Monday, June 6, 2011

A Discussion with J Street

Yesterday, I attended the Israel in the Gardens festival in downtown San Francisco. After some prodding from my significant other, I decided to conclude my thoroughly enjoyable day by getting into a discussion with the individuals at the J Street booth. For those who don't know, J Street is a Jewish organization that promotes the creation of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders under the belief that the creation of such a state will improve Israel's international standing and will promote Israel's interests by removing the risk to Israel's Jewish demographic majority.

I would preface the rest of this point by noting that the J Street representatives I spoke with were generally very polite and I very much enjoyed having a discussion with them. They sincerely believe that their ideas will serve Israel's interests, and so to the extent I disagree with them, I at least acknowledge that they are bringing ideas and discourse to the table and that there is certainly some value to that.

The primary message I got from their group was that Israel needs to have a peace plan on the table because the Palestinians will go to the UN in September and may come out with a state that has no peace agreement with Israel. They contended that the primary swing votes in the UN will be European states who will perceive the lack of an Israeli sponsored peace initiative as a strong reason to give the Palestinians the state they seek, but without any peace for Israel.

I think at some level they are correct, it would obviously be preferable to have a peace agreement in place. But there are certain redlines that Israel cannot cross for the sake of peace. The right of return is one of those. Maintaining a unified Jerusalem and recognizing Israel as a Jewish State is another. Maintaining an Israeli that has secure and livable borders, whatever those borders may be, are a final one. To the extent that Israel's peace agreement with the Palestinians require it cross those redlines, it must be satisfied that peace cannot be attained. Indeed, there are certain redlines other nations will not cross in peace negotiations. One could not expect the Republic of China (Taiwan) to accept Communist rule as a condition of reconciliation with China.

In 2000, Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians everything they wanted but without a right of return, but was rebuffed by Yasser Arafat. To expect Israel to give the Palestine more than that now, after being turned down before, is unrealistic. The J Street representatives told me that if Israel indicated its willingness to return to its Ehud Barak negotiating position, the international community would blame the Palestinians if talks broke down.

Of all the things the J Street people suggested, this was the most unrealistic. When talks broke down, everyone forgot who was to blame and returned back to the dominant "blame Israel" narrative within a few months. Moreover, Israel is constantly blamed for everything it does. Israel was condemned for its rescue of hostages at Entebbe in 1976 and was also condemned for capturing Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Israel was condemned for its destruction of the Osirak Reactor in 1981 and its bombing of Syria's nuclear power plan in 2007. Zionism, the name for Jewish self determination and nationalism, was condemned in the UN as racist. If Israel's behavior was governed by what the international community accepted, Israel would never exist. There are 57 Muslim countries and over 1 billion Muslims, and there is one Jewish State and 14 million Jews. Muslims control large quantities of oil and other resources, Israel has few natural resources. To expect that the international community will view the Arab/Israeli conflict unbiasedly is simply naive. And, while it certainly behooves Israel to present its case and convince the international community that its cause is just and should be supported, it cannot rely on the UN or any international community to have its best interests in mind.

My conclusion from the discussion: I wish they were right. I wish Israel could gain substantial international support by giving the Palestinians a state in the 1967 borders. I wish that state would settle the Palestinians' claims on Israeli land, and I wish that the establishment of Palestine would give Israel peace and security. Unfortunately, everything points the other way. The Arabs have made their intentions known: to use a Palestinian state as a launchpad to attack Israel with the intent to destroy it. The international community has bought into the Palestinian narrative, and there is little that the Jews can do aside from giving up their state to placate the UN and the Muslim world.  

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