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U.S.-Israel search for Middle East peace: Beyond Ramat Shlomo

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At the 2010 AIPAC Policy Conference opening session, Washington Institute Director Robert Satloff described U.S-Israel tensions surrounding the announcement by the Interior Ministry of Jewish housing in Ramat Shlomo as 5 to 6 on the Richter Scale. Not cataclysmic, but strong enough to cause some lasting damage.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in her AIPAC appearance, reaffirmed America’s unshakable support for Israel’s security but reiterated the administration’s view that East Jerusalem housing seriously undermines the cause of peace and argued that the status quo is inimical to Israel’s interests. At times like this, I reflect back on 1977 in Jerusalem, when my Israeli friends and I watched with tears in our eyes as Anwar Sadat — the Arab leader who just four years before had led the devastating surprise attack under cover of Judaism’s holiest day — emerged from his plane at Ben-Gurion Airport. Thousands of Israelis, thirsting for acceptance and normalcy, spontaneously lined the road from the airport, waving little Egyptian flags.

The Washington-Jerusalem alliance historically has been based on a number of fundamental shared values and interests, one of which is the search for visionary Arab leaders, like a Sadat, who are both willing to conclude and capable of implementing peace agreements with Israel.

The Obama administration believes that finding a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would have a transformative impact on relations with the broader Arab and Muslim worlds — a debatable proposition — and, therefore, it understandably wants both parties to refrain from taking actions that would undermine the negotiating environment.

The housing announcement during Vice President Biden’s recent visit to the Middle East to announce “proximity” talks was extraordinarily ill-timed, and Prime Minister Netanyahu offered an immediate apology. There are differences of opinion in Israel and among American Jews about whether the temporary freeze on construction in the west bank should extend to East Jerusalem, as advocated by the Obama Administration. Clearly, the current Israeli government, consistent with all Israeli governments since 1967, does not believe it should.

Obscured in all of this brouhaha, however, is the fundamental political shift that has taken place in Israel over the last 10 years, which is supported overwhelmingly by the American Jewish community — acceptance of the two-states-for-two-peoples formula that would entail evacuation of a major portion of the west bank and, based on previous negotiations conducted by former Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, also a readiness to entertain creative arrangements in Jerusalem that would address Palestinian aspirations.

Israelis already understand that the status quo is unacceptable and that serious compromises will be required to preserve the Jewish and democratic character of their state. And they are prepared to move forward on those compromises, but only if they can be convinced that a genuine and sustainable peace will be the outcome. As Netanyahu asserted in his AIPAC address, “We are prepared to take risks for peace, but we will not be reckless with the lives of our citizens....”

Jewish groups justifiably have urged the United States to press for more meaningful contributions from the Palestinians and our allies in the Arab world in the confidence-building arena. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and President Salam Fayyad clearly have made significant strides toward responsible governance in the west bank and economic development, in part due to Israel’s assistance in removing checkpoints and other barriers to movement, developments that should be acknowledged and encouraged. Yet continuing anti-Israel incitement, the honoring of suicide bombers and murderers as “martyrs,” an unwillingness to publicly and unequivocally recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state are all actions by the PA that seriously erode confidence on the Israeli side. Nor has PA leadership even begun to prepare its public to understand that the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” to homes inside Israel is totally incompatible with the two-states-for-two-peoples formula.

Even more problematic on the Palestinian side is the continuing de facto control of the Gaza Strip by the unrepentant terrorist group Hamas, which continues to be committed to Israel’s destruction. Any agreement with the PA would be limited in its effect to the west bank, thus leaving a gaping hole in the effort to comprehensively resolve the Palestinian issue. Furthermore, despite the administration’s urgings, precious little has come from the broader Arab world to reassure Israelis.

When the dust finally settles, the United States and Israel will be left with the need for the next Sadat or King Hussein of Jordan in order to achieve peace. Will Abbas’ and Fayyad’s names be added to this very short list? If they are, Ramat Shlomo will not be an obstacle. Today, as in 1977, the Israeli people’s palpable desire for a peace they can trust is so strong that no Israeli government would be able or want to stand in its way.

Finally, the United States and Israel cannot afford for one moment to divert their attention from Iran. The centrifuges keep spinning.

Martin J. Raffel is the senior vice president for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.
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The trauma of privilege

I have been in the center of the swirl of awareness about the unintended consequences of affluence and privilege on our children.

I meet these youngsters and their families when crisis penetrates their denial system and they arrive at Beit T’Shuvah, the recovery community I founded in Los Angeles 30 years ago. I have listened to their baffled, bewildered parents, who “gave them everything” only to have it thrown in their faces. I coined the family dynamic: “I hate you; send money.” At Beit T’Shuvah, we have been essentially “re-parenting” these children of all ages, allowing them to experience “all the disadvantages of success,” in the words of Larry Ellison.

A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds a direct correlation between parents who overvalue their children and children who are narcissistic. Researchers found that while parental warmth was associated with high self-esteem in kids, that parental over-evaluation was not. Or, as Madeline Levine put it: “Praise is not warmth pumped in; self-esteem is not self-efficacy.” I have heard from many recovering addicts that when they feel undeserving, praise exacerbates their self-loathing and sense of fraudulence.



What we have to pay for

Toilet paper . . .

This scroll endowed by . . .

With 2+ decades spent working in the Jewish world, I’ve seen a lot of things come and go. Ideas that were considered the epitome of best practice come into vogue, run their course, and become passé.

Agencies and innovative think tanks slip away due to failure to create, implement, and execute strategic sustainability plans. Iconic thought leaders tire and fail to notice that the landscape is changing and passing them by. Then what? Now what?



The lion and the compass

Maimonides and Nahmanides had their differences.

Maimonides (d. 1204) tolerated no idea that failed the test of reason. An ancient and robust tradition of superstition among the Jews did not deter him. Maimonides either ignored or rationalized scores of Talmudic halachot based on astrology, demonology, and magic.

Maimonides denounced astrology passionately, despite its popularity, calling the belief “stupidity” and its practitioners “fools.” His argument bears emphasis: Maimonides opposed astrology primarily on scientific rather than religious grounds. The Torah prohibits divination from the sky, he ruled, not because it displays a lack of faith in God, but simply because it is false.


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