Poor assumptions = poor policy

Poor assumptions = poor policy

ZOA's congressional lobbyist talks about Israel, Oslo, and plans doomed to fail

Joshua London gives the ZOA’s perspective on the conflict.

The two-state solution is a chimera, Joshua London says. It is a lovely vision of something that never can be real, and chasing it – chasing the plan that would make Israel and Palestine two separate states, living next to each other in prickly but sustainable peace – is chasing the wind.

Mr. London, who lives in suburban Maryland, is the Zionist Organization of America’s co-director of government affairs. He will be taking a break from his daily routine – lobbying Congress to further the ZOA’s own understanding of the Middle East – to speak at a parlor meeting in Teaneck on Wednesday.

His goal, he said, “is to bring clarity and critical analysis to the longstanding U.S. policy for support of – and in fact to apply pressure toward – the creation of a Palestinian state from territory that otherwise belongs to Israel, and to do so under the notion that this will bring peace.”

It is an understatement to point out that this talk is on a subject that is the intense focus of much of the world right now, as Israel and Gaza continue to explode.

“False assumptions make for poor policy,” Mr. London said.

He traces the beginning of this failed myth to the 1993 Oslo Accords, shepherded by President Bill Clinton and signed by Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat. “The Palestinian Authority has not made good on its commitment since Day 1,” Mr. London said. “What Israel acceded to was irreversible, but the PA has committed itself to empty promises, and the sum total of it has been not only death and misery for Israelis, but death and misery for Palestinians.

“Their vacillation in pursuit of peace is breathtaking, yet the policy remains essentially unquestioned. And the illusion and misery keep playing out as we speak.”

The building blocks for the failed policy were quarried long ago, he continued. “Land for peace is a holdover from the history of how Israel emerged from British Mandate Palestine. The Peel Commission” – the British committee created to examine the question – “decided that there were irreconcilable differences between Palestinian Arabs and Jews, so they recommended a partition into two lands for two peoples.” That idea, the foundation for a number of failed attempts as time marched on, became “like the laws of physics, immutable.” Or, at any rate, immutable for Israel. The Oslo Accords were another iteration of that idea, “the sense of hope triumphing over experience,” Mr. London said.

After hard economic times in the 1980s, Israel flourished in the ’90s, “and with that terrific sense of growth, Israelis were beginning to transition from being primarily worried about survival to wanting to enjoy some luxury. So when a plan came along and the Palestinians responded, it seemed like it was worth a throw of the dice to many of them.”

Not everyone shared that sense of hope, he said. “Yassir Arafat did not particularly instill confidence,” and history got in the way, but “for the peace process that did not matter. Facts were not important. It was the hope. In hindsight, a lot of people realize that there was a lot of flawed thinking.”

There are three fundamental assumptions, dating back to the British government’s land for peace proposal, that are both fatally flawed and also instrumental in maintaining the disastrous intellectual status quo, he said.

First is the presumption that “Israel’s legitimacy as a nation-state is tightly bound to the completion of the partition formula – that is, until the Palestinians are given the land, Israel is incomplete.”

Second is “the assumption that time is running out for Israel.” That’s the idea that a demographic time bomb, fueled by the Palestinians’ high birth rate and the Israelis’ much lower one, will lead to Jews being vastly outnumbered. Going along with that idea is the thought that “Palestinian statehood must come about because otherwise time is running out for Israel. That is a ridiculous way to argue,” he said.

But according to Mr. London, the most fundamental-and fundamentally misguided – idea is that “the conviction that it is within Israel’s power to choose peace. That there is something that Israel can do to make peace a reality.

“The burden is entirely on Israel.”

Part – although not all – of the problem, Mr. London said, is that “folks look at this as something between the haves and have-nots.” The “haves,” of course, are the Israelis. According to that worldview, solving the problem is entirely up to the richer, more accomplished group; “it is a poor showing on their part at best, and at worst a moral failure” if they do not succeed.

“You hear this on the left all the time,” he said. “You hear it from supposedly brilliant analysts and pundits, who say that everyone knows what a final status agreement will look like, so why can’t the Israelis just do it?”

But, he continued, if “everyone knows what the argument will look like, then why is there the façade of negotiation? And why would only one side know what it looks like?”

Mr. London is deeply troubled by the partnership between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and he does not trust the authority’s leader, Mahmoud Abbas. “He is a supposed moderate, and a supposed peace partner,” he said. “People get excited about how he decried the rocket fire from Gaza. But he has maintained a unity government with Hamas. That is like saying, ‘I am in a partnership with the Ku Klux Klan – but don’t worry. I am distancing myself from them. But of course we are still partners.'”

And, he added, the Palestinian Authority is notoriously corrupt.

Now, though, Mr. London said, the peace plan enshrined in the Oslo Accords is held in place by “a closed shop mentality that surrounded it both in Israel and in the diaspora, particularly in the United States. Because of it, any idea that does not conform largely to the mainstream parameters is not considered.

“To begin with, the barriers to entry are extraordinarily high. We have established that any plan has to resolve all outstanding conflicts at the outset. If your plan does not solve every possible jot and tittle of concern, you don’t have the right to enter.”

His job is to convince Congress that it is pointless and wasteful to continue to back Oslo. He does not offer alternatives. “To me, the goal is to stop Congress from doing foolish things,” he said. “You don’t have to replace a bad policy with an alternative. You just have to kill the policy.”

Nonetheless, he said, members of Congress want some alternatives.

“I don’t have a grand vision of how I would bring about peace, and it’s not within any one congressman’s power anyway,” he said. But, he said, he has asked the representatives to consider “how you can help insure that our interests and our money are better protected against theft and misallocation.

“So my focus is more technocratic. Let’s get some auditing and find out what’s going on. How did Mahmoud Abbas get to be a multimillionaire? And how did his sons?

“A lot of it is just common sense. How do people reconcile the fact that the Palestinians are among the more impoverished people in the world and yet have been awarded more grants and other money than almost everyone else in history? Until people can realize that yes, that money has been spent, and yes, those people are still there – except, of course, for the ones who aren’t still there, because of their career choice of becoming terrorists.”

(As a March 5 congressional hearing made clear, the Palestinian Authority pays terrorists on a sliding scale, with the most heinous acts offering the biggest payoff, Mr. London said.)

“There is an overwhelming mountain of evidence that suggests that what we are doing is not helpful to the Palestinian Arabs and it is not helpful to Israel,” he said.

“I want peace too,” Mr. London concluded. “I have family in Israel who want peace. But wanting peace and pursuing a two-decade-long failed policy are not mutually compatible.

Who: Joshua London, the ZOA’s co-director of government relations

What: Will speak at a parlor meeting

Where: At a private home in Teaneck

When: On August 6 at 7:30 p.m.

Why: To discuss his lobbying efforts and the worldview behind them; and also to meet the ZOA’s New Jersey regional director, Laura Fein, who will be there as well. His talk is called “Promoting Israel’s Interests: A Beltway Insider’s Perspective.”

For more information and location: Call Laura Fein at (201) 424-1825 or email her at lfein@zoa.org.

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