On August 21, a liberal pro-Israel audience at the Manhattan JCC eagerly listened to Mark Rosenblum – a professor of history at Queens College/CUNY and a founder of Americans for Peace – along with Jo-Ann Mort, a journalist who is also high in the councils of APN, recently returned from a month in Israel. One exception in the audience was David McReynolds, the retired head of the War Resister’s League and a former presidential candidate of a tiny group that claims the noble lineage of the Socialist Party USA.
McReynolds is a well-meaning guy who was pro-Zionist in his youth but came decades later to view Israel as a “mistake” – but stops short of advocating its destruction. (I’ve had the “pleasure” of debating with him and some of his comrades recently. These comrades are venomously anti-Israel; one, Seth Farber, the author of an anti-Zionist book, regards the late Israeli hater of Judaism and Zionism, Israel Shahak, as his “mentor,” and is also an admirer of Rabbi Elmer Berger, founder of the anti-Zionist American Council on Judaism.) McReynolds left early; he had to be uncomfortable with Mark Rosenblum’s mention of “demography” and the need for Israel to remain a Jewish state as justifications for Israel to withdraw from West Bank territory.
I was gratified to find that both Rosenblum and Mort share my conviction that engaging Syria in a peace process to attempt to peel it away from the Hezbollah-Iran axis is Israel’s best option. Rosenblum cited interior minister Avi Dichter’s statement of that day that peace with Syria is possible and that Israel can leave the Golan Heights as the price of that peace. Rosenblum also emphasized that it is an important precedent, and a hopeful sign of maturity, that Israel has (for a change) demanded a “robust” international force to intervene to help establish security along its border with Lebanon. (That France has tried to undermine the very force it has advocated, is another matter.)
Jo-Ann Mort found in her travels in the West Bank that Palestinians close to Abbas are eager to re-engage Israel in peace negotiations. And Rosenblum sagely suggests that Israel needs to test out the hypothesis that the split between Hamas prime minister Haniyah in Gaza and Meshal in Damascus is real, with Haniyah now pragmatically favoring a two-state solution.
The only thing I find unsettling about Prof. Rosenblum is that he seems to be an incurable optimist – or maybe he’s just appearing optimistic to maintain his mental health. But both he and Mort feel that the tenures of defense minister Peretz and IDF chief of staff Halutz are unlikely to be long. They may have differed in how they viewed Olmert’s fortunes, but I don’t recall exactly. At least one saw Olmert as dead meat politically, but it’s hard to envision who would pick up the pieces in his absence.
(Polls suddenly show Netanyahu’s Likud and Avigdor Lieberman’s right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party as finishing first and second if an election were held immediately, but neither with more than 20 seats. Amusingly, when Rosenblum mentioned Netanyahu and then Lieberman as contenders for power, the crowd laughed – thinking that he had meant US Senator Joseph Lieberman.)
Curiously, Rosenblum has a verbal style that’s very reminiscent of NY Times columnist Thomas Friedman – with the latter’s habit of repeating words and phrases as ironic counterpoints to illustrate his thinking. I mean no disrespect for either personage, but the real irony here is that Rosenblum was particularly critical of Friedman in the fall of 2000 and after, when Friedman placed the total blame for the breakdown of the peace process on Arafat.
Rosenblum found plenty to implicate ex-Prime Minister Barak in that failure, and he was correct in this; but I felt at the time that Rosenblum was missing the far more central fact that – although Barak was overly confrontational and undiplomatic in his approach at Camp David and after – it was Arafat who fatally wounded the peace process by openly inciting violence and attempting to orchestrate that violence as a means of advancing his negotiating posture. Arafat’s strategy totally backfired, undermining Barak politically and electing Sharon overwhelmingly instead – and the memory of Arafat’s perfidy inhibits substantive negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians to this day. – R. Seliger