I received a copy of this email today (making it's way through some Jewish groups) about a meeting this week with John Kerry in Jerusalem, discussing his pushing for new Israeli-Palestinian peace proposals...
I thought you would be interested in hearing about a meeting in which I took part this week with John Kerry, who was visiting Jerusalem after having observed the Palestinian elections. He asked to meet with a few heads of research institutes to get "an informal view of the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations," and present at the meeting were Shai Feldman of the Jaffee Center at Tel Aviv University, Asher Susser of the Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University, Dore Gold of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs; in addition, U.S. Ambassador Dan Kurtzer and various other State Department officials took part as silent observers.
The main subject Kerry wanted to discuss was his desire to accelerate the achievement of a final-status agreement with the Palestinians, which he considers to be desirable within the next few years as the only way to prevent them from losing hope-and therefore turning to even greater radicalism, terror, and the like. Kerry did only a small amount of the talking, and mostly listened; Dore and I used the opportunity to take the lead in trying to push Kerry towards a more realistic understanding of the chasm separating Israelis and Palestinians, as we sought to convince him that the culture of hatred that had been developed towards Israel and Jews in every medium from kindergarten classes to mourning customs to mainstream media is not going to fade in one presidential administration-but is rather a matter of a generation or more. Consequently, we argued, it would be far more fruitful for the U.S. to push for pragmatic, interim steps aimed at separating Israelis from Palestinians and allowing time and the changing of the guard in the Palestinian leadership to do its work.
I won't try to reproduce the whole exchange here, but instead will give a few representative highlights. One such moment came when I cited a recently televised Palestinian sermon in which America and the Jews were accused of being the root cause of the tsunami that struck Asia. Sen. Kerry challenged me to explain how I know that this view is considered mainstream, and I answered that the broadcast was on the Palestinian Authority's own television station, and that the preacher who made it-who surely would have been removed from any positions he held if he lived in the United States-instead continues to be honored by government and religious leaders alike as one of the leading spiritual leaders of the Palestinians. Kerry conceded the point and said that this does make the viewpoint and its spokesman part of the Palestinian mainstream.
Likewise, I noted that for an entire decade, between one-third and two thirds of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have consistently supported suicide bombing attacks against Israeli civilians as being both moral and prudent; and I argued that this represents a level of collective hatred and social pathology that people such as Sen. Kerry and myself, raised in America, can hardly fathom. He responded that these numbers are of course troublesome, but that they are largely a response to Israeli roadblocks and other deprivations the Palestinians face-to which Dore answered respectfully but forcefully, by explaining that there are many people in the world who face roadblocks, poverty, and the like, but that the Palestinians stand virtually alone in converting their anger into the societally-sanctioned sending of sons and daughters to kill themselves so as to be able to kill as many unarmed men, women, and children as possible. Kerry conceded the point, but said that perhaps within a few years, this could change, especially if Abu Mazen continues making speeches against violence. At that point, I slightly pushed the envelope on what was considered proper behavior towards a recent presidential candidate, and "respectfully submitted" to Kerry that as an American with a touch of the naive, he is almost uniquely unqualified to get inside the mindset of the Palestinians, and is therefore failing to grasp what it means to be part of a culture in
which women can expect to be praised by hundreds of their neighbors and tens of political and religious leaders for encouraging their sons to be suicide bombers-and that it simply would not help matters to assume that Palestinian society is anything like that in the West on matters connected to hatred, violence, and the like. He acknowledged the point, but stuck to his guns in saying that he still hopes that reduced roadblocks, moderate political leadership, and a final-status agreement along the lines of the Clinton plan would bring about a genuine transformation among the Palestinians.
One other exchange worth reporting concerned Palestinian elections, as I used my opening remarks (each of us was allowed a few minutes to set forth what we saw as the leading opportunities and challenges) to argue that a more pluralistic Palestinian politics is crucial for the future of peace, and that the victory of Abu Mazen was very far from sufficient. Popularly elected executive leaders, I argued, are hardly the key ingredient for the emergence of a pluralistic regime, and indeed, the world is filled with dictators who received a popular mandate of one kind or another; it is far more important for the U.S. to be pushing for a freely and fairly elected Palestinian legislature the current Council's elections are six years overdue), as well as an independent judiciary. Sen. Kerry said that Abu Mazen promised him elections in July 2005, I answered that these elections would take place precisely to the extent that Sen. Kerry and his colleagues insist on them, and Kerry answered that he would personally continue pushing this issue to make sure the elections in fact take place.
I have little experience in meetings of this kind, nor do I typically meet with politicians. Judging as a rank amateur, I can note only that Kerry seems quite knowledgeable about the issues in the region, intelligent in the questions he asks, and a surprisingly good listener, who even gives the impression that he is willing at least to consider alternative viewpoints. I am not under any illusions that Dore, our two colleagues, and I succeeded in changing Kerry's world view on the matters we discussed, as his naivete appears to verge on being a character trait. Nonetheless, I think the exchange was worthwhile, and certainly interesting; to my surprise, it even proved to be enjoyable.