What exactly is pro-Israel?

WASHINGTON – The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, one of the most powerful lobby groups in the United States, just concluded its annual Washington conference. It drew a long line of administration officials and the presidential candidates to its doorsteps, all touting orthodox lines on what it means to be pro-Israel – messages carefully crafted to please the lobby. Now is a good time to ask, what exactly does “pro-Israel” mean, and who is pro-Israel in the United States today? The ones who twist every arm in Congress to be silent, to suppress what they know is right to do in terms of a fair Israeli-Palestinian deal? We have before us now a hair-trigger set of confrontations from Lebanon to the Persian Gulf, with long-range missiles, chemical and nuclear capable, aimed at Israel from a country in the Persian Gulf that has no business in Gaza. And yet, due to the unending festering of the Palestinian tragedy, Shiite Iran has stepped into Sunni Gaza, in addition to Iraq and Lebanon, primarily because the United States failed to engage fairly or at all in the last eight years. Have our actions made Israel safer, and do they reflect a pro-Israel position? Or is this in fact an anti-Israel position that is sacrificing Jewish and Palestinian children on an altar of self-destructive fears and hatreds? In the end, American politicians are going to say and do what the most effective lobbyists tell them to do regarding Israel. And that translates back to the American people and their voice. The American people must decide what is pro-Israel and what is anti-Israel. Some interesting lessons learned come from Northern Ireland. On March 26, 2007 Ian Paisley, co-founder of the DUP party of Northern Ireland, sat side by side with Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein, his most reviled enemy, and the two of them pledged their full participation in an Irish government. This is the same Ian Paisley who had consistently been the voice of Protestant opposition and demonization of Catholics. This is the same Sinn Fein that had represented the Irish Republican Army as it carried out decades of violence against Protestants. How did these enemies get to 2007? There was a little stop along the way in 1998, in which the United States and one George Mitchell played a central role. In 1998, former Senator George Mitchell, of Irish descent, oversaw the completion of the historic Good Friday Accord that led eventually to the power sharing arrangements which Northern Ireland now enjoys. He was supported by another man of partial Irish descent, President Bill Clinton. Senator Mitchell once told me in person exactly how he managed to successfully outmaneuver the spoilers in the Irish/Protestant conflict. He explained to me: I had a pad of paper with my handwritten notes. I had the only copy. On it I placed what each side pledged to do, and exactly when and in what sequence they would do it. I let them know that if either side failed in the sequence, then the President of the United States would publicly lay the blame for the failure of the entire accord on the side that had broken their word. These words were so simple, so remarkable, so pristine in their understanding of negotiation and arbitration. And this is precisely what has been missing from Palestinian/Israeli peace processes from the very beginning. It is not as if the American road to Irish peacemaking was easy. There were spoilers in America, just as there are now regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. There were people on both sides who thought they were pro-Irish. But were they pro-Irish all those decades or anti-Irish? In the end, it was Mitchell and Clinton who were the most pro-Irish, because they stopped the killing of Irish children once and for all. It goes without saying that the issues were exceedingly complex, that it took years to identify the compromises, and that Mitchell’s charisma and skills added up to much more than a pad of paper. However, what was irreplaceable was the American political will to authorise Mr. Mitchell to boil it all down to that pad of paper and its conditions. Perhaps it is time to finally tell our congressmen to tell George Mitchell to go to the Holy Land, with a single pad of paper in hand, armed with the only weapon necessary: the American will to write on that pad of paper what needs to be written, what everyone knows must be written. How many more Palestinian and Jewish children have to die before the American people find the willpower to send a brilliant negotiator to the Middle East with a single pad of paper?

* Marc Gopin is the James Laue Professor of World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in Washington D.C. He can be reached at mgopin@gmu.edu. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org. Source: Common Ground News Service, 12 June 2008, commongroundnews.org Copyright permission is granted for publication.

© Marc Gopin