UPDATE, 12:38 PM
The session ended with summaries by the three panelists of where they see things heading.
Aaron David Miller: In five years the Israelis will have a state but the Palestinians & Arabs will not let them enjoy it. If there is a will to move forward do five things: 1) Keep the letter of the Israeli-Egypt peace alive - the spirit is already dead; 2) Keep Is Palestinian security cooperation as robust as possible; 3) Continue PM Fayad’s state building effort going; 4) Encourage economic growth; 5) If there really is a will to reach a solution, engage. Netanyahu and Abbas should sit and talk. Prove me wrong.
UPDATE, 12:08 PM
Benny Elon just delivered a strong statement that he never believed in Oslo. “It’s important to understand what Zionism is. We’ll never have peace if we shall not understand that Zionism means after all the people of Israel returning to Zion. There are many visions and interpretations. [But] I believe that it is the biblical vision and here we’re seeing the fulfillment. This is the beginning of everything. If the Arabs say OK, this is not our vision — it is not in the Koran — we will never have peace. I understand if they don’t believe it and they don’t see a rational explanation that some one who left a note saying he’s out for lunch and after 2,000 years he says OK I’m back — if that’s what they see, I understand it but we will never have peace.”
After a quick hello from Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the co-chair of the Israel Allies Caucus, Aaron Miller spoke about the importance of leaders who have the courage to make decisions. Today they’re lacking. The two state solution is too big to fail and too big to succeed.
Yossi Beilin then gave a strong reply to Elon — “I was surprised by the invitation, but I accepted at once, but it’s important for me to meet you because you are friends of my country. The question for me is what is the basis of this support. My Zionism is not only the returning to my country. My Zionism is having a sovereign Jewish state so that something like the Struma will never happen again. What my parents want and what I want and my kids want is that there will be one state in the world which will have no quotas for Jews. If God forbid as a result of our arguments — Palestinians don’t want a Jewish state, don’t have Israel on their maps — if we say that because of that we won’t have peace because they don’t deserve it, my dream is not to have a Palestinian state. I don’t want my neighbors to suffer, but what I need is a Jewish majority forever. If there is a Jewish minority and a Palestinian majority, then what? There will not be a Jewish state? This is why I am not with you. The very surprising idea of 2002 — the Arab League statement that if you make peace with the Palestinians we will all recognize Israel — this is support for a Jewish state.”
I’m sitting in a Capitol Hill House office building meeting room — at a seminar on the Oslo process 20 years on — sponsored by former MK Benny Elon’s International Israel Allies Caucus Foundation, which mobilizes lawmakers mainly in U.S. but also in other countries who support hawkish approach to Middle East. Elon was a founder of the far-right National Union party, former minister of tourism, strong opponent of 2 state solution and territorial compromise. The current panel consists of 3 speakers - Jerusalem Post columnist Caroline Glick, the La Pasionaria of the Israeli far right; Danny Danon, a leader of the far-right anti-compromise oppositionist wing of the Likud; and Ghaith al-Omari, a Palestinian American and leader of the American Task Force on Palestine, which favors a 2 state solution and works regularly with Americans for Peace Now and other dovish pro-Israel groups. So you have two Israeli opponents of a 2 state solution and one Arab supporter. The room is about one third Middle East hawks who applaud every time one of the rightists makes a ringing point.
Host Jonathan Schanzer, a scholar with the right-wing Foundation for Defense of Democracies, is closing the morning panel right now, thanking panelists — “we all know that Oslo process is in trouble — we’ve confirmed that this morning.” Goes on to note a legislative initiative by Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) to rewrite the rules of UNRWA to exclude descendants and limit Palestinian refugee rights to the few tens of thousands still alive who physically left Israel in 1948.
The second panel is about to take place, will include Rabbi Benny Elon, Yossi Beilin and Aaron David Miller.
I called Ghaith al Omari before I left NY to confirm that he and Beilin were actually participating. When I asked him why, and didn’t he feel like was walking into a lions’ den, he said he was looking for a chance to spread the message.
Jonathan Jeremy “J.J.” Goldberg is editor-at-large of the Forward, where he served as editor in chief for seven years (2000-2007).