Why We Need a Second Jewish Lobby
Washington Jewish Weekly, September 12, 1989
Until a few weeks ago, the American Jewish community had been represented by only one lobbying organization, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The decision to create the Jewish Peace Lobby was based on two perceptions: 1) this was an unhealthy situation which did not reflect the pluralism in the American Jewish community, and 2) the policy orientation advocated by AIPAC is frequently harmful to the cause of Middle East peace.
The perspective of the Jewish Peace Lobby is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which lies at the heart of the Israeli-Arab conflict, emerges from two nationalisms both of which had legitimate claims to the area that the United Nations decided to partition in 1947. We do not believe that it is likely that a stable peace can be made in the Middle East if one nationalism is fulfilled and the other is denied. The two-state solution was, in 1947, the common sense approach to the problem of two nationalisms. It was accepted by Harry Truman and David Ben Gurion. It still remains common sense.
For decades since 1947, the Palestinian nationalist movement defined its raison d’être in anti-Israel terms. Thus, the PLO Covenant directed its energy at the undoing of the Jewish state. Over the years there has been a sea change in Palestinian and Arab attitude. This occurred as a result of pragmatism, and the obvious fact that Israel is strong and here to stay. The transformation in Palestinian nationalism was formalized last December when the PLO met the American conditions with respect to terrorism, Resolution 242 and Israel’s right to exist.
There is no guarantee that a lasting peace can be negotiated between Israel and the PLO. But for the first time in the history of this conflict, the PLO has said that they are prepared to try. We do not believe that Israel should base its national security decisions on trust. However, as Abba Eban has said, Israel is strong enough to not be afraid to negotiate.
Israelis know how to be tough negotiators. They are not creampuffs. They will insist on demilitarization and on the complete settlement of all claims now and forever. And if there is such a settlement and if it is violated by the Palestinians, the Israelis will, and correctly so, take decisive actions to protect their interests.
Why negotiate with the PLO? Because the PLO is overwhelmingly the strongest and most representative Palestinian organization—it is the other side, because the PLO says it is prepared to make peace and end the conflict; and because a settlement with any other group is not worth the paper it is written on.
The Jewish Peace Lobby does not define itself as anti-AIPAC. We share with AIPAC a commitment to Israel’s security. And we are opposed to using foreign aid as a lever to force the government of Israel to make basic security decisions.
The problem arises when it comes to the American role in promoting a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As we read it, AIPAC plays the role of spoiler. Given an opportunity, it will move to end the U.S.-PLO dialogue. It will never speak out for Palestinian rights as well as Jewish rights. It will oppose a settlement which seeks compromise between the two nationalisms.
The United States cannot and should not seek to deliver Israel. If a peace settlement is achieved, it will be because ultimately the Palestinians, not the Americans, have convinced the Israelis that such a settlement is possible and desirable. But while it is not up to the United States to dictate to anyone, it can play a vital role.
- To reinforce and deepen the trend towards moderation within the Palestinian world. This means keeping the dialogue open, increasingly trying to bring the Palestinians in from the cold, being sensitive to the need that the Palestinian leadership that met the U.S. conditions not be discredited in Palestinian eyes, and not closing the door on a demilitarized Palestinian state.
- To promote a lowering of the level of violence in the West Bank and Gaza and the establishment of an environment conducive to a political settlement. This involves dialogue with both sides. It will require that the Israeli government start treating the Palestinians as the bearers of political insights: the right to non-violent demonstrations, the right to a fair trial, the right to free expression including displaying their national
- To participate in the positive evolution of Israeli policy. The United States must continue to tell the Israeli right wing that there are three no’s: no transfer (no to Kahane), no military solution (no to Sharon); and no indefinite retention of all the land (no to Shamir). Just as we demand that the PLO be faithful to Resolution 242 (land for peace) so too must we demand that the Israeli government be faithful to that principle. Moreover, we should use our aid in constructive ways. For instance, the Jewish Peace Lobby supports allocating one or two percent of U.S. aid directly to Israeli private voluntary organizations for projects to promote Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.
These views are supported by many American Jews. Our lobby was formed to give this point of view adequate representation in Washington.