The head of J Street, the left-leaning, pro-Israel, Washington lobbying group, delivered a vision for Israel’s future that was equal parts optimistic and pessimistic during a Yom HaAtzmaut discussion at Ahavath Achim Synagogue, but the overriding impression Jeremy Ben-Ami left Wednesday night, May 11, was straight out of a bad fairy tale.
On the pessimistic side, Ben-Ami sees Israel sinking into racism and isolation, rushing toward an apartheid future — he avoided the word, instead saying, “We all know what that’s called” — in which Jewish dominance overwhelms Jewish and democratic ideals. Down that path lies modern Israel’s destruction.
He also sees no point in peace talks with the Palestinians as long as Benjamin Netanyahu remains prime minister because Ben-Ami does not believe that Netanyahu wants to change the status quo.
On the optimistic side, Ben-Ami does believe that peace is possible. He has faith in a two-state solution along familiar lines: a Palestinian state composed of Gaza and the West Bank, with some land swaps to accommodate the realities of a half-century of settlements and the requirements for Palestinian viability. By focusing on the future instead of the past, the two peoples then would live happily ever after.
Ben-Ami didn’t delve into the details on borders, refugees, resources and Jerusalem, but we’ll grant the possibility of a deal that the majority of Israelis, as well as Diaspora Jews, would embrace and that would meet all the needs of the first independent Palestine in history.
Unfortunately, such a deal requires a Palestinian partner that simply doesn’t exist now.
To get around that reality, Ben-Ami shifted into fantasy.
It doesn’t matter that the old Palestinian leaders are incapable of making a deal, that the next generation of potential leaders (according to The New York Times’ Jodi Rudoren) is more interested in business and profits than politics and power, and that the youngest Palestinians are happy to wait for time, demographics and world criticism to take their toll until they can have a one-state solution free of Jews.
In Ben-Ami’s mind, the other Arabs — the Saudis and the rest of the ruthless oil barons around the Persian Gulf — will be happy to sit at the negotiating table, hammer out a deal and guarantee its success. The Palestinians, who chafe at Israeli occupation but only for political reasons, not because they have any problems with Jews, then will happily accept the Saudis telling them where to go, what to do, and how to live in peace and harmony.
Those pliable, agreeable, childlike Palestinians aren’t real. The actual human Palestinians, after 68 years of being used and abused by their fellow Arabs as surely as by the Israelis, aren’t going to let anyone else determine their political future. We might not agree with their goals and tactics, but we can’t deny that once you accept the Palestinians as a people, you must accept that no deal reached without them at the negotiating table has any validity.
It’s sad and ironic that J Street, which presents the strongest mainstream Jewish voice for a fair deal for the Palestinians, must treat those people as cartoon cutouts in the background, having their fates determined by the real power players. It’s a condescending view of some of the most educated people in the Arab world, and it undermines J Street’s desire to be taken seriously by Israel-loving Americans.