Last week, at events held an ocean apart, the approaches championed for
addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could not have been more strikingly
In New York City, the Zionist Organization of America held its
annual National Dinner on November 20. The dinner’s keynote speakers were “media
superstar” Glenn Beck and US Congresswoman and House Foreign Relations Committee
Chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Beck was awarded the Defender of
Israel Award by casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson and his wife,
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu appeared by video remote, and
US Congresswoman and Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann
addressed the 800 guests.
The roster of speakers sounded common themes:
Bachman chided President Barack Obama because “he doesn’t stand with Israel,”
while claiming that under current conditions, Israel should cede to the
Palestinians “not one acre, not one square foot, not one inch.”
University Prof. Efraim Inbar complained that “an evil wind is emanating” from
Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem due to the
proliferation of “Bolshevik post- Zionists” there.
ZOA National President
Morton Klein opined that “Arabs don’t want peace with the Jewish state, they
never wanted peace with the Jewish state,” and that while “people speak as
though a Palestinian state was the solution... it isn’t.”
And Glenn Beck,
a “proud Christian Zionist,” told the assembled guests that “Jerusalem must
remain Israel’s united and undivided capital,” and that “evil hates
Needless to say, this was not a group who sported dove pins on
their lapels. The unmistakable message: Prepare for the coming battle; peace is
A FEW days later, across the Atlantic, another gathering
offered a distinctly contrasting view. On November 22, Micheline Calmy-Rey,
president of the Swiss Confederation, hosted a conference of Israelis and
Palestinians to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the Geneva Accord, the
visionary agreement crafted by prominent members of Palestinian and Israeli
civil society to serve as a model for the resolution of all facets of the
The conference, dubbed “Geneva Initiative
2.0,” featured French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy, Hossam Zaki of
Egypt, Geneva Initiative founders Yasser Abed Rabbo and Yossi Beilin, Knesset
members from the Shas, Kadima and Labor parties, and several prominent
Palestinian activists and opinion leaders. But at least as important, it was
attended by a cohort of young Israelis and Palestinians.
Calmy-Rey told the delegates that “eight years have not been enough to convince
leaders that peace is not only desirable but also achievable,” and that “we are
counting today on a new generation to drive the peace effort forward” –
especially in the wake of Israel’s summer social protests and the Arab
A young Israeli who picked up that cue was Vicki Idzinski, a
Russian Jewish immigrant who had joined the social protests last July. She spoke
of how she and other Russian Jews – often viewed as right wing – found
themselves speaking about economic issues, housing and human
Before they knew it, they were asking questions about the peace
process, wondering why so many politicians are “only occupied with hatred” and
aren’t “solving real problems.”
As Idzinski saw it, the “silent majority
woke up,” realized that “we need to dream about peace and equality” and, beyond
that, demand it. “If we don’t do it, nobody will do it for us,” she
Similar sentiments were expressed by a young Palestinian woman
named Tami Rafidi.
Filled with indignation at being a victim of
occupation, she spoke passionately about the role of youth in “making the
Demanding recognition of the right to
self-determination through establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state, she
echoed the basic two-state principles of the Geneva Accord.
Idzinski, her Israeli counterpart, Rafidi spoke of dreams, “of white lilies, of
a song-filled street.”
And then she imagined: “Connect light to light to
light and join the lights together of the one billion young people in the world
today. We will be enough to set the whole planet aglow.”
poetic intensity of these young people was matched by the time-tested but no
less passionate perspectives of Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo.
a member of the audience suggested that two states are not the answer, Beilin –
former justice minister and Meretz Party leader – insisted that there is no
alternative. Israelis and Palestinians, he avowed, must inevitably grasp that
the solution cannot lie in the satisfaction of their own side’s national
interest alone: Both sides’ national aspirations must be fulfilled.
Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, echoed
that view: “To hell with all scholars, whoever they are, who predict that the
two-state solution is impossible.”
Acknowledging the ever-increasing
obstacles to two viable states, Abed Rabbo agreed with Beilin that there is,
nonetheless, no other acceptable answer.
As the conference session drew
to a close, Abed Rabbo chastened those who say otherwise, reminding them – the
naysayers on both sides – that they don’t know the price their people will pay
if “two states” becomes impossible. In the face of that uncertainty, the Geneva
Accord demonstrates that a negotiated two-state agreement is not impossible, if
the will is there.
Two gatherings on two sides of the Atlantic. At one,
it’s time to hunker down and gird for conflict: Israeli-Palestinian peace is,
quite simply, out of the question.
At the other, it’s time to reengage
and recommit, and, with the help of a new generation of Israelis and
Palestinians, make the dream of peace a reality.
While I’m a native New
Yorker, on this one I choose Geneva.The writer is an attorney and
president of Boston Workmen’s Circle, a 110-year old communal organization
dedicated to secular Jewish education and culture, and social justice.