(photo credit: AP)
The American Jewish Committee's year-round international diplomacy becomes most intense each September when world leaders descend on New York for the UN General Assembly's opening session. When we launched a pioneering program in 1991 to meet with as many of these leaders as possible, we had four meetings; this year, the number was over 70.
Generalizations are impossible. Each session's agenda is customized. But, for all the encounters, there is never a shortage of topics, especially this year. From Iran and the daunting challenge of nuclear proliferation to the scourge of international terrorism, from growing fundamentalism to increasing anti-Semitism, and from the complex politics of energy security to the unending challenges in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, the agenda is long - each item without easy, over-the-counter answers.
The Arab-Israeli context is always central to our meetings. Against the backdrop of the month-long conflict provoked by Hizbullah, and the ensuing European Union and Quartet talks on reviving the peace process, our diplomatic sessions took on additional immediacy.
Not surprisingly, given the wide range of countries we met, there was no unanimity of views. Reactions ranged from criticism of Israel for "overreacting" to the July 12 terror attack to disappointment that Israel stopped before Hizbullah could be dealt a more lethal blow.
Regarding peace prospects, again there were many and varied responses - from those who insisted that Israel must swallow the bitter medicine and sit down with its most implacable enemies, to those who argued that, given the current constellation of Arab leaders, including the Hamas-run Palestinian Authority, the time was not ripe to return to the road map or any other plan.
From these meetings, four key points emerge for pro-Israel advocates to hammer home.
â€¢ First, Israel seeks peace. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it is astonishing how many nations' leaders seem to believe they want peace for Israel more than it does for itself, as if the quest for peace were some novel notion for the Jewish people and the State of Israel. Despite the historical record, shockingly, there remains a widespread conviction, especially in Western Europe and many developing nations, that Israel resists peace.
â€¢ Second, peace requires partners. Israel cannot negotiate with itself, nor, as some Europeans suggest, can it sit down with enemies sworn to its destruction. Israel's situation in dealing with Hamas and Hizbullah is not comparable to Britain's with the IRA or Spain's with ETA. There must be a credible basis for talks, including, centrally, mutual recognition, as was the case with Egypt and Jordan.
â€¢ Third, Israel's war is not a private war. There is growing awareness in moderate Arab countries, for example, that the real threat to the region stems from Iran and its proxies. Indeed, according to this logic, Israel's success against Hizbullah serves the interests of those Arab countries most threatened by Iran's long shadow. But, alas, this understanding has not penetrated some West European countries that would still rather appease than confront, naively believing that if Israel would only soften its stance, they all could sleep more securely.
â€¢ And finally, certitudes must be challenged. We often face the inevitable encounter with a sanctimonious foreign minister who has all the answers to the conflict. The lecture invariably places the onus on Israel to make ever more concessions because the Palestinians are, after all, the "weaker" party. But no diplomat I know has a perfect track record in dealing with the Middle East and, while no one likes to be reminded of past failures, urging a bit of humility and caution is not out of place.
WE SPENT years trying to persuade the European Union and other international actors that Yasser Arafat was duplicitous, especially after he turned down the Clinton-Barak peace plan. But only after his death, in 2004, did it suddenly seem a given that the man was corrupt and two-faced.
The same pleas were made regarding the Palestinian Authority's chronic, and now obvious, violations of the Oslo Accords, including incitement and arms build-up, and its misuse of EU funds, all of which undermined peace prospects. And similarly, had calls for UN Security Council Resolution 1559's implementation, which demanded the disarming of all militias in Lebanon, been successful, there would not have been a war this summer.
New York's traffic gridlock came to an end when world leaders returned home, but the diplomatic gridlock in the Middle East continues. Israel and its friends have a compelling case to make to the international community, especially to fellow democracies and nations facing terrorism. Israel deserves understanding and support -never more so than today.
The writer is executive director of the American Jewish Committee.