As reported, the Trump White House may be close to releasing the first details of the “ultimate deal” to make Israeli-Palestinian peace. It is almost impossible to correctly assess what such a plan might include, because it is impossible to discern if the leaks and pieces of the plan we have heard so far reflect reality; and also because so few people on the American side are actually involved in designing the plan.
Furthermore, since the Trump announcement on Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and since Trump said that he has “removed Jerusalem from the table,” the Palestinian side has ceased all interaction with the American administration. The White House consultations and brainstorming on the future of Gaza held in Washington on March 13 were conducted without any Palestinian participation. Palestinian officials are refusing to meet any American officials. It seems that the Trump plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace is primarily an Israeli/right-wing American plan with very strong influence from right-wing American Jews.
Last week the American right-wing Jewish lobby AIPAC took over Washington. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was cheered and praised as a rock star and a whole entourage of thousands of right-wing Israelis, American Jewish and Christian personalities swallowed with drunken pleasure the redesign of the Middle East with Palestine relegated to a semi-non-existence of some amorphous form of very limited autonomy under Israeli protection, which in reality is nothing but an unending Israeli occupation.
They dreamed of a Middle East without Iran, and of warm embraces between the self-appointed rulers of the richest and the most populous Arab countries, huddling up to plan the next play in their unilateral playbook. All of this as the creeping annexation of the West Bank continues and the two-state solution is no longer in the American playbook as the official position.
Netanyahu and Trump are marching Israel into a permanent binational non-democratic reality. The AIPAC show of last week does not reflect the majority view of American Jewry. I believe that most of the thousands of participants at AIPAC were in fact Trump supporters. That is the clearest indication that they do not represent the majority of American Jews, because three quarters of those voted for Hillary Clinton and a large number of them supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries.
The American electorate will be going to the polls once again in November for the mid-term congressional election. The most interesting race in the US from the vantage point of Jerusalem, although basically unnoticed so far, is taking place in the State of Maryland in the Democratic primaries for the Senate. Prof. Jerome Segal has announced that he will challenge incumbent Senator Ben Cardin for his seat.
Segal founded the Jewish Peace Lobby in the late 1980s and is credited with putting forth the proposal for the Palestinians to declare independence in 1988 and to create their state by also offering a unilateral declaration of peace with Israel. The first part of Segal’s plan was implemented by Yasser Arafat and the PLO, the second part was not. Segal has continued since then to develop and advance proposals for genuine Israeli-Palestinian peace that are far better than anything any of the official mediators have proposed over the past 30 years.
In the early 1990s, even before Oslo, I spent time with Prof. Segal doing advocacy in Congress for the allocation of US money in support of Israel-Palestinian people-to-people activities. We met with members of Congress from both houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives, from both parties, and presented them with the idea of programs for enemies to meet and work together that were packaged like “apple pie and motherhood.” In all of those meetings, regardless of which house of Congress or which party, the first question we were asked, even before anything on the substance of the program, was: what does AIPAC say?
I was actually quite shocked by the fact that every single member of Congress we met asked the very same question. I was even further shocked when we presented the idea in the State Department and in the White House and got the exact response. These people were afraid of AIPAC. I did not think that was a good thing. In fact, I thought then and still do that it has the potential to reinforce antisemitism and the myth of Jewish control of America and the world.
An interesting aspect of Segal’s candidacy is not only that he is challenging Senator Cardin, but that he is taking on AIPAC. Cardin is a kind of AIPAC “poster boy,” not only representing what AIPAC wants, but being on the front line of acting on behalf of AIPAC in the Senate. Segal believes that he will take the votes that supported Bernie Sanders (35% of the Democratic voters) and gain many other votes because the broad flow of American Jewish opinion is toward his Jewish Peace Lobby’s ideas and away from AIPAC’s blind support of Israel.
Most America Jews have issues with Israeli settlement building in the West Bank. Many American Jews are not comfortable with Netanyahu’s policies, while perhaps admiring his oration and charisma. Many actually have reservations about breaking out of the Iran deal and dropping support for the two-states solution
Segal presents himself as David to Cardin and AIPAC’s Goliath. Segal’s slogan is “if we beat AIPAC in Maryland, we can beat the NRA [National Rifle Association] in America.”
Most American Jews and most Democrats do not support the NRA. AIPAC is often said to be the second strongest lobby in Washington after the NRA. AIPAC is very much seen in Washington and around the US as an all-powerful arm-twisting Washington lobby. Many members of Congress are simply afraid to ever challenge AIPAC, not because AIPAC puts so much money in the campaigns of everyone it supports, but because AIPAC’s strategy is also to target candidates that it doesn’t like and put huge amounts of money into their challengers’ campaigns. The candidates that AIPAC wants out usually don’t stand a chance.
In Maryland, Cardin is AIPAC’s man. Segal is nonetheless hopeful because he believes he will gains many votes because he is dynamic, creative, a new voice with a more interesting kind of progressive politics, as laid out in his book Graceful Simplicity: The Philosophy and Politics of the Alternative American Dream.
I support Segal and hope that as a US senator he will have a lot more influence in shaping a much more positive US position in support of Israel making peace with its Palestinian neighbors.
The author is the founder and co-chairman of IPCRI – Israel Palestine Creative Regional Initiatives (www.ipcri.org). His new book In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine has been published by Vanderbilt University Press.