[Click here for Part 2, and there for Part 1.] The final substantive session was a heart-to-heart dialogue between journalists and authors Peter Beinart and Ari Shavit. The latter’s highly successful 2013 work, My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel, oddly both excused and indicted Israel for the expulsions of 1948 and the post-June ’67 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Shavit revels in the contradictions of his stance as a liberal who sees the occupation as undermining Israel’s future, and a moderate who blames “the left” for failing to win politically — warning that in another five to ten years, the two-state solution will be lost and with this the “Zionist project” completely undermined.
Beinart emerged from his early professional years as the youthful editor of The New Republic magazine during its Israel-phile era under Martin Peretz into a left-liberal critic of Israel who is nonetheless a Zionist and religiously-committed Jew. His controversial book, The Crisis of Zionism, came out in 2012 (for my review, click here); he teaches at the CUNY School of Journalism and writes for a number of publications. Both he and Shavit write for Haaretz.
Shavit’s main point is that the left does not adequately meet the concerns of average middle-of-the-road Israelis, especially their legitimate fears about security. He referred to “WASPs” — White Ashkenazi Supporters of Peace — as detached from most Israelis.
Beinart conceded that the left is too dismissive of Orthodox feelings toward such Biblical places as Hebron, Bethlehem and Shechem (now Nablus), and that Israel should negotiate for Jews to retain some “access” to them regardless of who is sovereign there. In response to Shavit’s “WASP” remark, Beinart suggested that the left may discount Jewish suffering in the conflict because Palestinian losses are numerically much worse. He went on to cite as untrue the Israeli narrative that the Palestinians rejected peace despite Israel offering them “everything”; this is “at best half true.” The facts, Beinart contended, are on the left’s side that the Palestinians had a point in not rushing to embrace Israeli negotiating positions.
Shavit disputed this, but conceded that Oslo should have stopped settlement expansion. He later concluded with the observation that Israel’s “surrender to the ultra-Orthodox and ultra-nationalists” constitutes “an embarrassment” for the country.
Because of its all-important topic, it seems appropriate to conclude with some penetrating comments from an earlier panel discussion: “Beyond negotiations: Can the peace process be unfrozen to achieve more than ‘conflict management’?” Labor Member of Knesset Merav Michaeli observed that most Israelis (because they don’t read Haaretz) are ignorant of what’s going on in the West Bank. Failed attempts at establishing two states makes most Israelis doubt that it’s possible. Israel needs a prime minister with “the will” to make it happen.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, expressed exasperation with discussions on how the two-state solution is dead or dying, because “there is no other solution.” He declared that “J Street is about changing the political reality” in this country so that the US government will not feel “constrained” to help. But he added that the US cannot impose the solution from above.
Although it’s no more than a running outline, I suggest clicking to “HaaretzQ Live,” for an overview of all the conference’s various sessions.