Ziad Asali
Newark, New Jersey
Union of Progressive Zionists student conference
October 17, 2004 - 11:00pm


A consensus, that is, nearly a consensus, about the contours of the final agreement for a genuine and lasting peace is known. It is a variation of the themes of Clinton’s Taba proposal, The Geneva Initiative, Nusseibeh- Ayalon, One Voice and most importantly, the Road Map. Polls and surveys of Palestinians, Israelis, American Jews and Arabs, as well as the general American public, indicate support for a Two-State solution based on what has come to be called the Historic Compromise. An opposing minority in each camp has exercised its power decisively, predictably and effectively to derail and frustrate a peaceful solution. It has thwarted the will of the majority of all these constituents.

The consensus is so accepted that even the most hardened opponents of the compromise have adopted it publicly, as they worked to obstruct it, in the hope of killing it in due time.

The forces opposed to a two-state solution are opposed to peace at this time because they think that time is on their side. The Israeli opposition, whether national or religious, is based on a claim for Eretz Israel or land of Greater Israel. It believes that if Israel hangs tough it will in time rule most of, if not the whole, land of Palestine, and the Arabs and Muslim will eventually relent and move on to other issues. The Palestinian and Arab opposition, whether national or religious, believes that Israel is just another Crusade that will, in time, perhaps a century or two, be wiped out by the might of a united Muslim power that will liberate Jerusalem again.

The most recent formula for non-peace is the one calling for a bi-national state, a one state solution, because irreversible facts on the grounds have already precluded the emergence of a viable Palestine. This view does not distinguish between settlements, which can stay, and settlers, who should go back to their country as part of the Historic Compromise. Advocates of this position, which is not in accord with the international consensus, must think that Israel will accede peacefully to the dissolution of its Jewish character after the millennial struggle of the Jewish people to achieve it. We are all waiting with baited breath to see whether there will be support for this formula amongst the Israelis and American Jews. The waiting period will not be one of peace.

Palestinians struggling alone in Palestine can never regain a state in Palestine no matter how heroic, or even wise, they might be. Indeed, even with the support of the whole Arab and Muslims worlds, the Palestinians have been, and will be, unable to achieve independence. An alliance of Palestinians committed to the grand compromise, with significant segments of the Israeli society, working in tandem with Palestinian Americans, other Arab Americans and American Jews, can form the core of the needed alliance to impact policy. The existing global consensus for peace should help empower this alliance to achieve its objective.

Israelis at this point in time, beleaguered, powerful and defiant, have to make a choice between signing on with the more beleaguered and weakened Palestinians, the majority of whom are anxious to negotiate an end to occupation on very reasonable terms, or to dash the hope of the Palestinians for a state and wait for a less troubling future. Should the compromise fail, it is hard to see how Israel can escape a looming confrontation with over a billion Muslims clamoring for the liberation of Jerusalem for the balance of the century. All in all, this is no prescription for peace.

Why has the minority thwarted peace? The answer is because it could. Why has the majority failed to impose its will for peace? The answer is because it could not. To translate the policy of the majority into political clout is the challenge of our time.

I will spare you the tedium of dwelling on the past. Instead I will try to discuss some issues in American politics that I believe to be relevant, and see how we can learn from them in order to move forward, to achieve our collective goal of genuine peace.

American politics is based on building alliances. It is pluralistic. No single party or group is powerful enough to achieve its objectives on its own. Single issue-oriented alliances are forged between groups pursuing a defined objective that they have in common, regardless of their other strategies, ideologies or even competing interests. The alliance that traditional Zionists have put in place over decades is awe inspiring in its breadth and depth. Centering on support for Israel, it consisted of groups as varied as the Republican and Democratic parties, Labor Unions and Chambers of Commerce, Christian fundamentalists and white liberals, Black leaders and conservative Southerners as well as a legion of voices in liberal and conservative media outlets. This alliance is decidedly one of the most successful convergences of strange bedfellows that have ever been assembled. It held together not just to support Israel proper, but also its conquests after 1967.

Another example of a group working on foreign policy issues with measurable success was the obscure Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, a Marxist-Leninist movement established a quarter century ago with a political base in Marxist Ethiopia. Shortly thereafter, a coup in Ethiopia that toppled the regime, orphaned the movement and forced it to look for a base elsewhere, so it shrewdly moved its political operation to the United States. Methodically and successfully, it distanced itself from its ideological past and was able to forge an amazing alliance of Christian Fundamentalists, white Christian and Jewish liberals, the Black Caucus and Academia with sympathetic media coverage. Yet another successful alliance of disparate groups, with little in common, but with a clear convergence of support for a single goal.

What can we learn from this? One lesson is that there are no quick fixes and no substitute for hard work, and another is that we have to forge ahead and build our own alliance for peace in Palestine / Israel. A cursory look around this country reveals wide support for a Two-State solution among the majority of American Jews, particularly those who do not belong to organizations, Arab-, and especially Palestinian- Americans, the moderate wing of the Republican Party, and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, the public at large, academia, main stream churches and many ethnic groups with an emerging voice of support in the media. There is no thread that ties these groups together around this issue at this point in time. Indeed, gatherings of like-minded Jewish, and Arab or Palestinian Americans, presumably the core constituents of such an alliance, reveal, more often than not, vast psychological and emotional canyons separating them. Human bonds are rarely created, and tribal links prove to be more solid than reasoned strategies. Real, no-nonsense, business-like communication has yet to evolve.

In the meantime, calm and rational public discourse is stifled by loud, passionate and personal voices of recrimination and paranoia. These voices have for decades appealed successfully to the core of their communities’ insecurities, fears, sense of humiliation, superiority or inferiority. All these factors made public communication an arena for recrimination and calumny. Individuals could, and did, defy this communal separation at their own risk. To be a non-racist, for a Jew, a Palestinian or any other Arab, and to act like one, is still an act of courage that carries little reward amongst one’s peers. This communal failure can only be confronted and ameliorated by having more public encounters of concerned people, of equal standing, discussing issues bequeathed by an unkind history, with seriousness and mutual respect. The two communities should endeavor to search for answers rather than to score debating points.

At the risk of offending some, I feel compelled to say that the alliance we seek can only work if it is perceived to serve the interest of each group as they themselves define this interest. Right wing and left wing Jews and Palestinians, here and there, might, for diametrically opposed reasons, agree on the desirability of a Two-State solution. This agreement alone makes them eligible potential allies.

The national interest of the United States has to be the overarching incentive for forging an effective and wide alliance in our country to support this objective. This interest is best defined, at this age of terrorism and global instability, by the major contribution the resolution of this conflict will make in the Arab and Muslim world towards dissipating the hostility engendered against us; a hostility that has been fully exploited by the Bin Ladens of this world to recruit terrorists and misguided youth.

Palestine, after its independence, can in theory lend itself to the creation of a constitutional, democratic, transparent and free state. It has the educated human capital to fulfill this promise and it lacks the dictatorial state structure that stifles institution-building in other Arab countries. Constructing such a vibrant state would be consistent with our values and morality. This is yet another argument that will appeal to all people who value freedom in our country.

Clearing the deck of the Palestine / Israel conflict should unlock many artificial political barriers to free trade in the Middle East and would throw the door open for our goods, products and services to a market of three hundred million Arabs, as well as 1.2 billion Muslims. The stunted current trade with all these countries, virtually restricted to oil, will create huge business opportunities in markets that have money and are in need of development - a great fit for our economy. This yet is another argument to help build an enduring and sustainable alliance.

In short, if we are serious about achieving a solution of Palestine-alongside-Israel, we ourselves will have to go about forging the alliance that will make it happen. At the core of it is a self respecting, dependable relationship between Palestinians and Jews in this country and among like-minded people in Palestine and Israel. Anti-Semitism, anti- Arabism and anti-Islamism are plague and to be avoided as such. It is our obligation to replace all these ills by a working bond of brave people committed to building an alliance for a genuine and lasting peace.




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