Two recent major news items, the appointment of Ron Dermer as Israeli ambassador to the United States and the issuance of the European Union Commission Notice, took me back to a meeting that took place around five years ago.
Sallai Meridor, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s U.S. ambassador, was addressing a small group of leaders of American Jewish organizations, presenting an overview of challenges facing Israel. One must remember that Meridor, a resident of Ma’aleh Adumim on the West Bank, had followed the same ideological journey as Olmert, from a belief in a Jewish state stretching from the Mediterranean eastward beyond the Jordan River to an understanding that this view doesn’t square with the concept of a democratic Jewish state.
Meridor told his audience that the world’s view of Israel and nationalism in general had changed, the reality on the ground was different and Israel had to adjust and respond accordingly. A participant in the meeting, a well known personality, questioned the Ambassador and suggested that he rethink his new found support for a two state solution. Meridor’s response was telling; instead of showing outrage at the lack of respect, he smiled and basically said, I’ll repeat what I said but explain it better this time.
Why did this experience come to mind this week?
First of all, The EU decision that limits eligibility for EU grants and prizes to Israeli entities that are located within the pre-1967 borders simply puts on paper what has already been long-standing EU policy regarding the illegitimacy of the West Bank occupation. This is the new reality that Meridor spoke about five years ago and the unnamed Israeli official who was quoted as calling the EU announcement an “earthquake” is reminiscent of the aforementioned Jewish leader. Someone needs to sit with him and slowly explain why he shouldn’t be so surprised by this development.
Secondly, before his appointment Ron Dermer has been very outspoken in his opposition to a two state solution, the stated policy of his once and future boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. One wonders whether both men are on the same ideological journey followed by the Olmert-Meridor duo. If I am being too optimistic, perhaps, they will at least see the EU decision, as Tzipi Livni told Army Radio, as “a wake -up call.” She added, “we can easily get to a point where we are isolated by Europe.” In the past we have used phrases like “time is running out,” but this week’s events give extra backing to the sentiment and require Israeli leaders to demonstrate both courage and vision, engaging in peacemaking now.
The good news is that rumors continue to fly that Secretary of State John Kerry is very close to reaching agreement with the Israelis and Palestinians to renew negotiations over a permanent and perhaps regional peace deal, judging from the inclusion of Arab League leaders at his meetings in Amman today.
The process will not be easy, but perhaps the EU announcement coupled with United States facilitation can actually provide the right atmosphere to prod the sides to confront the difficult issues. The American Jewish community can play an important supportive role and help Israel and the Palestinians complete the historic task. This includes both individual community members and organizational leadership lining up behind the American government’s leadership role in the process. In addition, communal umbrella bodies should demonstrate the same unified supportive voice for peace as it does when Israel is threatened military. Ameinu will certainly play our part.