While attending the J Street conference I wondered whether I had entered some alternative dimension, where facts known by the rest of the world, and basic principles of reasoning, just didn’t operate in quite the same way as they do on the rest of planet Earth. I think I know what’s operating.
Psychologists teach that an obsession is “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling.” There is a persistent theme on J Street: a Palestinian State must be created RIGHT NOW (“PSRN”), and it’s almost as if there is a complete memory block about the refusals of varying forms of the state, including the original offer by the United Nations of yet another Arab State in 1947.
That PSRN is J Street’s obsession is revealed by the fact that unanimity on that “solution” co-exists with radical disagreement about the nature of the problem. Here’s an abbreviated list of the ideological positions you pass as you walk down J Street:
Over here we have Daniel Levy, one of J Street’s founders, Advisory Board member and policy consultant (yes, the one who admitted forgiving the world for the mistake of Israel because he understood they were reeling from the nasties of the Holocaust). Levy peddles the principle that Hamas is a serious regional player and that Israel must include them in the negotiations to create a Palestinian State.
Levy is down the block from al-Jazeera’s senior political analyst Marwan Bishara who explains that Hamas is dedicated to Israel’s annihilation (which received applause from a J Street U member in the audience) and that the only way for Israel to protect itself from them is to create a Palestinian State.
Around the corner we learn from Knesset member Shlomo Molla that bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Arab Palestinians are the only way to move towards peace in the region.
Two houses down on the same street, Tom Dine of Search for Common Ground tells us that bilateral movement is impossible, and instead a regional approach is the only possibility for peace. And that the only choice open to Israel is to create a PSRN.
Just across J Street from these guys is New York Times reporter Roger Cohen who insists that the unrest in the Middle East is actually weakening Iran, while down the block we learn from the Saban Center’s Shibley Telhami that Iran is the main threat in the region. Iran is weaker, says Cohen, so now is the time to create a Palestinian State, and Iran is the major threat, says Telhami, so now is the time to create a Palestinian State. Polar opposite reasoning, yet naturally both ineluctably lead to the conclusion that the only possible answer is the immediate creation of a Palestinian State.
Hebrew University professor Bernard Avishai berated Dennis Ross for wimpishly claiming that “bilateral negotiations is the only mechanism” for achieving peace. Avishai instead called for an “Obama Blueprint” in which the US uses its bully pulpit to galvanize “international momentum and pressure” (on Israel, of course), to create a Palestinian State.
In the same building but down a few flights we heard from the ubiquitous Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy that the “West has become irrelevant” and that rather than the West, the region demands freedom and dignity for the Palestinians. Both agreed about one thing — wait, I’m trying to remember — oh yes, the need to create a PSRN.
Near the end of the block on J Street are two Israelis who insist that the world doesn’t distrust or dislike Israel, and that those who see such hostility are deluded by the evil Netanyahu who uses it to prevent an agreement on, you guessed it, the creation of a Palestinian State. One of these is Ron Pundak, the director general of the Peres Center for Peace. Pundak is convinced the world is full of love for the Jewish State and claims that Israel can survive just fine with a nuclearized Iran. The other, Knesset member Daniel Ben-Simon, insists that Israel is a world super power and has nothing to fear from anyone. They agree, however, that the beloved super power Israel must immediately create a Palestinian State or it will lose its standing.
And finally, at the end of J Street are several more Israelis, including Kadima party Members of Knesset Nachman Shai (who was unable to rouse any enthusiasm by demanding that Gilad Shalit be released before the restrictions on Gaza be eased) and Yoel Hasson. Both of these men claim that Fatah is the solution to the Arab-Israel conflict, and that Israel has to help them by creating a Palestinian State. These two are around the bend from Ophir Pines-Paz, former Labor Knesset member and Minister who intones that the Palestinians are entirely disunited and can’t deliver peace and security, so the solution is a Palestinian State.
In a world where Arab regimes are collapsing, or not collapsing because they’re bribing their people (Bahrain) or conciliating them (Jordan); where they are murdering their citizens (Libya) or not murdering them (Egypt); intimidating them into silence (Iran) or not intimidating them and letting them speak (Iraq) — no-one claims to know what the Arab world thinks or where it is headed.
And yet, in the middle of this storm there is one unalterable fact: the solution to Israel’s problems (whatever they may be), to the Arab world’s problems — and for many denizens of J Street, the solution to most of the world’s ills — is simply and only the creation, RIGHT NOW, of a Palestinian State. If that one thing happens then all will be well with the Jewish world, the Arab world, and much of the entire world; the lion (6 million Israeli Jews) will lie down with the lamb (338 million Arabs).
Rational political discourse tries to define problems and propose solutions — and we can assess the quality of the discourse by looking to see whether the problems and solutions are logically connected to each other. But when the same solution is offered to solve every problem in the world and its exact opposite, it becomes clear that what’s operating in the mind of the people proffering that solution is not logic. It’s an obsession with that solution.
The J Street conference was not an exercise in political discussion; it was a ward, holding but not treating people suffering from an intellectual monomania.