I had the pleasure of attending a J Street event the other night in Manhattan. I’ve never heard Daniel Levy, the British-Israeli activist and Washington think-tank intellectual, in finer form. He’s often too acerbic for my taste, but on Tuesday night, he hit just the right note for me.
He’s come to the view, which I now share, that bilateral negotiations between two unequal parties (Israel and the Palestinians) will not deliver peace. It’s not that the peace won’t ultimately be negotiated, but it requires an active involvement by United States representatives offering reasonable bridging proposals and being willing to leverage its influence to secure a viable two-state solution. To start with, the US needs to encourage at least a workable agreement on Israel’s borders; in most ways, this is the easiest issue for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to agree upon.
Levy also astutely suggested that the organized American Jewish community’s six million dollar budget to fight Israel’s “delegitimization” will be a wasted expenditure because it does not address the forces and actions within Israel that are currently doing all they can to delegitimize Israel from within: e.g., Avigdor Lieberman’s antics as foreign minister and the efforts of his Yisrael Beitenu party and others to “investigate” and criminalize the voices of dissent. Levy doesn’t deny that there are hateful and anti-Semitic elements among the Palestinians and in the broader Islamic world, but he reasonably contends that the occupation “drives” this hatred of Jews.
And it’s not, for example, that Iran doesn’t do all it can to threaten Israel, but if Israel engaged with the Arab League peace initiative and moved diplomatically to come to a two-state agreement with the Palestinian Authority, the rug would be pulled out from under this Iranian animus. What has to be hard for many of us American Jews to hear is that Israel has been “indulged” by US policy for decades now; and it’s American Jews who facilitated this indulgence. I’m stating this somewhat more bluntly than Mr. Levy put it, but only a bit.
We also got Levy’s view of Ehud Barak’s proposal to the Palestinians in the summer of 2000: for Israel to retain 13% of the West Bank and a long-term lease on the Jordan Valley, with no compensating trade of Israeli territory. Levy indicates that this Israeli position moved substantially to Ehud Olmert’s proposal in 2008: with Israel retaining six percent of the West Bank but including a land swap. Levy sees Olmert as having sincerely sought peace. He will not vouch for the sincerity of Bibi Netanyahu in this regard.
Levy has no magic formula regarding Hamas as a complicating factor, but he sees Hamas as moving toward an accommodation with the two-state idea. And if the PLO successfully negotiates a deal with Israel, he sees Hamas as being compelled to go along with it.
He does admit, however, that it may be too late to move many of Israel’s 300,000 settlers back from the West Bank. He would like to see “creativity” by Israel and the Palestinians to accommodate those settlers who may find themselves within sovereign Palestinian territory. Here is one such scenario he floated: Might it be possible for West Bank settlers to remain as permanent residents there? Might it be possible for this deal to be augmented and facilitated with Israel’s permission for an equivalent number of Palestinians to “return” to Israel, perhaps also with residency rights but without the right to vote? And one can imagine other permutations of a similar arrangement