When it comes to reinventing the wheel, some people just never tire of the exercise. That’s the only way to view a new Middle East peace initiative that its sponsors are touting as the proposal that the world has been waiting for that will finally solve the problem that has resisted every previous initiative. But in this case, the solution isn’t coming from unfriendly outsiders like the European Union, the United Nations, or even the Obama administration. It’s a group of American Jews who not only believe they are acting in the best interests of Israel but are pushing their ideas forward in cooperation with an organization of retired Israeli military and security officials as well as a Washington security think tank. Buoyed by the bad press that the current Israeli government has been getting, these people think now is just the moment to push forward a peace plan that will help prepare the way for change despite the opposition of the elected leaders of the Jewish state.
But even if we were to concede that their motives are pure, what they are doing is not only a waste of time, it is also actually counter-productive.
The group in question is the Israel Policy Forum, an organization supported and staffed by people with records of support for the Jewish state but which has been out of the news for a long time. Created at the behest of the late Yitzhak Rabin in 1994, the IPF’s original intent was to serve as a counterweight to AIPAC because the prime minister thought it was insufficiently enthusiastic about the Oslo Accords. Supported by heavyweight American Jewish donors, the group had a big initial splash, but its backers didn’t have the stomach to compete with the umbrella pro-Israel lobby. It was also soon outpaced by events as the Oslo process unraveled and was ultimately discredited in the eyes of the Israeli public by the deceit of Yasir Arafat and the horror of the Palestinian terrorism that he unleashed in the years that followed.
Since then, the IPF has been eclipsed among liberals by J Street, a group that didn’t shrink from seeking to support the Obama administration’s policy of pressure and more “daylight” between the U.S. and Israel as well as backing an Iranian nuclear deal that was opposed by Israelis across the political spectrum from left to right. Indeed, for many on the Jewish left here even J Street isn’t radical enough since it still puts itself forward as a “pro-Israel” group and opposes the BDS movement that aims at waging economic war on the Jewish state even as it supports those who practice more selective boycotts. But the IPF has just gotten fresh blood in the form of faithful Obama loyalist, apologist and funder Alan Solow and other liberal big shots. Yet though this effort is aimed at a more mainstream audience, the IPF initiative is based on the same bogus notion that Israel needs to be saved from itself and forced to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to preserve it as a Jewish state.
IPF’s partners in the idea are also mainstream players. The Israeli half is called Commanders for Israel’s Security. It’s a club for left-leaning former IDF and security personnel who don’t like the Netanyahu government and are frustrated by the way Israeli voters have deprived them of influence. The Washington think tank is the Center for a New American Security, a foreign policy think tank backed by many heavy hitters and even numbers among its board members former Senator Joe Lieberman, whose pro-Israel credentials are not to be questioned.
So what’s the nature of their big idea that is supposed to be unveiled next week? We’re told it’s a two-state solution involving withdrawals from the West Bank and Jerusalem, relocating of settlers and guarantees of Israel’s security. It all sounds plausible but there’s one big problem with the labor of all these very serious and well-intentioned people. While there may be a few quirks about this plan that haven’t previously been included in peace plans, there’s nothing original about the idea or even the details. It’s all been tried before and failed each time.
Those failures didn’t occur because, as the IPF pre-rollout publicity campaign IPF seems to imply, Israel’s governments were too right wing or not forthcoming enough, or its people weren’t “prepared” for peace. It failed because the Palestinians have repeatedly explicitly rejected a two-state solution. Arafat and his successor Mahmoud Abbas have never been able to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn or who pays for relocating dispossessed Jewish settlers.
For two decades, peace processors have never ceased to tell us that there is a solution to the conflict and that everyone knows what it is. It’s the same basic formula Ehud Barak offered Arafat in 2000 and 2001 and Ehud Olmert offered Abbas in 2008. Since then even the supposedly incorrigible right-wing Netanyahu has agreed to two states and even offered major withdrawals from the West Bank that would have required the evacuation of settlements to Abbas. But the Palestinians have never taken yes for an answer and the reason is simple. It is their population that is unready for peace because their national identity has been inextricably linked to the war on Zionism for a century. That is why even Palestinian moderates extol terrorism and honor those who try to slaughter Jews and why even Abbas continually issues statements, as he did again this week, which indicates that, like his Hamas rivals, he believes all of Israel is “occupied” territory.
What the IPF heavy-hitters don’t understand is that the Israeli people elected a right-wing majority government for the third straight time last year because the Palestinians discredited the Oslo paradigm. A vast majority would probably support a plan like the one being promoted if they thought it would lead to true peace. But they aren’t interested in new peace plans about territorial withdrawals until the geniuses drawing up these schemes find a way to ensure that a Palestinian state in the West Bank won’t wind up being a carbon copy of the Palestinian state that exists in all but name in Gaza, which was brought into existence by Ariel Sharon’s withdrawal from the strip. The problem is the smart people making these plans and the well-intentioned donors backing them have no realistic answer to that question. Nor do they seem to realize what even Israel’s left-wing opposition leader Isaac Herzog acknowledged earlier this year when he admitted there was no peace partner for Israel and that a two-state solution isn’t possible for the foreseeable future.
So what’s the point of this new effort? Sadly, it’s just Jewish politics, as liberal Jews like Solow and his friends try again to displace or diminish AIPAC because they believe the unpopularity of Netanyahu gives them an opportunity. The Israeli government got more right wing in the last week with a cabinet shuffle that brought an unattractive figure like Avigdor Lieberman (though he has always been an advocate of a two-state solution) again into a position of prominence. Maybe that provides an opening to help IPF get more mentions in the New York Times and to boost itself as a player when the next administration takes office in January even if their efforts have nothing to do with promoting a realistic chance of peace.
What harm can come of it? Unfortunately, this sort of mischief that is fueled by American Jews and Israelis who want to take shots at Netanyahu doesn’t come without a cost. Efforts like this one that promote the idea that Israel is the obstacle to peace rather than the Palestinians, make it that much harder to put the focus where it belongs. So long as people who claim to be Israel’s friends are carping about settlements or borders, or treating Israeli’s voters as if they were bigots or children rather than the realists most of them are, the Palestinians will never change. They will only redouble efforts to put pressure on Israel with terror.
All of which proves that the good intentions of the worthy people sponsoring this “new” peace initiative are as worthless as the promises Arafat made to Rabin when the IPF first went into business. This is the kind of help that Israel doesn’t need.