good of their Holy City, and in the hope to soon be able to return in this “City of Peace” (uru-salem). At the closure of the High Holidays, it has ever since been a tradition to say the wish: “Next year in Jerusalem”.

For the Arabs, in turn, Jerusalem was no meaningful centre before 1967. The city is not mentioned in the Qur’an one single time, and during the around twenty years (1948 to 1967) of illegitimate Jordanian rule over it no Arab representative except the king of Jordan, Abdallah, paid her a visit. Only in 1967, when – after a renewed attack of the Arab states – Israel has taken over the administration of the city, the interest of the Arabs in Jerusalem all of a sudden has become enormously big. But also thereafter it has always been obvious that Jerusalem has no sincere significance to the Arabs: When the Egyptian president Saddat during his historical visit to Israel came to Jerusalem and prayed on the Temple Mount, he did so towards – Mecca.

Until 1967, Jews were absolutely prohibited to access the Western Wall. In total contrast, the State of Israel thereafter left the administration of the Temple Mount and its mosques to the Arab side, in order to create the grounds for a peaceful atmosphere in Jerusalem. This religion-minded act however has been rewarded badly: until today, it has been strictly forbidden to Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.

The opinion of the Palestinian Arabs is quite clear. A few weeks ago, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal literally announced: “Jerusalem is our eternal capital; we cling to it and will free it inch by inch… Israel has no rights to Jerusalem.”

Could this be a solid basis for co-existence in the Holy City?

The two state peace agreement

Israel is permanently reproached not to advance swiftly enough the talks for a two state solution with the Palestinian Arabs. But perhaps we should ask ourselves in all honesty why Israel hesitates, though after all the many years of insecurity, terror and wars an absolute majority of Israelis is ready to make large concessions in exchange for a peaceful coexistence with their Palestinian neighbors. Following are four reasons for this:

a)    The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, consistently denies – directly and through his media – the Jewish State its historical rights in the Holy Land (not only in Jerusalem!). He is the same Mahmoud Abbas who in his dissertation denied the Holocaust, and he is also the same Mahmoud Abbas who shares in the responsibility for the terror attack during the Munich Olympic Games in 1972, in which eleven Israeli athletes were murdered. Does not each one have to acknowledge the basic right of existence of the other in peace talks and before one can start to look for solutions for the conflict?

b)    Mahmoud Abbas accuses Israel of the worst of crimes and incites especially the youths against the Jewish State. In the official Palestinian TV programs for young people, aggressive slanders of Israel are spread, while the most violent terrorist are highly praised. Thus, the new generation of Palestinians is poisoned with hatred instead of being educated for peace and integrated in a peace process. And just as a side note: When an international committee examined the school books of the Palestinian Authority and Israel, they reported that the Palestinian school books contain a lot of agitational material, while in the Israeli ones there are no anti-Arab texts. This kind of double standard should not surprise us because we know well that the Muslim world reacts vehemently to any vilification of Mohammed, while Arab media do not shy away from publications of anti-Semitic, ‘Stuermer’ style caricatures.

c)    Far more than a million Arabs live in Israel enjoying all civil rights. In the parliamentary elections they are represented with three parties, and they got 11 (!) Knesset seats in the recent elections in Israel. In contrast, Mahmoud Abbas claims that no Jews be allowed to live in the Palestinian state to be founded. It shall be a ‘judenrein’ state. To Israel, this inevitably is inacceptable.

d)    In order to promote the peace in the Holy Land, Israel evacuated in 2005 – thereby incurring the biggest ideological, social and economical difficulties – 25 flourishing Jewish villages in the Gaza Strip, hoping that Palestinian refugees would be settled there in a humane manner and that the peace process would gain a big step forward by this measure. Instead of that, these “liberated” areas have become the point of origin of a permanent rocket bombardment of the civil population in Israel’s southern core lands by Palestinian terrorists. How could one, after this development, expect that Israel in a speed process surrenders areas just 18 kilometers from Tel Aviv to the Palestinians which thereafter most probably soon would be ruled, corresponding to the Gaza Strip, by the extreme, terrorist Hamas?

“Don’t judge your neighbor without putting yourself seriously into his position” is an old Talmudic wisdom. It is up to us to judge the complex facts in the Middle East in a realistic and fair-minded way and to refrain from arrogant, superficial and most of all totally biased counsel from afar.

Obama’s likely takeaway from Israeli election: More two-state advocates


With the Israeli election results split evenly between the right-wing bloc and everyone else, no one in Washington is ready to stake their reputation on what the outcome means for the U.S.-Israel relationship and the Middle East.

Except for this: The next Israeli government likely will include more than two lawmakers committed to a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

In mid-December, resigned to what then seemed to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s certain reelection at the helm of a hard-right government, staff at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv drew up what they believed would be the most likely new governing coalition. Then they researched each member and counted the lawmakers who had expressly committed themselves to a two-state solution.

They came up with a grand total of two: Netanyahu and Carmel Shama HaCohen, a real estate agent from Ramat Gan and a political up-and-comer.

HaCohen is unlikely to claim a seat in the next Knesset. He’s No. 32 on the Likud Beitenu list, which is projected to take 31 seats, though some ballots have yet to be counted. But the prospect of more than two two-staters on the governing side has risen dramatically with the split Knesset, while apprehension within the Obama administration about a Netanyahu driven into recalcitrance by hard-line partners has likely diminished.

White House spokesman Jay Carney eagerly took a question on Jan. 22 on what the elections meant for peace prospects, even before official results were in and when exit polls projected Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc emerging with a razor-thin majority.

“The United States remains committed, as it has been for a long time, to working with the parties to press for the goal of a two-state solution,” Carney said. “That has not changed and it will not change. We will continue to make clear that only through direct negotiations between the parties can the Palestinians and Israelis address all the permanent status issues that need to be addressed and achieve the peace that they both deserve: two states for two peoples with a sovereign, viable and independent Palestine living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic Israel.”

The language was boilerplate, but the context was not: Just a week ago, the narrative was that President Obama had all but given up on advancing peace while Netanyahu was prime minister, believing that “Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are,” according to a report by Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic.

David Makovsky, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank with close ties to the major Israeli parties and the White House, said the Obama administration was likely to proceed with cautious optimism.

“We're entering into a period of uncertainty where Israeli politics will look like a Rubik’s cube,” Makovsky said. “But from Washington’s perspective, there might be more cards than a couple of weeks ago.”

The Obama-Netanyahu drama of recent years, arising from tensions over Israel’s settlement building and how aggresively to confront Iran, may not soon disappear. In his post-election speech, Netanyahu said preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon remains his No. 1 priority.

Obama also wants to keep Iran from having a nuclear bomb, which the Islamic Republic has denied it is seeking. But the two leaders have disagreed on the efficacy of sanctions and the timing of a possible military option.

Additionally, there is a sense among Israeli rightists that Obama’s remark was leaked to Goldberg in a bid to bring down Netanyahu’s poll numbers, although no evidence has emerged to support the claim.

The upside for Obama, however, is that Netanyahu will likely first court the centrist parties in coalition talks. According to news reports, he called Yair Lapid, the leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, shortly after the polls closed on Jan. 22 and told him they had great things to do together. In his own speech, Netanyahu said he could see “many partners” in the next government.

Lapid, the telegenic former journalist whose new party snagged an unexpected 19 seats, was the surprise winner in the balloting. He backs negotiations with the Palestinians and withdrawal from much of the West Bank, although he also aggressively courted some settlers. More piquantly, his chief adviser is Mark Mellman, a pollster ensconced in Washington’s Democratic establishment who has close White House ties.

Netanyahu’s pivot to the center is to be expected, said Josh Block, who directs The Israel Project, a group that disseminates pro-Israel materials to journalists and opinion makers.

“Predictions of Israeli voter apathy and of a rightward shift in the Israeli electorate, both of which reached the status of conventional wisdom on the eve of the election, seem to have been incorrect,” Block said in an email. “The voting, which was marked by near-historic turnout, appears to show an Israeli electorate reflecting a practical centrism: a desire for strong security and peace with Palestinians, a focus on economic issues and needs of the middle class, and a commitment to free markets and religious secularism.”

Much of the election was fought on the widening income gaps in Israel, as well as on the role of the haredi Orthodox in Israeli affairs. Those issues likely will predominate in coalition negotiations, said Peter Medding, a political science professor at Hebrew University whose specialties include U.S.-Israel relations.

Medding said the negotiations could take weeks, particularly because of Lapid’s emphasis on drafting haredi Orthodox students and removing Orthodox influence from the public sphere.

“The kind of policies Lapid has been putting forward does not sit well with some of the right’s natural coalition partners, particularly Shas,” the Sephardic Orthodox party that won 11 seats.

State Dept. warns ‘E-1’ construction would damage two-state prospects


Building in the E-1 area between eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim would be “especially damaging” to efforts to reach a two-state solution, the State Department said.

“The United States opposes all unilateral actions, including West Bank settlement activity and housing construction in East Jerusalem, as they complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations, and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations,” Mark Toner, the State Department deputy spokesman, said in a statement. “This includes building in the E-1 area, as this area is particularly sensitive and construction there would be especially damaging to efforts to achieve a two-state solution.”

The statement Monday came after Israel leaked plans to build in the area, in apparent retaliation for the Palestinians' success last week in winning non-member state status at the United Nations General Assembly.

The first State Department reaction on Friday, by Toner's boss, Victoria Nuland, expressed concern over E-1 while also noting U.S. opposition to enhanced U.N. status for Palestine.

“We’re going to be evenhanded in our concern about any actions that are provocative, any actions that make it harder to get these two parties back to the table,” Nuland said.

Toner's statement on Monday was focused only on the proposed E-1 building, suggesting that the Obama administration would be aggressive in opposing E-1 development.

“We have made clear to the Israeli government that such action is contrary to U.S. policy,” Toner said. “The United States and the international community expect all parties to play a constructive role in efforts to achieve peace. We urge the parties to cease unilateral actions and take concrete steps to return to direct negotiations so all the issues can be discussed and the goal of two states living side by side in peace and security can be realized.”

Israeli governments have long planned such building, which would link the bedroom community of Maale Adumim to Jerusalem, but successive U.S. administrations have opposed it, saying that developing the corridor would cut off Palestinian populations centers from each other in a future Palestinian state.

E-1 was a flashpoint of tensions between the administration of President George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Mofaz tells Obama that window for peace is opening


Shaul Mofaz, Israel’s new deputy prime minister, told President Obama that the new national unity government presents a window of opportunity to restart peace talks with the Palestinians.

Mofaz, the Kadima leader who is in Washington this week for his first round of meetings since joining his party to the government, had a surprise meeting Thursday with the U.S. president when Obama interrupted a scheduled meeting with Tom Donilon, the national security adviser.

At a news conference for Hebrew-speaking reporters, Mofaz said he briefed Obama on Israel’s new coalition and that with support from Kadima, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in a stronger position to make compromises for peace. He told the president that the Israeli and Palestinian sides should reconvene soon, and without preconditions.

“We could have a year of negotiations before we get into the Israeli elections,” Mofaz said at the news conference in Hebrew. The elections are scheduled for late 2013.

Since 2010 the Palestinian Authority has resisted restarting talks unless Israel freezes settlement building.

Mofaz said he told Obama that his sense was that talks by the major powers with Iran on ending its suspected nuclear weapons program have failed and that it was time to advance to sanctions on Iran’s oil and financial sectors.

The European Union is scheduled to kick in such sanctions next month.

Mofaz said he told Obama that the United States and the western powers also should prepare for other options to deal with Iran, including military options.

In his 35-minute chat, Mofaz said he and Obama also discussed his hopes for bettering relations with Turkey as well as the intensifying crisis in Syria, where the Assad regime is reported to have slaughtered thousands of its citizens.

EU ministers slam Israel for threatening viability of two-state solution


European Union foreign ministers at a meeting in Brussels slammed Israel for threatening the viability of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Their three-page statement released Monday condemned the increased growth of settlement building, and the eviction of Palestinians and demolition of their homes in eastern Jerusalem. It also expressed concern over settler violence.

“The viability of a two-state-solution must be maintained,” the statement said. “The EU expresses deep concern about developments on the ground which threaten to make a two-state solution impossible.”

The statement also indicated that the EU reiterates its “fundamental commitment to the security of Israel, including with regard to vital threats in the region. The EU is appalled by recurring rocket attacks from Gaza and condemns in the strongest terms violence deliberately targeting civilians.” It also called for the prevention of arms smuggling into Gaza.

It also expressed concern about recent reports of the arrests of journalists by the Palestinian Authority and for “recent incidents of incitement in Palestinian media and elsewhere.”

In its response to the statement, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “The conclusions of the EU Foreign Affairs Council on the Middle East Peace Process do not contribute to advancing the peace process.”

The statement’s accusations, the ministry said, “include a long list of claims and criticism that are based on a partial, biased and one-sided depiction of realities on the ground. Such a public presentation does not contribute to advance the process.

Opinion: We must talk about the two Jerusalems


After my first visit to Israel, at age 6, I proudly toted my photo album to Hebrew school for show-and-tell. As the class crowded around a picture of the Kotel, my teacher marveled, “Look how blue the sky is!”

I squinted at the picture: The sky didn’t look any bluer than the sky in Framingham, Mass., where I grew up. But I believed her. Of course, the Jerusalem sky would be bluer than anywhere else in the world.

I’m still not sure about that sky, but my teacher’s comment sums up the relationship that many American Jews have with Jerusalem. For many of us, Jerusalem has become more of a spiritual ideal than an actual place.

On June 1, many Jews will celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, or Jerusalem Day, which marks the 1967 military victory that led to Israeli control of East Jerusalem.

In the American Jewish communities that celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, the day often becomes a time for rhetoric about the perfection of Jerusalem. We may quote the ancient rabbinic claim that nine-tenths of the world’s beauty rests in Jerusalem. We speak of Jerusalem as the city of peace and as the holy city. We sing Naomi Shemer’s song, “Jerusalem of gold, of bronze, of light.”

Some of this talk reflects a conscious political attempt to close down any discussion about the status of Jerusalem in a peace agreement. Some of this talk arises from a well-intentioned desire to put aside politics and focus on Jerusalem’s religious meaning.

But nothing about Jerusalem is apolitical.

If we focus only on the holiness and beauty of the place, we unfeelingly ignore the pain of its Arab residents, low-income families, foreign workers and others whose lives there involve injustice and lost opportunity. If we focus only on the injustices committed there, we forget the religious power of Jerusalem for Jews, Muslims and Christians.

When we choose to speak about Jerusalem only in idealistic terms, we fail to grapple with the essential messiness of the actual place. In the real Jerusalem, people go to work, run errands and worry about their children. In the real Jerusalem, haredi Orthodox and secular Israelis battle over Shabbat laws and segregated bus lines. In the real Jerusalem, English speakers and well-off Israelis eat sushi in upscale cafes.

In the real Jerusalem, longtime Arab residents are evicted from the homes they have occupied for decades so that religious Jewish settlers can move to homes they have purchased in the neighborhood. In the real Jerusalem, inspiring activists and advocates devote their life to creating a better city for all residents. In the real Jerusalem, Jews, Muslims and Christians come to pray.

The disconnect between the idea of Jerusalem and the reality of the place is not a new phenomenon.

Classical Jewish texts distinguish between “Yerushalayim shel malah,” the spiritual, heavenly Jerusalem, and “Yerushalayim shel mata,” the earthly Jerusalem. In Yerushalayim shel malah, God is visible, suffering is absent and there is perfection. In Yerushalayim shel mata, real people struggle with deep political, religious and personal conflict. In Yerushalayim shel mata, perfection remains elusive.

When we speak only about the beauty and holiness of Jerusalem, we effectively act as though we already live in Yerushalayim shel malah. This approach gets in the way of our making progress in ensuring that the actual Jerusalem is a just and peaceful place.

If we are able instead to engage with Yerushalayim shel matah, in all of its messiness and complexity, we have a chance to create a better future for the city. Encountering this messiness means visiting, or at least reading about, the diverse communities living in the city. It means seeing what neighborhoods make up East Jerusalem, who lives there, and how life differs in the Arab and Jewish parts of the city. It means spending time in religious and secular communities and understanding the tensions as well as the commonalities between them. It means visiting the wealthiest and poorest neighborhoods of the city.

Jerusalem has become the primary battleground for the peace process and for internal debates about the nature of Israeli society. Jerusalem’s status in these debates is both symbolic and real.

The rabbis of the Talmud describe Jerusalem as the portal to heaven. There is, according to these texts, a direct line from Jerusalem to the Divine throne. However, these same rabbis elsewhere assert that one of the doors to “gehenom,” the underworld, also sits in Jerusalem. Jerusalem, the holiest of all cities, offers the possibility of Divine encounter. But even the ancient rabbis understood the flip side of this holiness: We can get so involved in our own religious longings that we fail to see that we are falling into unhappy territory.

This year, let’s make Yom Yerushalayim a time for real communal conversation about the messy, complicated and exciting history, reality and future of the city. If we succeed in doing so, we may move ourselves just one step closer to realizing Yerushalayim shel malah.

(Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the executive director of Rabbis for Human Rights-North America.)

Mind-State Solution


I’m not sure, but I think I have a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or at least another way of looking at it. It hit me the other day after I broke bread at Pat’s Restaurant with some people connected to Americans for Peace Now, a leftist Jewish organization that actively promotes the two-state solution.

Now, you should know that whenever I hear the words “peace now,” something inside of me cringes. I have never understood how Israel could make peace now with an enemy that hates her no matter what she does.

Over the years, I’ve asked this question of a number of people across the ideological spectrum: “If Israel dismantled all the settlements in the West Bank tomorrow, would it stop Palestinian hostility and violence toward Israel?”

I never once got a yes.

Why? I think it’s because most people intuitively understand that dismantling settlements is not the same thing as dismantling hatred. The hatred that has been taught for years in Palestinian schools and summer camps, through television shows and billboards and in mosques is not just aimed at Jewish settlers but at all Jews and at all of Israel. This kind of hatred is too deep to be washed away by well-meaning gestures.

So I came to my Peace Now lunch with some apprehension — and a lot of prejudice.

I can’t say I connected ideologically with my lunchmates, but I did end up connecting emotionally. The reason was that I trusted their deep commitment to Israel and their sincerity in their search for peace.

There was something very Jewish about their attitude toward the conflict. First, the idea of hope, of never giving up. Where would the Jews be today if we didn’t have hope?

There was also the idea of taking responsibility for our situation — of not blaming others for our fate. Again, where would the Jewish nation be today without that character trait?

My peace-loving lunch companions are not naive. They know about the spread of Jewish hatred in Palestinian society, and they understand the fear many of us have that a Palestinian state could easily become a terrorist state. But they believe the ideals of peace and a two-state solution are so valuable to Jews and to Israel that it is worth pursuing relentlessly, even if it means paying a significant price.

It’s this idea of paying a price for peace that made a lightbulb go off.

For nearly two decades, Israel has gone to one failed peace meeting after another with this question in mind: How much are we willing to pay for peace? In doing so, they have acted as if the Palestinians actually have something to sell.

Apparently, no one ever stood up during one of those meetings to say to the Israelis: “Wait a minute, you’re not the buyers, you’re the sellers!”

Why sellers? Because everyone knows that when Israel signs an agreement with an Arab country, it is capable of honoring it. On the other hand, it’s no secret that the Palestinians, with or without Hamas, are in no position to deliver peace to Israel.

It follows that if any party should be selling, it is Israel. Yet, incredibly, it is always the reverse: The Palestinians are selling a peace they can’t deliver, while the Israelis are buying a peace that doesn’t exist.

Is it any wonder that all the peace plans keep failing? That groups like Peace Now keep banging their heads against the wall, hoping that more concessions from Israel will somehow bring us closer to that elusive solution?

The problem with pressuring Israel to buy peace through concessions is that it perpetuates the illusion that the Palestinians have something to sell.

What the peace process needs more than anything is for the Palestinians to be able to deliver their end of the bargain. Until that happens, any question of creating a Palestinian state is moot.

My solution? Have the sides switch roles or mind-states.

Israelis should act like “peace owners,” and Palestinians should act like “peace buyers.” With a buyer mentality, Palestinians will be more likely to make their own offers, rather than passively rejecting Israeli offers, which is what they often do.

As buyers, Palestinians would also learn that Israel needs a minimum security deposit: Stop teaching Jew-hatred to your children. Palestinians can’t offer peace while they’re teaching war. Tragically, the anti-incitement clause was the great ignored clause of Oslo — so for more than 15 years, Palestinian society fell back on its habit of demonizing Jews, which contributed to the growth of terrorism and rejectionist forces like Hamas.

Israel is hardly blameless in this picture, and it has made its share of mistakes. But settlements or no settlements, the fact remains that the great majority of Israeli Jews have been more than ready to pay a huge price for peace, including evacuating most of the West bank.

Had the Palestinians been smart, had they taken more responsibility for their situation and developed a culture of co-existence, they would have long ago made Israel an offer it couldn’t refuse. They would have called Israel’s bluff and made the process real.

Instead, we’ve all been treated to the continuing and sorry spectacle of global diplomats parachuting into Jerusalem to coax adversaries into yet another round of the “let’s play peace process” game.

Leading the latest charge is our new can-do president, who believes that a solution is possible if only the U.S. becomes more “engaged.” He will soon learn that no amount of American engagement or Israeli concessions can undo the reality that for the foreseeable future, the Palestinians are utterly incapable of delivering peace to Israel. 

All this, of course, is very sobering for those of us who fear for the future of Israel as a Jewish democratic state. Going forward, the one thing we can be sure of is that groups like Peace Now will continue to pressure Israel to make concessions, and people like me will lament that the whole process is upside down.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine, Meals4Israel.com and Ads4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

Briefs: Quartet says Palestinian-Israeli Agreement ‘Irreversible’


Quartet: Palestinian-Israeli Agreement ‘Irreversible’

Palestinian-Israeli peace gains are “irreversible,” the international grouping guiding the peace process said.

“The Quartet expressed its considered view that the bilateral negotiations process launched at Annapolis is irreversible and that these negotiations should be intensified in order to put an end to the conflict and to establish as soon as possible the state of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security with Israel,” said the statement that emerged Monday after the foreign minister-level meeting in New York of the members of the Quartet — the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

“Annapolis” refers to the renewed talks spurred by the Bush administration a year ago in Maryland.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli opposition leader leading in the polls ahead of Feb. 10 elections, has rejected some of the Annapolis tenets, particularly its prescription for Palestinian statehood as soon as possible. It’s not clear where the talks now stand, but Ehud Olmert, the scandal-tainted prime minister whose resignation led to new elections, has said that Israelis will have to settle for two states more or less on 1967 lines and sharing Jerusalem.

President Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who attended Monday’s meeting, have said they want talks as advanced as possible when they hand over the administration next month to President-elect Barack Obama.

The statement also:

  • Encouraged the renewal of an Egypt-brokered cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist group controlling the Gaza Strip. The three-month cease-fire is due to lapse on Friday, and Israel, Egypt and some elements in Hamas want to renew it, while other Hamas figures are opposed.”In this regard, the Quartet expressed concern that the Egyptian-brokered calm had been challenged, condemned indiscriminate attacks on Israel and called for an immediate cessation of violence,” it said, referring to the recent intensification of rocket fire from Gaza aimed at Israel’s southern towns.It also expressed its “acute concern regarding the recent increase in the closures of crossing points in response to violence in Gaza, which have limited the range and quantity of basic commodities.” Israel has sequestered Gaza in a bid to stop the rocket fire.
  • Praised the Palestinian Authority for introducing security forces in the West Bank towns of Jenin and Hebron after a training program designed and led by U.S. officials. Israeli defense officials have said the program is promising but does not yet adequately confront terrorism.
  • Pressed donor nations to fulfill pledges made in Paris earlier this year, when the Palestinian Authority was promised more than $7 billion in funding; Western nations have made good on the pledges while Arab nations are lagging.
  • Called on the Palestinians “to continue their efforts to reform the security services and dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism” and “called on Israel to freeze all settlement activities, which have a negative impact on the negotiating environment and on Palestinian economic recovery, and to address the growing threat of settler extremism,” a reference to settler riots earlier this month in the Hebron area.

Finally, the statement “looked forward to an intensification of Israeli-Syrian negotiations” and “supported, in consultation with the parties, an international meeting in Moscow in 2009.” Both calls appeared to be last-gasp reversals by the Bush administration, which until now refrained from encouraging Israel’s talks with Syria and resisted an increased Russian role in the process.

High Court Rejects New Fence Route

Israel’s Supreme Court rejected a new route for part of the security fence, saying it juts too far into the West Bank.

Israel had proposed a route near the Arab village of Bilin following a High Court of Justice ruling last year that the fence should be moved closer to Israel.

The court rejected the revised plans Monday, saying the route still placed too much Palestinian land on the Israeli side of the fence. Bilin’s Palestinian residents say the security fence hampers access to their farmlands.

Bilin attorney Michael Sfard told the Jerusalem Post that the ruling would affect other court challenges against the security fence.

There are weekly left-wing protests of the Bilin fence.

Israel Releases Palestinian Prisoners

Israel released more than 200 Palestinian prisoners. The release began Monday at noon, with most of the prisoners transferred from Ofer Prison, near Jerusalem, to a West Bank checkpoint. The others were scheduled to be sent from Shikma Prison in the Negev to the Erez checkpoint in Gaza.

Some 227 Palestinian prisoners were set to be freed, but the release of three was still under review.

Israel’s High Court of Justice canceled a temporary injunction against the release, following several petitions claiming it would cause more terrorism and that some of the prisoners had “blood on their hands.”

The release was a confidence-building measure for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in honor of a Muslim holiday. All of the prisoners belong to factions that support the Palestinian Authority and its leadership. None are associated with Hamas, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Our joy will be complete only when all 11,000 Palestinians imprisoned in Israel will be released,” Abbas said during celebrations to welcome the prisoners home.

There were no celebrations in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, according to Ynet, since none of the released prisoners were members of Hamas.

— Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Suissa on the edge, gay marriage, ice on Mars


Same-Sex Marriages

In the cover story (“Same Sex Marriage and the Fabric of Society: What Does it All Mean?” June 20), the section, “The End of Morality,” is devoted to anti-gay viewpoints (including Dennis Prager, perhaps inserted as deference to some aberrant sense of balance).

The argument made by Rabbi Daniel Korobkin that “broadening the definition of [marriage] actually weakens it, just as broadening the definition of homicide to include animals would weaken the crime of murder” has the ring of a nice soundbite but is both bigoted and specious, with at least two fallacies.

1) The premise behind Korobkin’s argument is that a human life is worth more than that of an animal, a point few would contest. Notwithstanding, logic might just as easily have led Korobkin to the opposite conclusion: If it is forbidden to kill an animal, how much more is it objectionable, then, to murder a human being, an interpretation which would strengthen his homicide law.

2) Because Korobkin’s aim is to use his homicide argument to justify the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage, the working principle here is the assumed inferiority of a class of people. In Korobkin’s paradigm, heterosexuals would be the “human beings” and gay men and lesbians would the “animals.”

His is the psychological threat felt by members of an established, dominant group with regard to the exclusive sense of entitlement for rights that only they have long been afforded.

Scott Portnoff
Los Angeles

Thriving on the Edge

David Suissa presents his recent column as covering all Israeli worldviews on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (“Thriving on the Edge,” June 27). But he misses a worldview that provides a way forward that combines the dovish view of Rabbi Michael Melchior with the pragmatism of Michael Oren. I call this worldview “halfway,” to suggest that Israel can create a secure future if it responds to Palestinian needs.

I think Israel can create a secure future by cooperating with both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Obvious first steps would:

1) Extend the Gaza truce to the West Bank.
2) Stop all settlement expansion, even in those settlements that Israel thinks will eventually become part of Israel.
3) Remove settlement outposts.
4) Remove checkpoints and roadblocks that do not contribute to Israeli security.
5) Stop extrajudicial execution of Palestinian leaders.
6) Find a compromise on a prisoner exchange to free Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

Jeff Warner
L.A. Jews for Peace

Qassams for Israel; IDF intrusions into Gaza. Is it possible that for more than a year, this cycle of violence is the result of Israel’s military encirclement of Gaza, resulting in its peoples’ escalation of human misery?

Now a fragile truce. Enter David Suissa’s article titled “Thriving on the Edge.” Being pro-Israel, pro-security and pro-peace, the article satisfied none of these sensibilities and left me feeling hung out to dry.

Moving from one frame of reference to another, Suissa disavows Knesset member Rabbi Michael Melchior’s “let’s give truce a try” to the philosophy of Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post denigrating the government’s efforts to engage Hamas, identifying Israel as charged in fighting a global jihad that can only be won militarily, to Michael Oren, a historian of merit who contends Palestinians unable to manage their own country are in no position to offer a substantive peace.

In the end, Suissa throws up his hands, in a sense advocating a policy of do nothing, which in effect is what the Israeli government has done since the Annapolis agreement in late October of 2007 — this despite endless negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the government of Israel.

During this period of time of negotiation, Israel has offered the PA not one iota of hope — no withdrawals of illegal outposts, no removal of checkpoints that seemingly exist only to harass and intimidate, no letup in the continued planning and construction of settlements in the West Bank or the numerous archaeological digs in Silwan, East Jerusalem.

In order for the Jewish people to assert its moral claim as being a light unto the nations, it must first employ courage when taking the necessary risks involved in fostering peace with its neighbors.

Wally Marks
Los Angeles

David Suissa responds:

Wally Marks chides Israel for not employing “courage when taking the necessary risks involved in fostering peace with its neighbors.” If uprooting 8,000 settlers and risking a Jew vs. Jew civil war is not an example of employing courage and taking risks for peace, I don’t know what is. Perhaps he should spend more time watching the hatred for Jews that is regularly spewed in official Palestinian media, schoolrooms and summer camps, and ask our Palestinian peace partners why they don’t have the courage to teach peace to their people.

Marks and Jeff Warner both seem to suffer from what I call “if-only-itis.” If only Israel would do the six “obvious first steps” Warner outlines, then Israel could “create a secure future.” The problem is that those steps have nothing to do with the Palestinian desire to eliminate the Jewish state. Accepting a Jewish presence in their neighborhood is something that can only be taught by Palestinians to Palestinians. When our Palestinian partners start teaching peace to their people, they will find a courageous partner in Israel.

New Columnist: Marty Kaplan

I have enjoyed your blogs on Huffingtonpost.com for some time. Your insight (“Ice on Mars: Good for the Jews?” June 27) was a special gem, and I thank you for it. So clear, so educated, so down to earth and accessible to any thoughtful person. A wonderful reminder of the possibility of wonder and of heartfelt thanks, both in the morning and when paradigms are cracked open.

Daniel O. Dugan
via e-mail

I enjoyed your article on cosmological breakthroughs, as I do all your articles (and movies). It is one of the rare articles written on the subject without a snicker of condescension and that does justice to its subject.

If the phylogenetic journey from bug to man is but the beginning of the beginning of consciousness, whither goeth evolution and destiny? Personally, I believe there is intelligent life on Earth, and that some of its beings walk among us. Quite frankly I suspect you are one of them.

Walter Miale
via e-mail

Israel @ 60: Confronting denial


Each year, in preparation for Israel’s birthday, newspaper editors feel an uncontrolled urge, a divine calling in fact, to invite Arab writers to tell us why Israel should not exist.

This must give them some sort of satisfaction, such as we might have in inviting officials of the Flat Earth Society to tell us why the the earth is not, could not or should not really be round, and to do so precisely on Earth Day, lest the wisdom would escape anyone’s attention.

Evidently, the banalization of absurdity has its kicks. It is sporty, “out-of-the-box-ish,” admirably “Jewish” and, if only we were not dealing with a dangerous experiment involving the lives and dignity of millions of human beings, could easily have earned its authors the National Cuteness Award.

But the issue before us is an adult matter, and the result is a depressing Kafkaesque choreography in which Israel, the heart and soul of Jewish peoplehood, is put on trial for its very existence, while pro-coexistence commentators, if they are invited, deal with the future of Israel and its achievements, but leave the accusations unanswered.

There is some wisdom to ignoring insults and unfounded accusations. By answering one tacitly bestows credence, however minimal, upon the arguments that put you on the accused bench—the last bench that Israel’s birthday deserves, even ignoring her accusers’ record. So, perhaps it is wise to write chapter and verse about Israel’s achievements (as Tom Friedman did on June 8) and let the “colonial” and “apartheid” accusations hang there, unanswered, as living witnesses of the Orwellian mentality of the accusers?

I am not totally convinced.

I am concerned about the possibility that a non-negligible percentage of Los Angeles Times readers, especially the novice and the hasty, would interpret the publication of Saree Makdisi’s call for dismantling Israel (“Forget the Two-State Solution,” L.A. Times, Opinion, May 12) as evidence that his arguments and conclusions are deemed worthy of consideration in the eyes of the editors of the L.A. Times, whose judgment the public has entrusted to protect us from Flat Earth-type deformities. This concern became especially acute after reporters Richard Boudreaux and Ashraf Khalil (“For Some Palestinians, One State With Israel Is Better Than None,” L.A. Times, World News, May 8 ) had already touted the “one-state” slogans in the same newspaper, with unmistaken sympathy, under the cover of “World News.”

I am concerned because evil plans begin with evil images. Once the mind is jolted to envision deviant images it automatically constructs a belief structure that supports their feasibility and desirability. The first phase of Hitler’s strategy was to get people to envision, just envision, a world without Jews—the rest is history. Today we are witnessing a well-coordinated effort by enemies of coexistence to get people to envision, just envision, a world without Israel—the rest, they hope, will become history.

The American press seems to fall for it.

In fairness to the editors of the L.A. Times (unlike The Nation and The Christian Science Monitor), articles calling for the elimination of Israel are often balanced by articles calling for peaceful coexistence. But, ironically, this “balance” is precisely where the imbalance occurs, for it gives equal moral weight to an immoral provocation that every Jew in Israel considers a genocidal death threat, and most Jews in the world view as an assault on their personal dignity, national identity and historical destiny. After all, we do not rush to “balance” each celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day with articles by white supremacists, and we do not “balance” a hate speech with a lecture on peaceful breathing technique; a hate speech is balanced with a lecture on the evils of hate.

A true, albeit grotesque, moral balance would be demonstrated only if for every “down with Israel” writer the newspaper were to invite a “down with Palestinian statehood” writer. But editors may have strange takes on morality; for some, questioning the legitimacy of Israel’s existence is a mark of neutrality, while questioning the legitimacy of Palestinian aspirations is a social taboo.

Decency should somehow inform these editors that both “down with” calls are morally reprehensible and insulting to readers’ intelligence, hence, both should be purged from civil discourse and marginalized into the good company of white supremacy and Flat Earth rhetoric.

But until decency reigns, we can be sure to see them again at Israel’s birthdays, the predators of peace, paraded by the press, demanding their annual prey: Once more to envision, just envision, a world without Israel.

Ironically, in this context, Arab commentaries published around Yom HaAtzmaut can actually be of great service to Israel, for they provide a faithful mirror of the prevailing sentiments in the elite ranks of Palestinian society and thus gauge precisely how ready it is to accept a peace agreement, whatever its shape, as permanent.

This year, the L.A. Times (May 11), The Nation (May 26), The New York Times (May 18), the Washington Post (May 12), the Christian Science Monitor (May 30) and others lured an impressive group of Arab intellectuals into unveiling their worldview to American readers. These authors are highly educated, mostly secular champions of modernity and masters of communication—yet keenly attuned to grass-roots sentiments. Enticed by the limelight, and seemingly caught off guard, they revealed the naked landscape of the Palestinian mindset.

Sadly, what they revealed in 2008 is not what Mahmoud Abbas would have liked us to think. They revealed what we feared all along but were afraid to admit: The notion of a two-state solution never began to penetrate the surface of Palestinian consciousness.

In vain would one search these articles for an idea, or a shred of an idea, that morally justifies a two-state solution, or that acknowledges some historical ties of Jews to the land, or that makes an intellectual investment contrary to the greater Palestine agenda. One by one, the articles depict a culture forged by five generations of rejection and denial, a culture in which compromise means defeat and national identity means denying it to others.

This does not mean that the two-state solution is dead—after all, it is the only proposal worthy of the word “solution”—but it means that the current efforts to reach a peaceful settlement are absolutely futile unless they address the real obstacle: The ideological landscape as revealed to us by our Arab brethren on Yom HaAtzmaut.


Judea Pearl is a professor at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation (www.danielpearl.org), named after his son. He and his wife Ruth are a co-editor of “I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl (Jewish Lights, 2004), winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

Project Re’ut Melds Optimism, Realism


For many observers the "road map," which envisions creating a Palestinian state adjacent to Israel, looks increasingly like a dead end. As does the Geneva accord. With Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists blowing up innocent Israelis in bloody attacks and Israel building a security fence around itself that slices through Palestinian lands, rarely has peace seemed so elusive.

For Gidi Grinstein, though, the current deadlock should be but a detour on the way to a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians. The 33-year-old director of Project Re’ut, a new Tel Aviv-based think tank that envisions creating a comprehensive approach for Israel to move toward a beneficial two-state solution, said he is cautiously optimistic, although a realist.

"The purpose of Project Re’ut is to prepare a toolkit of national security and foreign policy strategies for the government of Israel to go for the vision of a Jewish and democratic state across a range of possible scenarios," said Grinstein, a former secretary of the negotiating team for the Barak government who is in town trying to drum up support for his fledgling think tank.

Grinstein said he understands the difficulties and uncertainties of hammering out an agreement with the Palestinian Authority. The graduate of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University also is aware of the toll repeated suicide bombings have had on the Israeli psyche.

Where others might see darkness, Grinstein sees light, if only a ray. To move Israel from here to there, his Project Re’ut hopes to assemble 100 of Israel’s leading thinkers to grapple with several major issues. Among the topics Re’ut will address: how best to establish a Palestinian state; how to resolve the question of right of return; how to foster stronger Israeli-Palestinian economic relations and trade; how to resolve disputes over water and infrastructure; and what to do about Jerusalem and access to holy sites.

Launched in April by the Economic Cooperation Foundation in Israel, Re’ut has already attracted some of Israel’s biggest foreign policy and national security players. Maj. Gen. Amnon Lipkin Shahak, former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff; David Kimchi and Avi Gil, former director generals of the Israeli Foreign Office; Gen. Ze’ev Livneh, former IDF defense attaché to the United States and Canada; and Avi Ben-Bassat, David Brodet and Ezra Sadan, all former director generals of the Ministry of Finance, are among Re’ut participants.

Re’ut joins a growing list of think tanks dedicated to finding a solution to Israel’s growing security problems. Although well-meaning, it is unclear to what degree, if any, those groups influence policy. Grinstein, who made his first fundraising swing through Southern California in mid-September, said he hopes to achieve much through his efforts.

Grinstein admits that much needs to happen before there can be peace with the Palestinians.

"The Palestinians have to get their act together and establish a unitary structure of command over all armed forces and control over all use of force. Without this, there may be agreements but no peace," he said.

And, contrary to the wishes of many Jews in Israel and the Diaspora, peace might mean dealing with Yasser Arafat, provided agreements can be monitored and enforced.

"Yasser Arafat is definitely relevant, the only real Palestinian leader," he said.

Grinstein thinks the lessons of the past can help Israel navigate a smoother future in its quest for peace. However, Grinstein warns that Palestinians must change their attitudes in order for peace to prevail.

"The Palestinian leadership hasn’t established transparent and accountable government structures in the fields of security and economics," he said. "This has led to a failing governmental performance and an inability and unwillingness to enforce law and order and prevent terrorism. That, in turn, has led to worsening conditions of living for Palestinians.

Israel has had its share of problems as well, including political instability. Since 1993, the country has had five prime ministers. The rapid expansion of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza hasn’t helped either.

Against this dispiriting backdrop, some Jews are supporting the construction of a security fence around Israel proper and some of the disputed areas. Such a security barrier, they argue, will keep terrorists out and Israelis safe. However, Grinstein said peace cannot be imposed. A security fence fails to grapple with such important issues as internationally recognized borders and the status of Jerusalem.

Still, Grinstein said Israelis are a resilient people. Although trust in the Palestinians has plummeted, many citizens of the Jewish State are hungry for peace and have finally recognized the need for a two-state solution, no matter how painful.

"I believe Israel has a legacy of eventually seizing the moment and making things happen. I am seeing many signs that such a historic moment is getting closer," he said.

Grinstein will be speaking at University Synagogue’s Synaplex Shabbat on Jan. 9. To find out more information about Project Re’ut, please write to gidi@ecf.org.il.

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