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Peace and Watermelons

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ONE OF the most interesting and prolonged private debates I have had in my life was with the brilliant Dr. Nahum Goldmann. The subject: American peace initiatives.

It was an unequal debate, of course. Goldmann was my elder by 28 years. While I was a mere editor of an Israeli news magazine, he was an international figure, President of the World Zionist Organization and the World Jewish Congress.

In the mid '50s, when I was looking for a personality who could possibly contest David Ben-Gurion's stranglehold on the prime minister's office, I thought of Goldmann. He had the necessary stature and was liked by moderate Zionists. No less important, he had a clear set of opinions. From the first day of the State of Israel, he had proposed that Israel become a "Middle Eastern Switzerland," neutral between the US and the Soviet Union. For him, peace with the Arabs was absolutely essential for the future of Israel.

I visited him in a luxury suite in Jerusalem's classy Kind David hotel. He was wearing a silken dressing gown, and when I made my offer, he responded: "Look, Uri, I like the good life. Luxury hotels, good food and beautiful women. If I challenged Ben-Gurion, all these would disappear. His people would vilify me as they do you. Why would I risk all that?"

We also started a discussion that ended only with his death, some 27 years later. He was convinced that the US wanted peace between us and the Arabs, and that a major American peace effort was just around the corner. This was not simply an abstract hope. He assured me that he had just met with the highest policy-makers and had it from the highest authority. Straight from the American horse's mouth, so to say.

Goldman was also an inveterate name-dropper. He regularly met with most major American, Soviet and other political personalities, and never failed to mention this in his conversation. So, being assured by the incumbent US presidents, ministers and ambassadors that the US was just about to impose peace on Israelis and Arabs, he told me just you wait. You'll see.

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THIS BELIEF in an American Imposed Peace has haunted the Israeli peace movement for decades. In advance of the coming visit of President Obama to Israel next month, it is raising its weary head once more.

Now, finally, it is going to happen. At the beginning of his second term, Barack Obama will shed the hesitations, fears and incompetence that marked his first. AIPAC will not be able to terrorize him anymore. A new, strong and resolute Obama will emerge and knock all the heads together. The leaders will be strong-armed into peace.

This is a very typical and very convenient conviction. It relieves us of the duty to do anything unpopular or daring ourselves. It is also very comforting. The Zionist Left is feeble and lifeless? Maybe, but we have an ally who will do the job. Like the little kid who threatens the bully with his powerful big brother.

This hope has been shattered again and again and again. US presidents came and went, each with his entourage of Jewish advisors, White House and State Department officials and ambassadors. And nothing happened.

Of course, there have been American peace initiatives galore. From Nixon's "Rogers plan," through Carter's Camp David agreement about Palestinian self-government to Clinton's Parameters and Bush's Road Map there were plenty of them, each one more convincing than the last. And then came the Obama, the new man, energetic and resolute, and imposed on Binyamin Netanyahu a stop of the settlement enterprise for several months, and...well, nothing.

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No peace initiative and no watermelons, as we say in Hebrew (borrowed from the Arabs). Watermelons have a short season.

SLOWLY BUT surely, even Goldmann began to despair of the mirage of US intervention.

In our conversations we tried to crack the code of this enigma. Why, for God's sake, did the Americans not do what logic dictated? Why didn't they put pressure on our government? Why didn't they make an offer that our leaders couldn't refuse? In short, why no effective peace initiative?

It could not be in the American national interest to follow a policy that made it a hate-object of the masses throughout the entire Arab and most of the Muslim world. Didn't the Americans understand that they were undermining their clients in every Arab country -- as these rulers never tired of telling them at every meeting?

The most obvious reason was the growing power of the pro-Israel lobby, from the early 50s on. AIPAC alone has now more than 200 employees in seven offices throughout the US. Almost everyone in Washington DC lives in deadly fear of it. The Lobby can dethrone any senator or congressman who arouses its anger. Look at what is happening right now to Chuck Hagel, who dared to say the unthinkable: "I am an American senator, not an Israeli senator!"

The two professors, Mearsheimer and Walt, dared to say it: the pro-Israeli lobby controls American policy.

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Uri Avnery is a longtime Israeli peace activist. Since 1948 has advocated the setting up of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In 1974, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to establish contact with PLO leadership. In 1982 he was the first Israeli ever to meet Yassir Arafat, after crossing the lines in besieged Beirut. He served three terms in the Israeli (more...)

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As of 8 p.m. tonight (Vatican time), the pope will... by GAYLE LIN on Thursday, Feb 28, 2013 at 2:26:54 PM