Blocking for Obama

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This past weekend JRC hosted a national conference for the regional organizers of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom.  An eye-opening and informative two days concluded with a visit from Jeremy Ben-Ami, Executive Director of J Street (above, with outgoing BTVS Executive Director Diane Balser). Jeremy’s essential message, which resonated throughout our entire two day meeting, was that the peace process driven by the Obama administration currently has great momentum. He added, however, that realistically speaking, we have a 18-24 month window to produce meaningful results.

Jeremy used a football metaphor to describe the job of those in the Jewish community who currently advocate for the two-state solution: our job is to act as Obama’s front line, blocking for him and creating lanes through the opposition as he moves forward. To do this, he explained, we’ll have to consistently anticipate the opposition and stay two steps ahead of the administration in order to give him “room to run.”

One sobering example of this political tactic: Obama will eventually have to compromise on the settlements. There is clearly a stalemate between the US and Israel over this issue – and Jeremy explained that if the peace camp drew an unwavering line in the sand over the settlements, then the process would simply be dead at the starting gate. According to this view, it would be best for us to support a compromise on this issue now so that we can successfully maintain the momentum in the process.

As an active  (if somewhat anguished) peace process advocate, I certainly grasp the wisdom of this approach. While my principled voice screams out, “What?!! Give up on the settlements? What kind of sham is this?!!” – my practical political voice responds, “Hey, that’s politics. It’s all well and good if you want to remain unsullied in your moral ivory tower, but if you really want to be part of the solution, you have to come down and get your hands a little dirty. If you want to play then you have to be part of the game. That’s just the way it works.”

I get this. I do. But I will confess that I haven’t truly been able to drown out either voice completely. While I do understand the art of political compromise, I also believe that there may well come a point in which some of us run up against a compromise that is simply unacceptable: one that essentially betrays the very ideals that compelled us to support this process in the first place.

Obviously, this point would be placed at different places by different people. And I’m well aware that there are those on both ends of the political spectrum who believe we’ve long since passed that point.  But for for those of us somewhere in the murky middle, the reality is terribly complex – at times painfully so.

My friend Danielle Peshkin, in a comment to my last post, put it perfectly, I think:

It is always difficult, though necessary, to decide to when to sacrifice morality for strategic advantage in the long term advancement of your political goals. It’s equally difficult, though also necessary, to decide when sacrificing morality and justice for short term strategic gain will in fact harm the long term goal of establishing peace and justice.

3 thoughts on “Blocking for Obama

  1. I am glad to see that Ben-Ami is finally accepting a dose of realism in saying that Obama was going to have to accept a compromise on the settlement building issue and not delude themselves that they can force a diktat on Israel against the national consensus that opposes a unilateral freeze. Ever since the election of Obama, “progressives” seem to have believed that the very fact of Obama’s election and then his subsequent speech in Cairo marks some sort of historic shift in attitudes in the Middle East.
    The constant refrain was that somehow there is an achievable peace agreement “the terms of which are known to everybody (more or less along the lines of the ‘Clinton Parameters’)” and all that need be done is to force, bully, or threaten Israel into accepting them, all the while maintaining the assumption (or better, illusion) that the Arabs have already accepted these terms. That is simply not true. Olmert already offered Abbas a settlement pretty much along these lines. Abbas said the weren’t even close to an agreement. Obviously, things are much more complicated than were thought by the “progressive” camp.
    A PEW poll (international polling organization) put out results recently of foreign attitudes towards the United States, espcially after the Cairo speech. Under Obama US popularity around the world has gone up, but among Palestinians polled, the view of whether the US is a positive force only went up from 15 to 19%. Thus Obama is a long way away from getting Arab support for whatever policies he intends to push. Although he has had his administration use high-profile chastisement against the Israeli government, it is unclear what he can do, if anything, to get the Arabs to bend to his will. He has no leverage to use against the Saudis because the US is dependent on their petrodollars and he also has no way to pressure the Palestinian Authority because they will say that if he uses the massive economic aid the PA gets in order to get them to agree to his policies, they will simply turn around and threaten the US with HAMAS taking over the West Bank, and nobody wants that.

  2. “…Obama will eventually have to compromise on the settlements.”

    Obama?

    543 words, and not one of them “Palestinian”.

    There is no peace process. The process underway is designed to reduce tensions between Israel and the US.

  3. Or . . .

    Naomi Klein, speaking in Ramallah:

    “Now a couple of words about Barak Obama.

    There is an apocryphal story out there about [former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt] FDR. […] This is Harry Belafonte’s version of what Eleanor Roosevelt said to him [about FDR]: she said that when FDR would meet with civil rights leaders who would make demands that he didn’t think was politically possible at the time, he would say “that sounds like a great idea – I want to do it. Now get out there and make me do it. Create the conditions in which I can do it.”

    Now I don’t really think that Obama is FDR, but I can tell you this: he needs us to make him do it. He needs that mass movement, that global mass movement, putting pressure on him because boy is he getting pressure from the other side. And when he takes this tiny little tentative stand – “no more [Israeli] settlements [in the Occupied Palestinian Territories]” – suddenly this is a crazy progressive position. How about no settlements?”

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