Stephen M. Walt, Philip Weiss, Henry Siegman
The following is an edited transcript of the seventy-second in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council. The meeting was held on April 25, 2013, in the Rayburn House Office Building, with Omar M. Kader, chairman of the Council, as moderator and Thomas R. Mattair, Council executive director, as discussant. The video can be accessed at www.mepc.org.
STEPHEN M. WALT, professor of International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
In his essay on democracy, John Stuart Mill famously argued that the liberty of thought and discussion was essential to a healthy democracy, because suppressing ideas or debate made us more likely to commit errors or to keep repeating past mistakes. If you want to know why Middle East policy here in the United States has been replete with failures over the past several decades, one reason has been our inability to have a candid and honest discussion about it. As long as our public discourse on this topic is warped, our foreign policy is going to be warped too.
I want to make three quick points today. First, I'm going to argue that the two-state solution is either dead or on life support, and that its failure is going to require us to start thinking about alternatives. Second, I'm going to explain why it's still hard to have a frank discussion about these issues and consider whether that situation is starting to change. Third, I'm going to offer a few suggestions for what could be done to keep expanding public debate on this very important topic.
Let me start with why we're going to need a more open discussion. For the past 15 years or so, the idea of a two-state solution has been the consensus goal of the foreign-policy establishment. But remember, this was not true before then. The Oslo Accords do not mention a Palestinian state, and First Lady Hillary Clinton got into trouble in 1998 when she openly called for the creation of a Palestinian state. She was too early. Since Camp David in 1999, however, the two-state solution has become the default option. This idea became a convenient fig leaf for politicians: even if we aren't making any progress, they can always say that our ultimate goal is "two states for two peoples." I might add that I've been a consistent advocate for a two-state solution as well.
But the problem, as you all know, is that this goal is further away than ever. Indeed, many serious analysts in the United States and in the Middle East, including Israel, believe it is now impossible. The number of settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem exceeds 600,000. Settlements like Maale Adumim cut the West Bank into separate enclaves. The Palestinians themselves remain weak and divided and cannot put meaningful pressure on Israel or negotiate in an even way.
The current Israeli government is dead set against the creation of a viable Palestinian state, and politics there have been drifting to the right for a couple of decades. Moreover, Israel is now dependent on water from aquifers in the West Bank, which makes it harder and harder to imagine how a viable, genuine Palestinian state could be created. Obama's failure to make progress on this issue or to slow the expansion of settlements has made it clear that the United States will never be a truly honest broker.
Put all that together, and it explains why Secretary of State Kerry recently told the House Foreign Affairs Committee that "the window for a two-state solution is shutting. We have a year to two years and it's over."
If Kerry's right, then we're going to need to start thinking about alternatives. At some point, you won't be able to say you support a two-state solution without making people laugh. It just won't be credible any longer. And sooner or later, that will even be true for members of Congress and for secretaries of state and for presidents. The fig leaf of a two-state solution won't cover them anymore. When that day arrives, people will want to know what the United States is in favor of instead, which means we need to be able to have that kind of honest discussion about where we're headed.
Remember: if the two-state solution is gone, there are really only three alternatives: one-state democracy — one person, one vote in the entire area; ethnic cleansing, to remove Palestinians from greater Israel; or some form of permanent apartheid, as Jimmy Carter, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak have all warned about. Although it would have been better if discourse on this subject had been more honest and open long ago, we are now facing a situation where a more open discussion is going to be imperative. The problem is, it's still very hard to have that conversation here in the United States.
Let me turn to this second problem. Why is it so hard to talk about this topic? The main obstacle to open discourse on the subject is the Israel lobby, which works very hard to shape what Americans hear, read and know about the conflict. It does this in two ways, one of them completely legitimate and one of them completely illegitimate.
The legitimate activities are its own efforts to portray Israel in a favorable light, to blame the region's problems on others and to convince Americans that unconditional support is in America's national interest. Groups like AIPAC, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and many others work overtime to promote their side of the story, and they're very good at it. They're aided by publications like the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post op-ed page, and the Weekly Standard, and of course by various think tanks in Washington that receive lots of support from people or groups sympathetic to Israel. Some of you might think this is undesirable, but there's absolutely nothing wrong or illegitimate about this sort of behavior. It's how our system works.
Unfortunately, some individuals and groups in the lobby also do some things that I regard as wholly illegitimate and contrary to that "liberty of thought and discussion" we're supposed to have here. I refer here to the repeated efforts to silence, smear or marginalize anyone who criticizes Israel's actions, questions the special relationship, or points out the power of the lobby itself. Anyone who does this is certain to be accused of being an anti-Semite, or if they're Jewish, of self-hatred. Any organization that invites people with different views to speak will get flooded with phone calls demanding either that additional speakers be put on for the sake of "balance" or asking that the original speaker be disinvited. Sometimes people who question the current situation lose their jobs or have their careers sabotaged unless they are lucky enough to have tenure or have employers who will stand up to the heat.
This is why Jimmy Carter has been repeatedly smeared — including being called a Jew-hater — even though he did more to secure peace for Israel than any other president. It's why Chuck Hagel was accused of being an anti-Semite after he was nominated to serve as secretary of defense and why he had to grovel in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee during his confirmation process. It's why M.J. Rosenberg, a long-time supporter of Israel, was forced to step down from his job at Media Matters for America for using the term "Israel-firster." There is no other public issue in America where one side attacks the other so predictably, so viciously and so relentlessly.
Why do some people in the lobby do this? First, to deter people from speaking out, and second, to marginalize them in the public arena. If you can get someone labeled an anti-Semite, even when they are not, politicians won't go near them, and people will tend to ignore what they have to say.
The goal here is simply to make everyone understand that it could be professional suicide to question the special relationship, to talk openly about the lobby or discuss alternative U.S. policies. I believe the zealots on the other side use these tactics because they know that a more open discussion might cause Americans to question the special relationship and to conclude that a more normal relationship would be better for everyone. If the two-state solution is gone, they don't want people using the word apartheid, even though key Israeli leaders have used it repeatedly. They don't want people talking about a single state where Palestinians have the right to vote, because the idea of one person, one vote is hard to argue against here in the United States. I should say I think there are big problems with that outcome, too, but that is where we are headed today.
Finally, these tactics have been around for a long time, and it's worth asking whether the situation is now changing. There are some encouraging signs. I think we are getting more open commentary in parts of the media, especially the blogosphere. I'm thinking here of people like Andrew Sullivan, Nicholas Kristof and even Tom Friedman, on a good day. You see the emergence of groups like J Street or Jewish Voice for Peace that are also having an impact on discourse. The publication of Peter Beinart's book The Crisis of Zionism, was another sign of a more open discussion. And while it's true that Chuck Hagel got smeared during his confirmation, he also got defended, which is important as well and very encouraging.
The bottom line here is that politicians in Washington and especially on Capitol Hill are still intimidated into silence or encouraged to take absurd positions on these questions, but we are beginning to see a somewhat more open climate.
Let me wrap up by laying out several things that might encourage a further broadening of the debate over time. The other side has to smear and silence people because they're defending a weak case: not the case for Israel's existence, but the case for giving it unconditional support no matter what it does. And that implies that those of us who want a more open debate and more flexible U.S. policies should stick to facts and logic ourselves and not throw a lot of mud back.
Second, we need to confront the gatekeepers of opinion. The Internet and the blogosphere have opened things up, but we need to keep challenging editors, reporters, committee chairs here on the Hill and anybody else who helps shape discourse. We have a strong case here too, because we're not trying to silence anyone. We're just asking for the opportunity to be heard; it is the other side that is violating the norm in favor of free speech and open debate.
Third, we need to expose how the other side works. Free speech is a very powerful principle in the United States, and most Americans don't like the idea of suppressing debate. When groups in the lobby try to silence or smear those with whom they disagree, it's important to publicize exactly what they're doing. When people like Elliot Abrams or Alan Dershowitz make ludicrous charges, they should be publicly scorned and their employers should get letters and phone calls condemning what they're doing. But please note, the goal is not to silence them, or to keep them from participating in public discourse. Rather, the goal is to delegitimate the use of smear tactics and make them backfire. Jewish Force for Peace has done this very effectively through its website MuzzleWatch, and it would be great if those activities could be expanded.
Solidarity is another important step here. It's hard to challenge taboos. It takes a long time to open up a debate. It is easy to get discouraged, especially when the other side has the upper hand. So it's important for those of us who are seeking to open up the debate to support and defend each other and not get distracted by our occasional differences.
The other side is very good at standing together, and we need to be just as cohesive. This occasionally means defending people with whom we disagree on some issues as long as they are also part of the group that is in favor open and honest discourse. In other words, we want the reasonable people front and center in this conversation, and we want to move the unreasonable people to the margins.
Lastly, those who favor a more open discourse should defend the moral high ground. We're not arguing in favor of one group over another. We are arguing for policies that would be better for the United States, better for Palestinians, better for other Arab societies and better for Israel, too. They are also policies that are much more consistent with American values. We have nothing to apologize for. It seems to me that if we keep making this case in a calm and nonconfrontational way, current taboos will continue to erode. We will then have a more sensible discussion and a Middle East policy that works rather better than the one we have followed for the past several decades. That's a very low bar to clear, but I believe in starting with achievable goals.
PHILIP WEISS, founder and co-editor, Monodoweiss.net
I'm going to echo a lot of what Steve said about opening the discourse. I'm the only reporter here on the panel; that's one of the hats I'm going to wear. First, I'm going to tell you something about my observations of the occupation and why I believe the two-state solution is dead. Then I'm going to move on to a bit of analysis about how this came to pass and why this historic compromise is over. In the third part, I'm going to put on my movement hat. Steve mentioned the degree of activism that this is going to require on all our parts. I have my own thoughts about where we go from here and how we do that as Americans, and there's also a Jewish-American piece that I want to bring in because I think that's so important.
First, as a reporter, I want to tell you that it's great to be on Capitol Hill describing the occupation. This is work that our politicians should be doing all the time. Our members of the executive branch should be going to the Hill and describing the occupation. Congressmen should be standing up and describing the occupation. They're not. And that has made my job very important. Personally I'm somewhat grateful for that, but it represents a real deficit in our national conversation that I'm the one who has to bring this news, that reporters on the margins have to bring this news.
Here is a scene from the occupation. You go out into East Jerusalem to Abu Dis, which is the village that was going to be the capital of the Palestinian state under the Camp David/Oslo negotiations. It's two miles east of the old city, just as the Knesset is two miles west. This is where the Palestinians would have their parliament building. And I believe there are some parliament buildings there. But if you go out from East Jerusalem, from the Old City, through the Mount of Olives, past the Dome of the Rock — this incredible World-Heritage site — you come to a 26-foot-high concrete wall. That is the Palestinian capital, this concrete wall or separation fence that keeps people from the West Bank from coming into occupied East Jerusalem. There before your eyes is one of the symbols of apartheid in Jerusalem. There's concertina wire along the top of this wall so that kids can't scale it. Kids had been able to figure out a way to hoist themselves up between the slabs using rope and to get over into East Jerusalem, but now they've put up this barbed wire.
The second scene is in a small village that I visited near the Hebron Hills in Area C in the West Bank. There are Palestinian herdsmen there who have a couple of small houses and sheds for livestock. The day I visited this hamlet — Sadat a Thaale, I think it was called — the Israelis had come in a few days before and, using a bulldozer, had destroyed the cistern. It is an ancient practice, throughout the Middle East and many parts of the world, of storing water in cisterns — in this case a limestone cistern carved out of the hill. The Israelis had destroyed it. The source of water was destroyed and five sheep were killed. This kind of wanton destruction is happening on a regular basis in the West Bank, with the aim of pushing people off the land, off Area C and into cities, where they can be gathered together. Israel has always wanted as much land as possible with as few Palestinians on it. That has been part of the program from the start.
The third scene from the occupation is this. I go out of my hotel, the research institute where I stay in East Jerusalem, in Sheikh Jarrah. I'm right next to the Quartet offices, this huge, magnificent structure built for Tony Blair, with high security walls around it. That's on one side; on the other side is the Shepherd Hotel, a Palestinian palace. This was traditionally a very fancy section of Jerusalem, the Sheikh Jarrah area. Now the palace is being bulldozed. It's owned by a doctor from Florida, Irving Moskowitz, who has developed a settlement there. So they're moving Palestinians out of Sheikh Jarrah and bringing in more settlers. That evidence, when you're in Jerusalem, is everywhere around you. You see Israeli flags hanging in Palestinian neighborhoods as symbols of defiance: We're taking over.
This was most poignant to me when I was there during Ramadan. I was in the Old City and saw the people who had gone to the Haram al-Sharif for prayers on Friday jamming those streets and coming out of the Old City. Above them at one point were five Israeli flags hanging down with the Star of David saying, we are taking over the Arab Quarter, too, and moving settlers in.
Because Israel has so permeated the West Bank and East Jerusalem and has encircled East Jerusalem, I believe the two-state solution is over. It's not going to happen. There are 600,000-650,000 Israelis east of the Green Line. They're not going to move. So this historic conflict, which has been called two irreconcilable claims to the same land, is over. One side has won. That has always been the case; one side was winning. We're now at a point where one side controls all the land with the exception of Area A, in which the Palestinian Authority is exercising some type of authority.
I'm going to steal one of Henry Siegman's lines here: one thing that stands out when you look at the history of this conflict is that one side has compromised. There has been only one compromise in this whole struggle, and that was in the late 1980s, when the PLO said, we will accept a state on 22 percent of this historic territory. Henry has made this point. With that compromise, maybe a two-state solution would have worked. I can't say. There are justice issues around it that have caused some to question whether it would be sustainable. But that historic compromise has been destroyed over the last 20 years. This historic effort to reach a compromise by the two sides is now destroyed.
The question arises of why this happened. I'm reading Rashid Khalidi's new book right now, Brokers of Deceit, about the American failure to balance the two sides in any manner. Khalidi points out that in the 1977 Likud platform, the program was extremely clear: we want all the land of Israel; we are not going to bring the settlers back. In 1982, a CIA analyst created a document for the Reagan administration saying the Israelis will allow some type of governing authority ultimately in portions of the West Bank, but they are going to control this territory. They're going to have access to water, and they are not going to pull back the settlers.
Khalidi's point is that this policy on the part of Israel — their expansionist, unapologetic claim to all this land — has been clear from the start, when the Jewish state was given 55 percent of the territory, and two years later, after a war, wound up with 78 percent. Now, this Palestinian governing authority on the West Bank that Netanyahu seems to imagine — if he imagines anything there — is, as my publisher Scott Roth likes to say, a castrated rump state. That's what it would produce. This word "viable" is thrown around; it is viable, yes, if you pump international aid into it and help these people along. No one wants to be helped along, but that's what it would require to maintain a Palestinian state as they envision it.
The question is, why did the United States allow this to happen? Here I defer to Steve Walt. I share his view that the Israel lobby has been determinative on this question. Again Scott, my publisher, was at Ben Gurion Airport last month for Obama's arrival, on the tarmac, on a red carpet. All the dignitaries were waiting. Air Force One comes down, and who comes out but Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Eliot Engel. They got rides to Israel with the president. It's a little like the president trying to build a movement for limiting gun rights and bringing in Max Baucus as a representative Democrat.
You can't build a coalition when the powers that you are recruiting inside the Congress and in our political life are undermining your position. Debbie Wasserman Schultz has undermined it by referring to the settlements that surround Jerusalem as suburbs, they're "so-called" settlements. She led the move at last year's Democratic Convention to push through a platform item declaring Jerusalem to be Israel's capital. Partition always included Jerusalem's being internationalized. Now our political structure is firmly behind the Judaization of Jerusalem. This is the person that the president brings on his plane with him. I think this has to do with the power of the lobby in our political life.
Moving on to the movement piece, the lobby draws its strength from the fact that the American-Jewish community committed itself to Zionism and the need for a Jewish state 100 years ago, and more decisively since World War II. As a journalist and someone trying to foster open debate, I think we are facing a period in which this old paradigm has collapsed, and we have to move forward. Some of my work is going to be in a kind of recovery movement, inside both American Jewish life and American political life.
The Jewish piece of it is that I am a Jew who is an anti-Zionist. I don't see a need for a Jewish state. I've never seen a need for a Jewish state. The reasons that my community embraced Zionism were very real, of course. And I may well have been a Zionist 100 years, even 80 years ago and, surely, right after World War II. Zionism was a valid and predictable response to the rise of anti-Semitism as Jews entered the cities of Central and Eastern Europe. There was always an anti-Zionist strain in Jewish life, but that ended pretty much after World War II and then after the 1967 war.
My work inside Jewish life is to say that I like living in a state in which a religious minority has the freedoms and rights I do in the United States. That's the type of state that I want. I've never seen a need for a Jewish state, and I think that what I described about the occupation has resulted inevitably from the character of that state. It is the Jewish national home, and some of the oppression of minorities and contempt for Palestinians grows out of the very nature of that creation.
So I'm taking on Zionists in American Jewish life. I want to have that conversation. It is very important to say, why are you here enjoying the freedoms of liberal democracy if you think it's so important to have a Jewish state? It is possible to sort of warehouse one state while you're in another. There are contradictions deep inside Zionism that have to be interrogated. I am taking that project on, and a lot of my friends in Jewish life are taking it on.
The American piece of it is that there was an anti-Zionist element in American political life, too. There was an overlap of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in American political life, unfortunately. But, that being said, we're not far from where then-Secretary of State George Marshall said to Truman in 1948: if you recognize this state, I'm not going to vote for you in the next election. We're not far from where James Forrestal committed suicide after opposing the creation of a Jewish state and feeling that he was being hounded by Zionists. In fact, the press helped to destroy his reputation. And we're not far from the State Department, where Near East Affairs, the Arabists, said back in 1948, if you create a Jewish state in Palestine, there is going to be never-ending conflict. And there has indeed been never-ending conflict. So I think there has to be a recovery of our own American tradition of questioning an ethnocracy.
I'm optimistic about our ability to make this change and not because of the politicians. I think that's a dead letter right now — witness Obama's flying companions. But I think the media are changing. I would point to the New York Times Magazine piece of a few weeks back that showed Palestinian resistance in the little occupied village of Nabi Saleh. The villagers can't even get to their spring, their source of water, because there is a settlement built on the hillside right across from them. So these people have gone out every week to demonstrate, and the kids throw stones at the soldiers.
The triumph of this piece, in my view, is that we see Palestinian resistance honored on the front page of the New York Times Magazine, the faces of Palestinians who are resisting occupation. What's more, the piece honored the principle that you have a right to resist occupation. Every time Palestinians have resisted occupation over the last 60 years, this is routinely described as terrorism — they're crazies. Our discourse on this has been bankrupt. What this article shows is that, finally, we are beginning in this country to recognize that there are real sources for this rage that involve human rights. That human-rights discourse is the last piece of this, and it is really going to become more and more a refrain as the margins of journalism — but also sometimes the New York Times — begin to reflect some of these views.
HENRY SIEGMAN, president, U.S./Middle East Project; former senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations
Unlike the previous speaker, my friend Philip Weiss, I am a Zionist. I am not only not opposed to a Jewish state, but I spent much of my early life supporting and defending it. My understanding of Zionism, however, was shaped by the early founders of the Zionist movement, who would be appalled, and would turn over in their graves if they knew what their historic experiment has actually yielded. It became clear to me in the mid-‘70s that the principles of the early founders of the Zionist movement were being traduced and violated by successive Israeli governments. The assumptions they made about the kind of society that would be shaped by the Jewish state turned out to be false. This is not because the enterprise of developing a Jewish and democratic state was inherently false, but because the people who came to power in Israel, who led its governments, tragically and sadly seemed to have learned absolutely nothing from 2,000 years of Jewish experience — and even less about the heritage that gives the name "Jewish" to the state and to the governments that they formed. That is when my attitude, not to the idea of a Jewish state but to the policies of the government of that state, changed so completely.
The fundamental outline of the current political situation has been presented by the previous speakers, so I will not repeat it. Instead, I will share with you some random thoughts on this general subject. To begin with, the Middle East peace process is probably the greatest scam in modern diplomatic history, and future historians will be in absolute awe over how this scam was pulled off. The deception has been going on from the very outset. From the day after the 1967 war, there has not been a single Israeli government that has seriously considered the possibility of allowing a truly "independent" and "sovereign" Palestinian state — terms implicit in the Oslo Accords and explicitly used by the Roadmap that everyone, including the United States, Israel and the Palestinians, signed on to. Even Bibi Netanyahu committed himself to a two-state accord in his Bar-Ilan speech. No Israeli government entertained the idea that the West Bank might not remain under Israel's complete control. Palestinians could call their self-governing entities — whatever forms they would be permitted to take by Israel — a state, or an empire, or whatever they may want to call them, but they have to remain entirely under Israeli control.
This is not just a Likud idea. Some of you are old enough to remember who Moshe Dayan was: a legendary figure who was celebrated as a hero of the 1967 war. Immediately after that war, and then again 10 years later, when asked what will happen with the West Bank and with the Palestinians, he said that Israel's challenge is to make sure that the situation today remains permanently unchanged. He said this publicly; in this respect, he was an honest man.
That is how successive Israeli governments—whether right, left or center—have dealt with the Palestinians. The chosen instrument for establishing that permanent control over the occupied territories has been Israel's colonial settlements project. It was begun not by radical rightists but by Shimon Peres. It was, of course, improved upon by Begin and Shamir and all those who followed, particularly by Ariel Sharon, who became the settlers' godfather. Consequently, if one asks why the peace process has failed, why we are facing the situation we're facing today, it's because the policy of Israel has been from the outset not to permit an independent viable and sovereign Palestinian state to ever come into being. I believe they have succeeded in that. I don't think the two-state solution is on life support. I think it is "history"; it is gone. And the reason it is gone is because the settlement project has become irreversible.
I wish I could believe, as suggested by Steve, that it is possible to draw optimism from Tom Friedman's latest column on the subject. I admire Tom's courage in speaking certain truths he has been reluctant to express in the past. But one of the reasons we do not have an honest discussion in this country even about the most obvious of these truths is that we always feel, even when we finally acknowledge the gross injustice and unfairness of the situation, that we cannot express these truths without first embedding them in a critique of Palestinian behavior. So even a Tom Friedman must first begin by criticizing Palestinian shortcomings every time he wants to say something critical about the behavior of Israeli governments.
The American public has bought a narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is dishonest. For example, what could be more obvious than that Israel cannot be serious about the peace process when it systematically steals the territory it is supposed to be negotiating with the Palestinians? A six-year-old would understand the obviousness of the deception.
The reason the American public is overwhelmingly supportive of the Israeli position, and only a small minority has any sympathy for the Palestinians' situation, is because Americans are largely uninformed about foreign affairs. This was brought home to me several years ago when I was at the Council on Foreign Relations. A well-known TV news anchor asked to come by to see me, along with two researchers, for a discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As our conversation began, I discovered that not one of them was aware that the State of Israel was created as a result of the United Nations Partition Resolution of 1947. It came as a complete surprise to them.
Most world leaders were aware of Israel's opposition to a Palestinian state. However, it was widely assumed that because of America's generous support and deep friendship for the Jewish state, the United States would at some point leverage the vast credits it had accumulated over the years with Israeli governments and its people to say to its friend: "Enough; there are certain lines which you cannot cross, for if you do, then we can no longer invoke our common values as the foundation for this extraordinary relationship, because permanent occupation of another people seeking its rights and apartheid are not common values."
So if there won't be a two-state solution, it is not only because of the policies of Israeli governments but because the U.S. White House and the Congress never had the political and moral courage to act on that expectation. President Obama went to Israel and competed with several other members of his administration who had previously visited Israel in finding adjectives that adequately express our unconditional support of the State of Israel, and in assuring Israel that only its own government can decide how to protect its security, no matter how those decisions comport with international law or affect Israel's neighbors or U.S. interests. After that performance, can anyone really believe that President Obama can make a 180 degree turn-around and say, "No more"?
The United States will not come to the rescue. What hope there still is lies not with the United States, not with the Europeans, and not with the international community. It lies instead with Palestinians themselves — not with the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, an institution that incarnates Israel's occupation, but with Palestinian civil-society activists, with the leaders of Palestinian villages and towns who have been conducting non-violent resistance against the occupation. For them, the issue is their dignity and rights. They don't care whether it's in a state that's called Israel or a state that's called Palestine. But they will not accept their permanent disenfranchisement and dispossession. If they will act courageously on those demands, as I believe that sooner or later they will, they may yet achieve their goal.
THOMAS R. MATTAIR, executive director, Middle East Policy Council
Two of our panelists think the two-state solution is dead. One of them thinks it's either dead or on life support. All of them think it's because of the settlement project, which, I would point out, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and others have tried to stop. In fact, Ronald Reagan said it in no way enhanced Israel's security and only demoralized the Palestinians. The Israelis have also been clear about their policies in the past. Shamir, for example, said he intended to drag out the Madrid talks for 10 years. So, here we are with the two-state process possibly dead.
My first question is for Steve Walt, because he is an international-relations theorist from UC-Berkeley. You said that it is not in our interest to continue down this road. Can you define the American national interests that are at stake here and what the consequences of failure are for us?
Of Philip Weiss, I would ask this: You spoke about Debbie Wasserman Schultz. When the Democratic Party plank calling for Jerusalem as the indivisible capital of Israel went to a floor vote, there were a significant number of nay votes. What does that significant opposition at the Democratic Convention mean?
For Henry Siegman, you finished up by saying that J Street and others can't make much of a difference. But can Obama? Is it too late for the president to do something, such as make a speech to the nation from the Oval Office? Second, you said it's up to the Palestinians. What is it they can and should do now?
DR. WALT: That's a terrific question, and I think the answer is pretty straightforward. The United States does have some genuine strategic interests in the Middle East. Most of them revolve around energy and the fact that the world economy continues to run on petroleum, natural gas and oil, things like that. The supply coming out of various parts of the Middle East is critical to keeping prices at a reasonable level. If anything were to disrupt that, the lives of Americans would be affected in very obvious ways. We have a few other interests there. We obviously don't want to see terrorism emerging out of that part of the world. We don't want to see weapons proliferation of various kinds in that part of the world. Those, to me, are our main strategic interests there. Finally, we have some moral interests. We do claim to stand for human rights. We do claim to stand for democracy and things like that. So we would like to see those things advanced, to the extent possible.
The problem with the current situation — the occupation and the unconditional American support for the country that's practicing it — is that this is an enormous strategic liability for us. As several CENTCOM commanders have observed, this situation makes it harder for us to do business with other countries in the region and to achieve our other strategic goals there. It contributes greatly to the very negative image that the United States has throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds in almost all of these societies. It is one of the sources, though not the only one, of international extremism and international terrorism directed against the United States and its allies. It is certainly a very potent weapon in the narrative of Islamic extremists as well.
Finally, I would argue that this is going to get worse with time, not better. However it turns out, the Arab Spring is ultimately going to produce governments that are more sensitive to popular sentiment than their predecessors were. That's not to say they're going to be democracies necessarily, but they are going to be governments that pay more attention to popular feeling than, say, the Mubarak government did in Egypt. And given where public sentiment is about the United States, this is not good news for the American relationship with the entire region going forward.
Finally, to echo some points that have been made by others, it's often presented as if the United States has to choose one side or the other here. It seems to me that this is not the case. The policies we've been following have not been good for the United States in terms of its strategic interests, but they have not been good for Israel either. Ultimately, given that two states aren't going to happen, as Ehud Olmert said in 2007, Israel is going to face a South Africa-like struggle for political rights. Henry may want to comment on that as well. This is going to be incredibly hard for the Palestinians, yes, but also very hard for Israel. One could even argue that it threatens Israel's future far more than the creation of a viable Palestinian state would have, had it been done 15 years ago.
MR. WEISS: Surely a lot of people in this room know about what happened on September 2 at the Democratic National Convention. The platform was presented late in the convention without a plank saying that Jerusalem should be the indivisible capital of Israel. So the party bosses had to insert that language, and they thought it would be a routine matter. They called for a floor vote to insert the language, and there was a demonstration on the floor of the convention against this. People rose up and said no. Ultimately, it was rammed down their throats. Antonio Villaraigosa, the former mayor of Los Angeles, was chairing the convention at that time, and when he said, "I think the ayes have it", people roared in displeasure because it was evident that the nays had it. Ultimately, they rammed that part of the platform through. Villaraigosa said recently that Obama himself was absolutely livid that that language was not in the platform.
The significance of this, I would say, is twofold. One is the presence of the Israel lobby in our political life on the Democratic side. I think Rashid Khalidi himself mentions the significance of people who are very favorable to Zionism — Penny Pritzker, Lester Crown — and they formed Obama's finance committee when he first ran for office. The importance of appeasing or pleasing a Zionist caucus in the Democratic Party is just overwhelming, partly for fundraising reasons and partly because it's in the media culture to support Israel regardless of what it does.
The good side of that is that everyone knows the story now. The cat is out of the bag, in terms of what Israel is doing. I think that was true at the Hagel hearings as well. Everyone understands that, despite the efforts to marginalize Jimmy Carter, who was not invited to the Democratic convention, he was able to get the word "apartheid" into our discourse in 2006. People understand this now, at least people who are with it. Actually, regardless of the fact that a network anchor doesn't know that Israel resulted from a partition resolution, I think everyone understands there's a real problem over there. It's a human-rights problem, and the Palestinians are getting it in the neck. This is hurting the United States.
I think there's a real groundswell of understanding of this. That's why my work is so involved at the grass roots. The party bosses can hear the message, but everyone knows what's going on. The key is to enable people, and both Rashid and Henry have used this "emperor's new clothes" metaphor. The key is to enable more and more people to say, hey, he's naked, and say it publicly.
MR. SIEGMAN: I hope you're right, but it ain't gonna produce a two-state solution. Let me answer the question that was directed to me. If Obama were to do what you have suggested, of course it would change things. If Israel were told that Obama will not use the veto the next time there is a Security Council meeting discussing the settlements and Israel's violations of international law and agreements and so on, of course that would make a difference. My point is that the prospect of his doing so is virtually nil. And the adverb "virtually" may not be necessary.
On the question of what the Palestinians should be doing and the alternative I alluded to, this is something I have discussed with the Palestinian leadership. If, in fact, the two-state solution is gone, and I believe that's the hard reality facing the Palestinians. I've discussed with the Palestinian leadership — and, more important, with Palestinian activists, who do not greatly admire their own leadership — that the time has come for Palestinians to shut down the Palestinian Authority. It is an instrument of the occupation and perpetuates it. What that makes the leaders of the Palestinian Authority, I leave to your imagination. But, certainly, that is the reason they have virtually no respect and enjoy virtually no support among the Palestinian public these days.
What I have suggested to them is that they shut down the Palestinian Authority and say to the international community and to Israel, you have succeeded in denying us a state. We have fought for the agreements and international calls for it, but you have denied it to us. It's no longer possible; you have succeeded, with your settlement project, in ending that. Consequently, we are altering our national struggle from statehood to equal rights in that single state that you have created. If it is done in a way that is credible to the Israeli public, there are then only two possibilities, because the one price that the Israeli public will not pay for greater Israel is a state that, in time, will no longer be Jewish.
So if they believe that this now is an apartheid struggle and that what Olmert predicted is right — if it turns into that, "then Israel is lost"— they may rethink this idea of greater Israel and their opposition to a Palestinian state. There's no guarantee, of course, that they will, but if they don't, then this kind of a struggle could not be more timely for their rights. It'll be a bitter struggle. Palestinians will suffer. Israelis will suffer as well. But, in the long term, an apartheid situation in the state of Israel is not sustainable. And there is, at this point, very considerable support for this change in direction among the most important political activists in the West Bank.
Q & A
Q: Two small, but very significant, Palestinian successes have been the votes in UNESCO and the General Assembly of the United Nations. That may be the only way to go: to shift this to the United Nations, instead of repeating the same conversations that haven't gotten us anywhere, and move behind a more balanced approach. Secondly, there can only be a regional solution to this problem that includes all the Arab countries and Iran.
DR. WALT: I do think the developments in the United Nations are a sign of where global sentiment is on this particular question. But the UN capacity to act decisively, to actually wield anything you would call power or influence on it, I think, is quite minimal. They can pass resolutions. They can give the Palestinians a sort of virtual statehood. But that's not the problem. As Phil and Henry have both documented, the problems are the facts on the ground and the political realities there. I see no sign that the United States is going to shift its views in the Security Council in any fundamental ways that would change things either.
Finally, you may be right that a genuine, long-term, lasting solution will require regional buy-in. But, if that's the case, there's even more reason to be gloomy. This is hardly the moment in regional politics when you would anticipate its being easy to come up with some kind of larger solution that involves all of the Arab countries now in ferment and also Iran — a country the United States and Israel are still threatening with preventive war. What you're suggesting might be necessary, but it also sounds like a bridge too far.
As to the other part of it, I've heard that John Kerry is trying to use the Arab League peace offer as a way of restarting the peace process. I don't think this will ultimately go anywhere, for reasons that have already been described. But that does have a regional aspect to it. So you could see it as a possible way of moving forward, but ultimately, it would involve a complete shift in American policy that then would have to produce a rethinking on the Israeli side.
DR. MATTAIR: Steve just said we would need a complete rethinking here in America. It's already been said that there's a place in academia and journalism for open discussion of this. Maybe the one place where there isn't room is here in the U.S. Congress. What would the likelihood be of educating or persuading the Congress, and how would you do that? Maybe that is what Obama would need in order to do something, because I think early in his first term, he demonstrated a very deep understanding of the problem. Steve, what would you do with the U.S. Congress?
DR. WALT: It's very tempting to use that as an opportunity for a cheap one-liner. But I will resist the temptation. I think that politicians first and foremost respond to the political incentives that they face. Right now, most members of Congress have virtually no incentive to be out in front on this issue in a way that I would find appealing. This is why you get the behavior you get, not just from those who are themselves personally committed to the Israeli side here, but from people who are largely indifferent but can put their fingers up and know which way the wind is blowing. Until politicians face genuine political pressure in the form of countermobilization and awkward questions when they go back to their districts, with people standing up and asking them to defend the votes they've taken and why they think that's in the American interest, et cetera — until that happens, there is not going to be a sea change here on Capitol Hill.
I'm sorry to say that. I have done my part, I think, to try and shift some views there, but it is very, very hard, for all the obvious reasons. That's true in lots of other areas, whether it's on foreign policy or, God forbid, gun control.
Q: When do you reach the point that the appropriate analogy is to the American Revolution, when at a certain point the founders concluded that there was no alternative to launching an armed revolt and seeking international endorsement and support?
MR. WEISS: While we're talking about these sorts of abstract ideas, this is a desperate situation in which people have been denied basic rights for 65 years. It's a revolutionary situation. But the reason that revolution is not a good prescription here, I think, is that you have one side with nukes and the support of the U.S. government and a huge army, and another side with rocks. Israel would love a violent uprising on the West Bank because that's what it knows how to respond to. It doesn't know how to respond to Gandhis, which it is getting now, and that is baffling Israel and causing a shift in worldwide opinion.
The other part of the question that I want to address, which touches on the congressional piece, is that a friend was telling me about the lobbying of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation some years ago. They would go to a congressman's office with members from his or her district to say, we don't like this occupation. The staffer of the congressman would be kind of marking time with these activists, and then one of them would say, I'm a Jewish-American from your district. According to my friend, who was involved in this lobbying effort, the congressman would look up and would listen to what that person was saying.
I think what this reflects is that the moral force behind the creation of Israel, and behind the sustaining of Israel, is the force from the Holocaust and the legacy of Jewish persecution. Henry here barely escaped the Holocaust; there's a reason that we honor people of Henry's generation who chose Zionism as a response to it. But that is the essential political dyad, I think, in this whole conflict: Israel and the United States and the commitment the United States made to Israel out of this great historical persecution.
That's why I believe that for a different time, we have to overcome that dyad. And the way I think we overcome it is by saying, Henry, I think that was an error. While I honor what happened — it's a sacred chapter of Jewish history — I think it's as if the Jewish community said, we want the Marcus Garvey option [separatism, proposed by Garvey (1887-1940) for Americans of African heritage]. And that's what they did. They chose the Marcus Garvey option: we're not safe here, we're not safe in Europe, so we have to create a national home. I think that was a wrong choice. That's why I'm an anti-Zionist; I don't believe in the Marcus Garvey option.
There is a last part of this, politically, that is very significant. Avraham Burg, a former speaker of the Knesset in Israel, said that Zionism created two great structures after the war. It created the state of Israel and it created the American Jewish power establishment that supported it: the lobby, in a word. I am responsible for that personally. I'm part of the American Jewish community, which is being represented by the lobby, and I say, no.
I think the greatest thing I can do is to say, I don't believe in the Marcus Garvey option. That could have a huge effect on what Henry rightly describes as the attachment of the Israeli people to a Jewish state and a Jewish majority. If the other part of that partnership, the American Jewish community, honestly says, as I honestly say, I do not want the Marcus Garvey option; I want participation in a liberal democracy, and I am going to organize my community on that basis — both American Jews and the larger American community — I think that could have a huge effect on the consciousness of Israelis.
Q: My name is Joel Segal. I worked here for 13 years. I left my position in Congress about three weeks ago. I want to applaud everybody on this panel. This was the most honest discussion I've ever heard on Israel-Palestine in my 13 years here. I'm very hopeful that there will be resolution to the conflict because, from the Martin Luther King or the Gandhi or the Mandela tradition, you have to keep hope alive.
My question is: Why are we allowing a very small minority of actors to decide the fate of Middle East peace when the majority are overwhelmingly for peace and stability? Seventy percent of the American Jewish community favors a two-state solution; the majority of the Palestinian community favors a two-state solution; the majority of Americans, Europeans, Africans and Asians favor peace and a two-state solution. But there is a small minority of hard-liners from the Jewish community — and I'm Jewish — who are against a two-state solution, and you have Likud and Netanyahu.
This would lead to the next question: Why haven't there been more civil-society meetings with all the progressives on this issue to strategize about a common vision and move forward in an activist way, in the Martin Luther King tradition? We have great minds working on this, but there has not been a cohesive, unified civil-society movement for our two-state solution. Could this not happen? Since we are in the majority, we should be speaking louder and amplifying the voices of peace.
MR. SIEGMAN: To respond briefly to the question of why, with this overwhelming majority favoring a two-state solution, we do not have a two-state solution, it is because of the 70 percent in Israel who say they favor such a solution, 80 percent also say (in that same poll) that there is no Palestinian partner to make such a deal with. This suggests that a majority of Israelis are for a two-state solution only as long as there is no danger it might be implemented.
Q: One of the things that wasn't explicitly mentioned by the speakers was the very strong Israeli reaction to the Palestinian moves at the United Nations. This didn't get much coverage in the United States, but it was a very important development in terms of international recognition of the territory as a state. People have not referred to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. There has been no reference to the role of the churches, which in the past, as in the abolitionist movement and the civil-rights movement, were a tremendous game changer once they got going. Most of the Zionists in the United States are not Jewish; they're Christian. One gets the sense that this Zionism is really surface-deep only, and that it could flip. So there's a lot of momentum going towards the Palestinians — the use of nonviolent resistance, which is a very, very powerful force, as was alluded to. I wonder if the speakers would comment on this sense of potential hope, and also on the "it's not over," as Mr. Siegman said.
DR. WALT: As to this question of how you keep hope alive in situations where things don't look particularly appealing or the prospects don't look good — the mention was made of changes we didn't anticipate, like a black president of the United States. I would even think about the fact that attitudes towards smoking have revolutionized in 40 years, not just in the United States, but worldwide; race relations in the United States are fundamentally transformed, though there's still work to do; apartheid in South Africa — when I was a teenager, it was firmly entrenched; you could not imagine it changing — gay people getting married or serving openly in the U.S. military, and so on.
These things can happen, and they can happen with astonishing swiftness at times. I believe one of the reasons that the political fight in the United States on Israel-Palestine is often so nasty is because the other side understands this. It understands that this avalanche could start with remarkable speed if we begin having an open discussion, if a few people — even 10 percent of Congress — started speaking out openly on this, or if you had people who could serve in the Defense Department or the State Department without having to mouth all of the usual platitudes and say what they thought; if younger policy wonks in Washington didn't get nervous that if they thought for themselves they might derail their careers. There are lots of people who understand the problem. They just don't want to talk about it because they're scared. They're not lucky, like I am, to have tenure, so I can't be fired.
This, of course, is why some groups in the lobby work so hard to make an example of people, even when they lose. Chuck Hagel gets confirmed, but Chuck Hagel is also a huge example of what can happen. If you haven't been a senator, and if you haven't taken a couple of bullets for the country while serving in Vietnam, you're in real trouble.
Once that starts to change, once you start having an open discussion with more people, this could shift very, very rapidly. I think that's what the other side is worried about. Finally, yes, there are a number of things happening in the world, and I think many thoughtful Israelis do worry about international isolation. Israel has worked very hard over its lifetime to gain international legitimacy and was actually doing pretty well with it. The long occupation, the two Intifadas and the Gaza wars have all eroded this in a variety of ways. If this trend continues and you get a Palestinian campaign for civil rights — for just basic civil rights — this will further erode Israel's legitimacy. It will encourage outmigration from Israel, which is also a problem that they are concerned about. You might begin to see a sea change.
I'll leave this out here for those of you who really want to be imaginative; it is not beyond imagination that Israeli attitudes about political rights for Palestinians could evolve over time, too. What Israelis will think in 2060 about the nature of their society and their relationship with Palestinians may be very different than what they think in 2013. I'm open to that possibility as well, although, as has already been said, I think that process is not going to be a pretty one. It's going to involve a lot of contention, as it has in other societies that have gone through similar convulsions.
DR. MATTAIR: Some of the people who still think a two-state solution is possible or still hope for a two-state solution imagine that some of the developments in the West Bank could be reversed — the wall could come down, some arrangements could be made for the evacuation of a settlement, some settlers would want to leave, and the settlements could actually be occupied by Palestinians. What are the prospects for the reversibility of part of what has already been done? Would there be any utility to more American leverage? Henry spoke about the president warning that he would stop vetoing UN Security Council Resolutions, but is economic aid a lever to be used in order to bring about a change?
DR. WALT: In theory, the United States has enormous leverage, but, as has already been said, it's incapable of using it. If Barack Obama was unable to put any meaningful pressure on Israel in his first term, there's no sign he's going to do it in his second term. That leverage has always been there; it has occasionally been wielded in the very mildest of forms, but I don't see any sign of that happening any time soon.
MR. SIEGMAN: Ironically, those who advocate the removal of the wall in Israel are the settlers. The reason they advocate the removal of the wall is their fear that the wall might be seen by the international community as signifying Israel's recognized borders. For the settlers and their supporters, removal of the wall would signify the Jordan River as Israel's international border. It is not only the settlers, nor the newly reinvigorated settler party headed by Naftali Bennett, who formally oppose Palestinian statehood anywhere in the West Bank. It is also the official position of the governing Likud party, which opposes a Palestinian state anywhere in the West Bank, Netanyahu's pretense to seek a two-state solution notwithstanding. Yet, not only Israel but the United States insists that Hamas cannot join the political process as long as they do not recognize the state of Israel. The double standard and hypocrisy of these positions seem not to trouble anyone.
Q: There is no way to conduct negotiations between a tiger and a cat. And the tiger has already tamed the lion behind it, the United States, to be on its side.
MR. WEISS: One of the great things about human civilization is that sometimes, if you're a progressive, you think that people in the present day don't have to recapitulate all the actions of their predecessors. If you want to drive a car, you don't have to invent a steam engine; you go buy an internal-combustion engine. Similarly, if you look at the history of race relations in our country, we had a war in which 700,000 people were killed a hundred years ago, and then we had a civil-rights struggle in which far fewer people were killed. That's where my hope resides. History is not necessarily a model for bloodshed. There may be a way, through the churches, through the BDS Movement, through the shifts in Jewish life, through the pressure from Europe, through the United Nations, through all these means, to get that tiger very isolated and ultimately, a De Klerk figure emerges who understands the future and does not choose the path of bloodshed.
Q: We're talking about what should Israel do, where should Israel go, what should the Palestinians do. This seems to me an academic matter here in Washington. It's much more pertinent for us to be talking about U.S. policy. Stephen, you've pointed out a few times the sorts of very nasty tactics that the Israel lobby engages in. It seems also that we have popular opinion for a balanced U.S. policy. We seem to be working on the assumption that if Americans knew and understood that the special relationship was not in our interest, not in Israel's interest, not in the Palestinians' interest, that they would press for a stronger, balanced approach. It seems like the reason this doesn't happen is that you have, on one side, a very passionate group of people who spend 24/7 advocating for this radical view, and while you may have more people working or believing in the more popular view, they're not putting their hearts and souls on the line. How do we change that and get people more active, more involved with their time, with their money, with their passions?
DR. WALT: Just to be a little bit more gloomy, it may turn out to be impossible. You may not be able to raise this issue so far up into the consciousness of most Americans to get it to change. I hope that's not the case, but it might be. We're an interest-group-based form of government where passionate minorities who care deeply can work 24/7 on whatever their issue is. When they do, they tend to run roughshod over the majorities, who are distracted, who don't care nearly as much. It is true of the farm lobby, the gun lobby, Big Pharma, the Israel lobby and plenty of others.
What I think all the people on this panel, and you, and plenty of other people in this room have tried to do is explain to Americans that they ought to care more about this, partly for the sake of American values, but also because it's harmful to Americans in a whole variety of ways that are often hard to see initially. I think that all we can really do is try to make this more visible and make it more of a priority of politicians. President Obama understood when he took office that this was an important issue, that it affected our ability to conduct policy throughout the region, et cetera. But I think he eventually looked at the list of things he wanted to do, and said, this is number nine on my list. Health care is number one. If I want to get health care, I can't be having a fistfight with Benjamin Netanyahu every week. I'm just going to have to fold my tent, because this is number nine on my list of things to do, and I want to get one through eight done first.
Until American presidents move it up the list and are willing to spend real political capital and actually explain their policies to the American people in clear, unvarnished language that we would all recognize, you're probably not going to get a sea change here. I wish I could be more optimistic about it, but part of our job is to try and force American presidents to take it more seriously, because Americans take it more seriously.
DR. MATTAIR: We're in a catch-22, I think. In order to educate the American people and mobilize them, it would require a speech by the president. And the president can't make a speech because he has to think about the Congress, and the Congress isn't going to react unless there's pressure from below. There won't be pressure from below unless the president speaks to them, and he can't. There are a number of related questions from the audience involving the confiscation of land in the West Bank, the diversion of water from West Bank aquifers, taking rock from West Bank quarries, et cetera. The question is, is Israel really trying to destroy the Palestinian nation, the Palestinian people?
There may be people in the Netanyahu government who would conceive of a transfer of the Palestinian population out of the West Bank. Does anyone here think that transfer might be an option if they recognize that the demographics of a one-state solution would be against the Jewish nation in Israel?
MR. SIEGMAN: No one in Israel will allow trucks or cattle cars to move Palestinians out of the West Bank. That will not happen. But there has been significant dispossession of Palestinians in the West Bank, much of it occurring below the radar. And it continues. This is particularly true of what Israelis now call state lands, which comprise 60 percent of the West Bank. Naftali Bennett, who heads the settler party, is now a key member of Netanyahu's government and is in charge of housing. His people are also in other ministries and Knesset committees that will be making decisions about the enlargement of settlements and the continued dispossession of Palestinians.
DR. KADER: So is it proper to interpret what you're saying as, yes, there is ethnic cleansing, but it's subtle?
MR. SIEGMAN: There was massive ethnic cleansing in the 1948 War of Independence, and the dispossession of Palestinians continues.
DR. WALT: I would just remind everybody that there have been two moments since the founding of the state of Israel when there were massive numbers of refugees: one in 1948, obviously, during the War of Independence, known to the Palestinians as the Nakba, but also in the Six-Day War in 1967. About a quarter of a million refugees fled from the West Bank as well. This is why I agree with Phil's comments that a Palestinian resort to violence at this point would be an enormous mistake. I don't think there's a deliberate Israeli plan or anything like that, but I can imagine in chaotic conditions, possibly involving other countries in the Middle East, a major uprising might be an occasion where you see the use of force that encouraged large numbers of people to leave. I wouldn't rule that out, which is one of the reasons why I would tell the Palestinians that that is not the road to follow.
Q: This is anecdotal evidence, but I got caught up in a little demonstration in East Jerusalem. Sixty percent of the demonstrators were Israeli young people. I wonder if there is some demographic polling or survey work that shows the next generation is saying, peace and justice?
MR. SIEGMAN: There are contradictory trends within the country. As indicated, a majority of Israelis repeatedly return the Greater Israel parties to power. On the other hand, an increasingly large proportion of young people are reportedly so disenchanted with the current situation that they no longer see their future in Israel. It is a phenomenon that reinforces my sense that Israeli governments have been a greater threat to Israel's future than any of its Arab neighbors.
Q: Professor Walt, since enlightened people make up a minority of those who are really committed to action, what might be the best way for those of us who are committed to move public opinion in a different way? Is it, as in the civil-rights movement, to bond together with churches and, in that case, clergy? A lot of young Jews, including a former roommate of mine, were involved in the civil-rights movement and did change what those of us who had roots in the South didn't believe could be changed. What is a feasible way for us to act and speak that might have some chance of bringing more hope than there seems to be today?
DR. WALT: I wish I could give you a quick and easy prescription that promises immediate results, but I don't think that's possible in the circumstances. If we're basically right here, we're suggesting that there is not likely to be anything that will change the situation in a year or two or three. Don't expect a miracle; don't expect a breakthrough in the second Obama term that'll vindicate the Oslo process, finally, and then we'll just be in the business of trying to implement that long-illusive two-state solution. This is going to be a longer-term problem. That means that social mobilization, political mobilization here in the United States will matter over time.
What individuals ought to do depends very much on the kind of person you are and what you're comfortable doing. I'm not going to prescribe whether this person should lead a sit-in and this person should organize a divestment petition at TIAA-CREF. People do what they're comfortable doing. But it seems to me that existing organizations are always a good place to start. So, as you said, churches are very powerful because they exist already. They are an existing social organization. I think what Phil is trying to do within the American Jewish community, and what Mitchell Plitnick [of Jewish Voice for Peace] and others have done, is very important in advancing that particular dialogue.
There are still places within American society where it's easier to have these conversations. It is easier to have them at universities because we have a tradition of open discussion and bringing in unpopular opinions. Some of us do have the luxury of being able to say what we think without as much professional risk. So that's another place where one can organize. The nice thing about that is, in schools and universities there are lots of young people whose minds can be opened more easily, sometimes, than people who are really entrenched. I think all of those things are going to be part of a process that is likely to take a while and whose destination is not certain.
It's not quite like the Oslo process, where we thought we knew where it was supposed to end up and what it was going to look like. I think we're now in terra incognita. We don't know what the end result is going to be, which means we're going to have to be able to talk a lot about alternatives and how to get there, and what the strengths and weaknesses of those alternatives might be. If you want to be able to understand that intelligently, you have to be able to talk openly and honestly and make mistakes and get corrected without feeling as if your head's going to get taken off if you even voice a slightly out-of-the-box opinion.
DR. MATTAIR: Would one state be the kind of state that Israel is now, where, although Arabs can sit in the Knesset, they really have never been equal under the law in terms of the provision of electricity or education. Would it be that kind of a state, where West Bank Palestinians have second- or third-rate status? Or would young Israelis agitate for the widening of equal rights to them, or would the American public? And would it be an isolated state internationally? If so, what are the leaders of Israel going to do about it, if it's actually endangered?
MR. SIEGMAN: It's highly unlikely that, at first, an Israeli government would grant citizenship, much less equal citizenship, to Palestinians within a one-state Greater Israel. But such a position would be unsustainable. Sooner or later, Palestinians would have to be granted citizenship rights, which at first would not even match the second-class citizenship of Israel's Arab citizens. In time, however, a growing Arab majority population in such a one-state situation would achieve its full rights, and Greater Israel would not remain a Jewish state.
It is precisely because on some level Israeli Jews know this to be the case that I believe if Palestinians were to declare that their national struggle will be changed from Palestinian statehood in the West Bank to equal citizenship in a single state, and begin to follow through seriously on such a declaration, a majority of Israelis may well revisit their opposition to a two-state accord.
DR. MATTAIR: So the one state will not be a Jewish state.
MR. SIEGMAN: In the end, it will not be. This is why I believe that the Jewish state's most dangerous enemies are the advocates of a Greater Israel.
MR. WEISS: I think that, as Steve said earlier, we're in a period of no paradigm. I was in Palestine after the rejection of Palestinian statehood last year and other acts by the Obama administration that essentially repudiated the position that he had taken in Cairo. Palestinians had believed in this two-state paradigm, and they're the people who are most subject to it. To us, it's abstract. These are people living stateless, without any rights. To see these people, friends of mine, highly educated people, who had the idea that this was going to happen, and to have it disappear is a profound loss. So I think that that kind of awareness is going to enter the United States. This model of thinking that has governed our ideas, like it or not, for 25-30 years, is going to dissolve. That's an enormously challenging thing.
The one thing I'd say about a one-state outcome is that this is a period that calls on Americans of great insight to try to help imagine a situation where communal rights could be respected in a one-state situation.
I am for one state. I would be for partition if I thought that could work, just to be done with the problem. But it looks like one state, and I think that is a challenge to people like me, who are idealists, who believe in the idea that Jews traditionally have been "a light unto the nations." This conception of Jewish life is exceptionalist, which is a little arrogant in some ways. The other side of it is that this is a time to try to help imagine a situation where communal rights of both peoples are respected, and this could be a model.
Q: There is a theory that the heart — the majority, silent or otherwise — of the American Jewish community consists of liberal people; that the secret to changing our politics is the empowerment, the mobilization of that now liberal silent majority. Others say that that majority more clearly exists among young American Jews and that therein lies hope for the eclipse of the traditional right-wing lobby in this country, the emergence of a new Jewish lobby that would insist on new American policies out of their love and support for the state of Israel and their adherence to American beliefs in human rights and justice. Is that a sound theory, or is it an illusion?
DR. WALT: My reading of the polling of the American Jewish community is that it's divided into three groups of roughly equal size: one-third that is not engaged by this set of issues at all, another group that is modestly supportive and another group that is very, very supportive. As you suggested, most of the existing organizations are not representative of the entire community. They are much more hard-line. They are not as liberal, tend to be more Republican in orientation than Democratic — particularly a lot of the big funders as well.
I think that is starting to change. There is the concern you see expressed in Peter Beinart's book [The Crisis of Zionism], that the younger generation is just losing interest. It's not that they're becoming hostile, necessarily. This is just not an issue that engages them, and that's a concern that many people in the American Jewish community who are strongly committed to Israel have. It's also been affected by intermarriage and the delegitimation of anti-Semitism, which is itself a very positive development.
If I had to forecast, I think what you're going to see within the American Jewish community is that it's going to split, that the group of people who are indifferent is going to get larger and larger. But the people who are engaged are going to be not just 24/7; they'll be 48/7, and on both ends. You'll have Phil at one end and what we think of as the other side, the traditional "status quo lobby" in there, too. Everybody else will be turning off, tuning out and worrying about something else.
Q: I think the American Jewish narrative — this is what I've heard from my mother and my brothers, my cousins, and other relatives, who are very liberal — is that it's always about Israel's security. The main fear among American Jews regarding a two-state solution is that Israel will be vulnerable to attack. So there has to be an effort by progressive intellectuals, whether for two states or one, and I think the Palestinian community has to be a part of this. Certainly Sadat realized it when he went to the Knesset and said to Israel, I want peace. It was a very dramatic gesture. There has to be some out-of-the-box thinking about how to assure the Jewish community, both Israelis and Americans, that under a two-state solution there would be security arrangements, like a 38th parallel in Korea, or the fact that NATO has pinned down Hezbollah in Lebanon. If that doesn't happen at the beginning, there won't be any progress. How would you go about doing that? Do you bring in the Shin Bet generals? Do you bring in Colin Powell? How do you show American and Israeli Jews that their security, the security of Israel, will be guaranteed and improved through two states, not lessened?
Q: Benny Morris, the Israeli historian, worried that Israel's security is in jeopardy because it did not do ethnic cleansing thoroughly. He said, do you think that where a viable Palestinian state is out of the question now, Israel will remain viable, over time? Europeans historically have not lived in countries they have colonized unless they're dominant. Would younger generations be uncomfortable living there? Will Israel remain viable for the Jews if it is one state?
MR. SIEGMAN: If there is only one state, it cannot remain Jewish indefinitely. That will not happen.
MR. WEISS: Since we're at the seat of government, I want to address the spiritual question here, which I think is really at the heart of the Jewish issue. If you take Henry's historical frame, my mother's historical frame, as Jews, did they feel safe? They had good reason not to feel safe. People in my mother's generation would say, will they hide you? Will the goyim, the non-Jews, hide you when the next Holocaust comes? That was their historical frame. It's not my historical frame. I don't think about "would they hide you." I genuinely don't think about it. A friend said it to me out loud. I'd never thought about it. That is the great spiritual divide in Jewish life, I think. If a Jewish state disappeared, would it be a personal tragedy to you? This is a question they ask. Honestly, it just wouldn't be a personal tragedy to me. And I think more and more young Jews, who lack my mother's historical frame, don't feel the need. So, to respond to your question, Henry has referred to this period in Israeli history; an Israeli people have been created, and young professionals — empowered, privileged people — want another passport. They want to get out of Dodge. They want to go live in Berlin or the United States. So a profound spiritual-political divide is occurring.