The pro-Israel/pro-peace lobby and national constituency organization, J Street, is engaged in its “2 Campaign” of forums around the country to generate support for a negotiated two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. On the evening of March 10th, it was the turn of New York, in front of a large friendly audience at the New School.
The event featured J Street’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami with guests Ami Ayalon and U.S. Congressman Jerrold Nadler. Nadler has advocated a two-state solution in principle but has also been a sharp critic of the Palestinian Authority; at this panel, his criticism was not in evidence. Ayalon, the Israeli, had to be considered the star — not for his talent as an orator, but for his background: an ex-commando and commander of Israel’s navy, a retired head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service), a former prominent Labor Party politician and now a veteran campaigner for peace.
Among his remarks, gleaned from a lifetime devoted to Israel’s security, were the following observations:
- Palestinian cooperation on security and peace is correlated to their hope for a state.
- It’s important for Palestinians to see peaceful negotiations as gaining them adequate territory for their state, as opposed to what they might gain from returning to violence.
During the Q & A, Ayalon answered affirmatively that an explicit Palestinian acknowledgment of Israel as a Jewish state would be “important,” but he did not emphasize it as all-important, i.e., a stumbling block. Here’s the YouTube video of the entire New York “town hall” event:
. . . [Ami Ayalon] is unafraid of confronting the truth as he sees it, no matter how controversial, as was proven by his participation in the movie documentary The Gatekeepers, which comprised interviews with all six of Israel’s living former Shin Bet chiefs. Strikingly all six, in their own words, articulated the need to end the occupation and make peace with the Palestinians.
When an audience member in the Town Hall meeting in Boca Raton, Florida asked Ayalon how Israel could possibly trust the Palestinians when their textbooks were full of hatred for Israel, he had an interesting two-part answer: “I raised this with one of the Palestinian partners I negotiated with. He told me, ‘Ami, our children don’t learn to hate from textbooks. They learn to hate from watching their parents being humiliated at Israeli checkpoints. When you stop controlling us, over time we will stop hating you.’”
Ayalon’s second point: “I never said we should trust them. This is not what we base our security on. But the Palestinians right now feel they have nothing to lose. If you have a people who feels they have nothing to lose, nothing on earth will stop them. We have to help create incentives so that people in the West Bank do have something to lose. If they have their own state and we can create some economic prosperity and hope for the future, this will begin to happen.”
And it’s hardly as if Israel is blameless, Ayalon said. “We send mixed messages to the international community and to ourselves. If we are ready for peace, we have to explain why we keep on building settlements.”
. . . Ayalon was a career naval commando who rose to become commander of the Israeli navy. In 1996 he was tapped to rescue the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, which had been shattered by Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination. Retiring in 2000, he partnered with Palestinian academic Sari Nusseibeh to form The People’s Voice, which collected nearly a half-million signatures on both sides for a model two-state peace agreement they drafted. In 2003 he gathered his fellow ex-Shin Bet chiefs for a group interview in Yediot Ahronot that eventually inspired the film “The Gatekeepers.”
In 2006 he entered the Knesset with the Labor Party, narrowly lost a leadership bid to Ehud Barak, briefly served as a minister and left politics in 2009. Since then he’s been working with an organization he created with several partners, Blue White Future, to promote constructive unilateralism.
An example of a constructive unilateral step, he suggests, would be “for Palestine to become a member of the U.N. — on condition that it be committed to negotiate a final settlement based on the framework.” . . .
In the US as part of J Street’s 2 Campaign, former Shin Bet Chief Ami Ayalon said that if Secretary of State Kerry introduces a framework that is accepted by both sides, it will change the paradigm of the peace process.
This post badly misrepresents Ayalon’s comments on the “Jewish state” issue. Ayalon actually says that recognition “as a Jewish state” is “very important” (see 57:05 and beyond). It’s not clear why the poster ignored Ayalon’s very clear comments on this issue.
Ayalon continues at 58:10: “I’m not sure I can give you a good reason why it is important, but it is important”. He then explains vaguely that it has to do with his “identity” (58:20).
Ayalon later repeats for a third time (59:43 and beyond) that, “they [the Palestinians] have to accept the idea that Israel is a Jewish state”, here suggesting that it has to do with making clear to the Palestinians that they, unlike Israel, will have no future right to intercede on behalf of their brethren who are citizens of another country.
Since these are difficult issues to resolve, more precision would be helpful.
Our thanks to AJ. The post has been corrected to more accurately reflect the wording of the video. Our point was not to deny that he wants a Palestinian endorsement of Israel as a Jewish state in some sense (we indicated that he did), nor to suggest that this is a bad idea. What we don’t want is that this issue become a stumbling block to negotiating an agreement, and Ayalon, by not emphasizing it, seems to agree with us.
Not sure how you get a lack of emphasis on “Jewish state” from Ayalon’s remarks. Here’s what he says at 59:55: “I want to make sure that from the very beginning when we start this very very difficult process it will be very clear to our neighbors that … they have to accept the idea that Israel is a Jewish state”.
“Very beginning”, “very clear”, “have to”. Pretty strong words.
BTW, even though Ayalon was J Street’s guest of honor, they seem to disagree with him on this issue – http://jstreet.org/blog/post/word-on-the-street-our-current-crisis-and-israel-as-a-jewish-state_1
Maybe we are projecting, but there did not seem to be disagreement on the panel. We tend to agree with J St. that the Jewish state recognition issue (probably more diplomatically phrased as Israel being the “Jewish homeland,” or that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and all of its citizens”) is better handled after the more concrete issues are agreed upon.