Like many Jews with an e-mail account and a keen interest in Israel, I receive the "Daily Alert" on the Middle East. The alert, a compendium of Mideast news and opinion, is "prepared for the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs." In the issue the day before the Mideast peace summit in Annapolis, these were the headlines in what I've come to call the "Daily Gevalt":
Defiant Hamas Rules by Fear in Isolated Gaza
Islamic Terrorists Target US Army Base in Arizona
General Security Services Head Diskin and Military Intelligence Chief Yadlin: Timetable for Permanent Status Agreement with Palestinians Endangers Israel
Palestinian Rocket Fire Continues
The Price America Will Pay for Condi's Syrian Photo-Op
Iran Announces New Long-Range Missile
US Is Dragging the Arabs to Annapolis
YOU GET the idea. I'm not alone in suggesting that the editors of the "Daily Alert" are engaged in more than a little cherry-picking. I had to go back to Nov. 14 to find a link to a Jerusalem Post article by the president of the Peres Center for Peace in support of the goals at Annapolis.
The articles are culled from reputable publications, but the overall effect is to paint a grim picture of the Mideast and to dismiss the notion that the Annapolis meetings or anything else can change the situation.
It's like the joke about the two old Jewish men who meet on a park bench. "How is it going, Morris?" says one. "Better than next year," says his friend.
Granted, there is not a lot of optimism out there. But there are serious people making the case that Annapolis represents at least the possibility of the possibility of hope.
The "Daily Alert" did not link, for instance, to a Nov. 11 article in Yediot Aharonot by the novelist Amoz Oz. For all its flaws, writes Oz, Annapolis shouldn't obscure that "the gaps between the two negotiating sides at this time are smaller than they have ever been during the 100 years of fury and suffering." Nor did I see a link to a Nov. 26 article by Yossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies. Alpher suggests ways that the American, Israeli, and Palestinian leadership can "take advantage of a dramatic but substantively empty beginning and turn it into an effective peace process."
No surprise that I find links to these articles on left-leaning Web sites, like that of Ameinu, the former Labor Zionist Alliance, and Alpher's own bitterlemons.org site. But remember what the Presidents Conference is supposed to be: a coalition of 52 American-Jewish organizations, from Ameinu on the Left to the Zionist Organization of America on the Right. If so, why do I need to go outside its "Daily Alert" to get a fuller range of opinion and news about the Middle East?
The "Daily Alert" is emblematic of a narrowing debate on Israel among American-Jewish groups - after a long period of relative openness. In some ways it accurately reflects American-Jewish opinion: Oslo's failure and the second intifada disillusioned many advocates of a two-state solution. The argument they had made for much of the 1990s - that given something to lose, the Palestinians would begin to move toward peace - was thrown back in their faces.
American Jews are also reacting to a dismal confluence of events: the Hamas takeover of Gaza and the rain of rockets on Sderot, the debacle of the Second Lebanon War, and an alarming increase in anti-Israel thought and action among the intelligentsia.
"In Israel," said David Ben-Gurion, "in order to be a realist you must believe in miracles." You don't hear that quote as often as you used to.
BUT THERE will be troubling consequences if we no longer allow ourselves to imagine a future that will be better than this year.
Pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Despair breeds more despair, and reduces the constituency for creativity and compromise.
Narrowing the debate radicalizes the Left in the eyes of the center.
Ignoring the Left, as the "Daily Alert" often seems to, marginalizes them altogether.
Narrowing the discussion also emboldens those who never wanted the peace process - any peace process - to succeed in the first place. They call themselves the true "realists," but they are in fact ideologues who see any settlement with the Palestinians - especially along the lines of the two-state solution that an Israeli majority views as inevitable - as a dire threat to their religious and/or political vision of the Middle East. They take a perverse satisfaction in Arab intransigence, in that it only makes it easier for them to make their own obstructionist case.
At the same time, they absolve themselves of any responsibility for the current impasse.
There is an alternative narrative about Annapolis and the possibilities for reaching an agreement by the end of 2008, according to the timetable President Bush announced on Tuesday. It notes the pregnant possibilities of Israeli-Syrian talks and the mutual Israel-Arab self-interest in weakening Iran and militant Islam and stabilizing Lebanon. It envisions, according to Oz, "Palestine based on the 1967 borders, alongside Israel, with reciprocal border amendments, without a return of Palestinian refugees to Israel, and with two capitals in Jerusalem."
And it is realistic in considering the alternatives to an agreement: Either a democratic state with an Arab majority between the Jordan River and Mediterranean, or a decidedly undemocratic Israel that must continue to control Palestinian noncitizens by force.
To state this narrative isn't to agree with it. But it deserves a hearing. Maybe we've run out of miracles, but that doesn't mean we've run out of possibilities.
The writer is editor in chief of the New Jersey Jewish News.