If you’re looking for a sensible and credible Arab-American voice on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you couldn’t do much better than Hussein Ibish, now senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine. I first encountered Ibish’s work about a decade ago, when he was communications director for the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, and it seemed to me then that he was just spouting talking points. Well, either he or I (or both) have matured since then; certainly his more recent work (such as this) has become must reading for Americans interested in the issue, as is his blog.
But I really wish he’d get back to me, even if I’m not that important.
Here’s the background: in a lengthy post on May 7th, Ibish expressed support for the “Clinton Parameters,” which were Bill Clinton’s December 2000 effort to present bridging proposals. Now, this is potentially extremely important, because those parameters see the Palestinian state existing on 96% of the West Bank, and divides Jerusalem by demographics. Most importantly, the paraments also stipulate quite clearly that the Palestinian “right of return” shall exist, but only to the new Palestinian state. That’s the kind of clarity that many progressive Jews have been looking for since 2001, only to be rebuffed by everyone outside of Sari Nusseibeh‘s office (oh yes, and the more than 120,000 Palestinian signatories, none of whom are named).
Ibish welcomes questions from readers, many of whom are Jewish; I figure he is really trying to develop a dialogue (or at least I hope so). So I decided to follow up on his suggestion, and two months ago I wrote him the following:
Just came across your blog, and I am very glad that I did!
So here’s the question(s); I was quite taken with your discussion on May 7 concerning the Camp David and Taba negotiations. It was very comprehensive and thoughtful, and I was particularly intrigued at your favorable impression of the Clinton Parameters. I was wondering to what extent you believe that there is flexibility on the Palestinian side, or — perhaps of more importance — among the Arab-American community, particularly the Muslim Arab-American community, on the refugee question.
As should be obvious, I see myself as a progressive American Zionist (who of course is furious and outraged at the current Israeli government) who is interested in seeing what I can do to facilitate progress. I have long believed that the Nusseibeh-Ayalon People’s Voice Agreement is the essential outline of the eventual deal, if it ever happens.
For quite a while, I have been trying to see whether an American organization in support of the People’s Voice might be helpful. The Nusseibeh-Ayalon Agreement is clear, short, and hard-edged for both sides: no fudging allowed.
Israelis cannot pretend to themselves that they can keep the settlements or shut the Palestinians out of Jerusalem; the Palestinians cannot pretend that they will be able to go to Jaffa or Haifa.
But precisely because of that, getting Jewish and Arab Americans together as part of a grass roots effort could be potentially powerful as a signal to realists and believers in peace in the region that they will have support from their respective diasporas if they make the hard, painful concessions necessary for an agreement.
Do you believe that this could have any legs? Is it feasible? I have spoken with people at ATFP and AAI, and while they seem eager to speak in generalities, they won’t endorse the concessions that People’s Voice seems to require. (There is no question that on the Jewish side, ADL and AIPAC would call it a sellout and Auschiwtz boundaries, but other groups would sign on).
I’m wondering what you think of this idea, and/or whether you think that some accommodation on refugees is possible and what that might look like.
Well, I got a couple of electronically generated e-mails saying thank you for the question and I will get back to you soon, but nothing in two months. Now, it is true that Ibish did post a thoughtful piece generally on the question of the right of return, which I really hope represents something that many in the Arab world and diaspora can get behind. But I continue to be frustrated by the lack of a joint Jewish-American/Arab-American effort: if these two communities in the United States can come up with a statement of principles, then it might be able to help, at least in moving the Obama Administration to present its own proposal in line with the suggestions made by Sari Nusseibeh.
So last week, I tried again, forwarding my last question, and asking for a response. Again, nothing.
Right now, then, there are three possibilities:
1) Ibish is serious about a dialogue, but is so swamped that he needs more than two months to respond. Possible.
2) Ibish pretends to be serious about a dialogue, but really isn’t, and when someone calls him on it, he goes into hiding. I hope not! Besides, that’s doubtful, given what he has written before: he appears to have burned a lot of bridges on his own side, which is a good sign for both Jews and Arabs.
3) Ibish is serious about a dialogue, but thinks that the People’s Voice Accord is too hard-edged: he might, for example, want a relatively token amount of refugees (say, 15,000) to be readmitted to Israel. Maybe, but then he can always come up with his own set of principles and see whether a joint effort can form around that. One enormous gap in the People’s Voice Accord is its provision for refugee compensation, mainly because that money would have to come from other countries. But surely that’s not a reason not to move ahead.
4) Ibish is serious about a dialogue, but with people more significant than yours truly. Sensible, although I still hope not.
So what is it? Is there room for an effort or not? What do you think? Paging Dr. Ibish!