by J. Zel Lurie
Enough hot air has been expelled in the last few months, mostly by Republicans, to fill several dozen hot air balloons. The nuclear agreement with Iran, painfully and carefully negotiated, was a done deal the moment it was signed by President Obama and five other world powers. The Republicans and some Democrats ignored reality and have filled the air in Washington, aided by most of the media, with talk of negotiating a better deal. If a better deal was possible, the American and Iranian negotiators would have found it. There could always be a worse scenario. Without the UN debate, the media would have been filled for the last two months with Donald Trump.
Remember The League of Nations
There are many disadvantages to old age, notably major loss of sight and hearing. I am definitely in that category as I will be 102 in three months. But there is one advantage. I can remember the recent past – the creation of The League of Nations which convened in Geneva in 1921 and was replaced by the United Nations after World War II. I remember, and the Internet confirmed, that the League was the brainchild of President Woodrow Wilson. He took it to Versailles in 1919 and had it included in the Versailles Treaty. When he brought the treaty for ratification by the United States Senate in 1920, the senate was controlled by Republicans, lead by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, and the White House was occupied by a Republican, Warren Harding.
The fact that the United States refused to join the League did little harm to the League. The Republicans never mentioned the League. In 2015, they refuse to realize that, like the League, the 5 other powers that signed the nuclear agreement would continue without us. Thankfully, that won’t happen. President Obama’s expected veto will hold. The agreement will go into effect and, like all hot air, the debate will soon be forgotten.
As far as American Jewry is concerned, the polls show that a majority has always supported the deal. The loud noise made by leading Jewish organizations opposing the deal proves what I have always contended. The organizations control the media but not the votes of American Jews. One bright note: J Street’s support of the agreement has given J Street wide publicity, not only in the Jewish enclaves on the East and West coasts, but also in states such as Utah and Colorado.
Discussing the Middle East at Chautauqua
I have avoided most of the debate as I have spent the last two weeks at the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York. Chautauqua has a nine week summer season of lectures. Each week has a theme, and the theme for week 8 was the Middle East. The Middle East is a total mess. Half of Syria’s 22 million people are gone. A couple million have been killed and the rest can be found in refugee camps and on the street in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, while others have paid smugglers to take them to Europe. The tremendous influx of Syrian refugees has caused horrendous problems in neighboring countries, and they are a significant portion of the migrant problems in Europe.
One of the five days devoted to the Middle East at Chautauqua featured Dennis Ross, the expert of the Middle East experts, and Ghaitha al-Omari , a prominent Palestinian negotiator. Ross and al-Omari met at Camp David a quarter century ago when they represented opposite sides. They are now fellows at the Washington Institute for Peace in the Middle East. At Chautauqua, they agreed that Israelis and Palestinians are further apart than ever.
I dispute these experts. In my opinion, they were never anything but further apart. Previous progress in talks between the two sides was superficial. The core issues of East Jerusalem, refugees, and borders never came near a solution. In fact, they were hardly discussed. Mr. al-Omari said that some people believe that opening negotiations that fail is better than not negotiating at all. This has been the attitude of the White House. The Palestinians differ. They have refused to reopen negotiations until they see some small sign of eventual success.
The Need for Incremental Progress
Dennis Ross has been involved in Arab Palestinian negotiations since President George H. W. Bush, and has continued as chief Middle East advisor for Bill Clinton, George Bush, and Barack Obama. I recall one of his first jobs was to convene, in Madrid, a conference of Middle Eastern powers, which would include Palestinians for the first time. For that, he had to convince Prime Minister Golda Meir that the Palestinians were a separate nation and not Jordanians. That was a tough job. He has always placed Golda Meir alongside Benjamin Netanyahu as tough negotiators.
On his team, as I recall, was Daniel Kurtzer, whom I had met when he was political officer at the American Consulate in Jerusalem. He went on to be the only person who has served as ambassador to both Egypt and then Israel. In the end, Golda agreed that the Palestinians would be separate, but still be a part of the Jordanian delegation. Dennis Ross said what has to be done today to improve the situation is for both sides to make small moves toward each other. The Palestinians could begin by putting Israel on their maps. According to J Street’s Shira Frank, this has already been done. The second thing that the Palestinians should do is end the anti-Israeli incitement in their schools and media. I believe there already has been some progress in this matter. The Israelis should announce that all new settlements would be built solely in the 8% of the West Bank which the barrier has included in Israel. And the IDF soldiers should be trained to respect the human rights of Palestinians in the remaining 92% of the land, and treat them with respect and dignity.
Dennis Ross suggests steps that Israelis and Palestinians can do
My daughter who has lived in Israel for 40 years was with me in Chautauqua. She believes that the barrier has taken more of the West Bank than 8%. But she is not an expert. For the thousands of people who attended the lectures at the Chautauqua Institute this summer, the nuclear agreement was a done deal. If anyone referred to it, I missed it.