Despairing that Israel can find a solution to its conflict with the Palestinians alone, the featured speaker at a J Street program last week, called for a third party — the United States — to step in and, in Marlon Brando fashion, make the Jewish state “an offer it can’t refuse.”
Daniel Levy, a senior fellow of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, and former special policy advisor to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, spoke Thursday, Jan. 14, at Temple Sinai in Squirrel Hill about prospects for a sustainable peace in the Middle East.
J Street, Rodef Shalom Congregation, Temple Ohav Shalom, the Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee, the United Jewish Federation and the Tikkun Olam Center of Temple Sinai sponsored the program, which drew more than 200 people.
According to Levy, one of the architects of the Geneva Initiative (an unofficial peace proposal meant to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would give Palestinians almost all of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and part of Jerusalem), a third-party must come in and put “a friendly Godfather proposition on the table‚” to break the impasse, in effect making Israel “an offer it can’t refuse.”
He called the United States the “most effective, sensitive” agent for that job.
“The best option would still be it happening in Israel,” Levy said, “but I can’t see it happening.”
He said the Israeli political system is not built to handle long-term problems, calling the prospect for action “terrifying” for Israeli politicians, and who see current situation as “bearable in the short term.”
“My reading of Israeli reality is that it will not, cannot extricate itself from the situation created by the territories [because] we do not have an Israeli leader on the horizon who will, of their own volition, take on all the problems that need he solved.”
He said Israel must substitute real solutions for peace instead of “clever talking points about how divided Palestinians are.
“The do nothing, business-as-usual, look-at-what-the-other-side-is-doing‚ approach gets us nowhere,” he added, noting that 95 percent of the industry in the Gaza Strip was destroyed during Operation Cast Lead — the fighting in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009 — and that 60 percent of the Palestinians in the West Bank live with their land out of bounds for their use.
To continue in this situation, Levy said, Israel would have no choice but to keep taking actions like Cast Lead. “If there is a continued presence of Israeli civilians [in the West Bank] that needs to be protected by Israel that lives under different sets of laws from the Palestinians,” he said, “it is a given we will not have international legitimacy.”
And yet Israel must establish its legitimacy with international organizations, “including, yes, even the U.N.‚” Levy said. Acknowledging that United Nations has not been a friend to the Jewish state, Israel nevertheless needs to be seen as a democracy and as a homeland for the Jewish people, he said.
“This is not about battering Israel, it’s about bettering Israel,” Levy said. “There is a biblically and covenantally Jewish ideal of hugging and wrestling at the same time, and this is what we must do with Israel and with our Jewish values.”
Naftali Kaminski, local J-Street activist and one of the individuals responsible for bringing Levy to speak, called the program a success.
“Daniel is a brilliant speaker and with over 200 people here, it’s great to see interest,” he said. “It’s also good to see support for someone who is not speaking to the choir, who’s challenging people. Good, civil discussion helps the community.”
(Derek Kwait can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)