Friday, October 4, 2013

Preliminary Thoughts from the J Street Conference

The timing was less than fortuitous--immediately after the fall holidays.  I mean--IMMEDIATELY after the fall holidays!!!  The Conference began Saturday night -- and Shabbat followed immediately on Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.  So Susan and I couldn't go until Sunday morning and missed the apparently stellar Saturday night program

which was headlined by Tzipi Livni, Cong. John Lewis and J Street Founder Jeremy Ben-Ami.  

But our Sunday and Monday were jam-packed with amazing encounters of the best kind.

Perhaps I will blog-post later about in-person appearances by VP Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, a taped message from Ambassador Michael Oren and the address by Martin Indyk, who is directing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. . . but for now I will share a remarkable series of quotes heard on a few panels -- quite literally from left to right (or, from the Jewish and Arab perspective, right to left?).

Members of the Israeli Knesset from the following parties were represented -- Labor, Hatnuah, Meretz, Likud Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid and Shas -- along with representatives of various Palestinian factions.  Read that list again: Labor, Hatnuah, Meretz, Likud Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid and Shas.

2 years ago, socioeconomic issues were of no interest.  Now, people are more interested in those issues than in a peace process.  MKs talk about what the people declare to be important.  What was it that made the economic concerns suddenly the focus of Israeli life?  We don’t know what we did!  If we just sit and watch, nothing will happen.  If we put pressure on, something could happen.  So relying on Tzipi Livni’s optimism isn’t enough. 
                The 2 State Solution is in Israel’s interest for social, political, economic, purpose.  But, maybe more important, it’s the right thing to do.  Don’t minimize that.  This is what it means to be Jewish and Zionist and Israeli.
Stav Shaffir, Labor

What is the meaning of Zionism?  A Jewish and democratic state – and equality of all citizens, regardless of race, religion or gender. 
We cannot tolerate the inequality which has become much too common in Israeli society – 50% of Israelis don’t earn enough to pay taxes!
For the sake of Israel’s future, MOVE AHEAD (Mr. Netanyahu) – we will support you.  The people of Israel will support you.  The world will support you.
Shelly Yachimovich, Labor

I believe that Netanyahu is on the verge “to make history or to be history.”  It’s hard to stress enough the importance of making peace for Israel.  This is the only obstacle which makes it impossible for us to have good relations with the 65 Islamic countries.  The PM should say “I’m willing to establish an Israeli state on the basis of the ’67 borders.”

Meir Shetreet, Hatnuah

We are in the middle.  We have to be a majority.  We cannot be an occupier.  In the One State Solution we will not be a majority.  We must be a Jewish nation/state.
Ruth Calderon, Yesh Atid

Either we take 5 million Palestinians from Judea and Samaria and make them citizens, or give them their own state.  I think this is the vital interest of the State of Israel.  Lives are more important than land.  Time to make a decision:  Palestinian and Israeli leaders should reach an agreement and the people will approve it.

Itzhak Vaknin, Shas

Everyone knows we won’t go back to the exact 1967 borders.  PM Netanyahu has shifted through the years like every leader.   I am convinced the Palestinians are genuine partners.  They mean what they say and they want peace.  But if they continue to hold expectation that they will return to their 1948 homes, we’re stuck and cannot move forward.  They have never been able to give me a clear-cut answer on it.  We can have an agreement on Jerusalem.

I was assaulted on Facebook etc. when I agreed to meet with this group “that is seeking to destroy Israel and financed by Iran.”  So I looked more deeply, and I was encouraged by what I saw and how wrong these people were.  You don’t need legitimacy.  The legitimacy you have derives from your love of the State of Israel.  I won’t attend your next Conference because your founder told me that you are going to dismantle after the Solution has been reached and we WILL reach that solution.
Tzachi Hanegbi, Likud Yisrael Beiteinu

I don’t think the main divide is between one or two states.  I think it’s between those who are optimistic about anything and those who feel no hope.  The argument goes as if it’s Palestinian violence that provokes the Israeli occupation and not the other way around.  This whole security situation is a smokescreen.   In my opinion, given the resources and opportunity, Palestine should be among the middle income countries of the world.  Occupation robs them of their opportunity and movement.    The starting point has to be for the Palestinian community to embark on our journey.
Husam S. Zomlot, Exec Deputy Commissioner, Commission for International Affairs, Palestine

It’s important to demonstrate to the Palestinian people that positive steps are being taken.  Not that there are more settlements; more stuff getting worse; but more running water in our taps, more ease of movement for Palestinians.  To leak information that there are some things that the negotiators can agree on right now.  Palestinians feel, otherwise, that their basic human needs are being violated every day.  The Israeli Government and some elements on the Palestinian side are preventing this interaction.  The Israeli public today has no incentive to have contact with the Palestinian public. 
Riman Barekat, Co-CEO, Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information

How do you move from “Start Up Nation” to “Smarten Up Nation?”  In commercial litigation, there’s rarely a good side and a bad side.  There are just competing interests.  It guests resolved either through successful negotiation or litigation: an all-out battle.  Even winning the litigation, you end up with spoiled fruit.  I would like for the Prime Minister to articulate what is the long-term value of peace.  What are the compromises we need to make TODAY to get there?  They are not going to get easier in the future.
Scott Mortman, Former Head, Global Business Development, Better Place

Speaker after speaker, whether American, Israeli or Palestinian affirmed that the 2-State Solution is THE necessary solution -- and it is needed NOW.  It is the only way to assure a secure, democratic, Jewish State of Israel.  We are not always the voice heard most loudly in the Jewish world or in the American or Israeli press.  But we ARE the majority opinion of Jews, and we need you to join with us to make that clear to our elected officials.  To let them know that we will support THEIR support of the two-state solution -- and we must do everything we can to encourage Prime Minister Netanyahu to see to it that these negotiations reach a successful conclusion.

We visited with Congress (Senators and Members of the House) on the very day that the Federal Government was shut down.  Which is another subject.   Stay tuned for more about what you can do to be part of the solution -- and/or visit

Thank you for "listening" -- and Shabbat Shalom!