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.”
. . . 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.