The April 3 letter which 100 leading American Jews sent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is distressing.
There’s nothing wrong with the letter’s specified intention to ask Netanyahu to cooperate with President Barack Obama and to facilitate confidence-building measures to try to buy a Palestinian Authority willingness to negotiate, as long as those measures are reciprocated by the other side.
The problem is that the language used parallels the misrepresentation of Israel’s situation and positions: by the way it is written, this letter seems to be not about influencing Netanyahu or Israelis but about enhancing the social and political credentials of those involved — Israel’s security and interests be damned.
In addition, the letter accepts the concept that the Palestinian Authority must be paid benefits to be willing to talk so that it can receive bigger benefits; that it must be begged via “painful” and potentially dangerous Israeli concessions to accept a Palestinian state. Since the Palestinians are doing Israel such a big favor by making peace, this concept goes, Israel should make concessions first, and hope for some compromise from the other side later.
I support a two-state solution based roughly on the pre-1967 borders with relatively minor modifications, which is supposedly the same thing the signers want. But — and here’s where the letter misses the point — only based on a real deal which must be based on mutual compromises, an eagerness by both sides to make a lasting peace, and a structure that seems likely to make the peace lasting.
In fact, a deal is impossible because the PA doesn’t really want one, which is why they need to be begged with treats to talk — and why even if there are a few talks, they won’t succeed. Also, at a time of growing radicalization in the region, a theoretical deal based on “painful” concessions would endanger Israel’s strategic situation.
The implication of the letter, in contrast, is that a peace deal is so urgent for Israel that it must be desperate to get one no matter what the cost. That nothing can go wrong with the new situation an agreement can create; that Israel’s prime goal must always be to keep the current president happy despite any judgment or considerations of its own.
Those who signed the letter — remember, they didn’t write it — are all good people, none of whom are anti-Israel. That’s why these people should have known better and written this letter differently.
None of this was necessary and the matter could have been handled with dignity and much greater effectiveness.
There are left-wingers, more powerful than ever before in U.S. history, who loathe Israel and want to see it greatly weakened or wiped out; there are conservatives who are pro-Israel, though some want to exploit it for partisan purposes. (By the way, it should be noted that the main group, the conservative Emergency Committee for Israel, is hypocritical since its leadership includes people who support Obama’s dangerous pro-Islamist policy, which is more dangerous for Israel than anything Obama is doing on the “peace process.”)
But: where are the liberal pro-Israel forces who should be speaking out sensibly, and not merely rubber-stamping Obama’s policy and mass media stereotypes?
Here is the letter’s text:
Dear Prime Minister Netanyahu:
As Americans deeply committed to Israel’s security, we were heartened by President Obama’s recent historic visit and his unequivocal assertion that “so long as there is a United States of America, Ah-tem lo le-vad.” We also are encouraged by the rapprochement with Turkey, which was achieved in great measure due to your leadership.
We believe that this is a compelling moment for you and your new government to respond to President Obama’s call for peace by taking concrete confidence building steps designed to demonstrate Israel’s commitment to a ‘two-states for two peoples’ solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We urge you, in particular, to work closely with Secretary of State John Kerry to devise pragmatic initiatives, consistent with Israel’s security needs, which would represent Israel’s readiness to make painful territorial sacrifices for the sake of peace.
Your leadership would challenge Palestinian leaders to take similarly constructive steps, including, most importantly, a prompt return to the negotiating table.
We join with President Obama in expressing our steadfast support for your efforts to ensure Israel’s future as the secure and democratic nation state of the Jewish people.
So: what is wrong with this text?