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Why National Jewish Democratic Council Attacks Jimmy Carter’s Call for Israeli-Palestinian Peace?

ira n. formanIra Forman, NJDC executive director (photo: Philadelphia Jewish Voice)

The NJDC just e mailed me one of their periodic alerts. This one announced that Ira Forman, the group’s executive director, had attacked a Jimmy Carter USA Today column about Ehud Olmert’s West Bank “realignment” plan. Forman himself had penned his own objections in a column in Washington Jewish Week.

I am a good Jewish Democrat who often finds myself in agreement with the work of the NJDC. But Ira Forman’s column is so wrong-headed and so ignores the facts of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict that I could not allow it to go uncontested.

First, Forman gets really exercised by Carter’s statement:

[Olmert’s] plan, as described during the recent Israeli election and the formation of a new governing coalition, would take about half of the Palestinian West Bank and encapsulate the urban areas within a huge concrete wall and the more rural parts of Palestine within a high fence.

Jimmy Carter, Begin and Sadat at white house Jimmy Carter, Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin sign Camp David accord (photo: Carter Library)

He counters:

[Carter] describes Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s unilateral withdrawal plan as one “which would take about half of the Palestinian West Bank and encapsulates the urban areas within a huge concrete wall … .”

Where does he get this stuff? Olmert’s government has not produced any definitive unilateral withdrawal plan. However, every report of possible plans assumes that if there continues to be no Palestinian peace partner, then Israel will withdraw its population behind the security fence — taking in about 8 percent of the West Bank.

While Israel may only be retaining 8% of Palestinian territory for its settlements–with the Maaleh Adumim project & by retaining control of the Jordan Valley the actual amount of territory that is rendered inaccessible to the Palestinians is much greater than that 8%. I don’t know whether Carter’s 50% figure is correct, but I have no doubt that it is a realistic one.

Forman continues his diatribe against Carter’s comments about the nature of the Separation Wall:

it is astonishingly disingenuous to talk about concrete wall encapsulating Palestinian urban areas. Of the seven cities that the Palestinian Authority lists as having more than 100,000 people, only in Jerusalem will concrete barriers run through the middle of urbanized land.

Even in Jerusalem, it is misleading to say that the fence “encapsulates” the urban population. He further claims that the Olmert plan “would effectively divide it [the West Bank] into three portions.” This echoes the Palestinian Authority’s rhetoric about bantustans. While the convergence plan envisions creating strips of land that reach into the West Bank in a few areas, a review of the security fence maps belies charges of chopping the area up into three separate portions.

A combination of the Separation Wall running through the middle of East Jerusalem (Abu Dis) and the Maaleh Adumim project will effectively wall off the 250,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem from the West Bank. The majority of Israeli analysts, journalists and politicians accept this formulation. A reading of any number of posts on this subject in this blog will take you to some of their views. Yet Forman is so blinded by his slavish adherence to Olmert’s vision that he must deny reality readily accepted by knowledgeable Israelis.

Why Forman’s miserable pilpul/casuistry over the word “encapsulate?” The exclusion barrier is a structure that imprisons the Palestinians. Let me ask Forman this: has he ever visited a Palestinian village next to the wall? He brings Dem bigwigs on Israel tours all the time. Have they ever once visited with common Palestinian folk affected by the Wall. If not, how in heaven’s name does he know what that experience is like and whether “encapsulated” is the proper word to describe it?

Unbelievably, Forman denies the internationally accepted norm of the Green Line. Like other hardline pro-Israel ideologues he must argue that the Green Line is a fiction that was never embraced by Israel or the international community. His argument has the ring of many other circular arguments which divorce themselves from reality. The Green Line IS universally accepted. It is the 1967 border. It will be the basis for any final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians (though the final border may diverge from it slightly by mutual agreement). Arguing otherwise as Forman does is a useless exercise in blowing smoke.

Second, regarding Palestinian willingness to negotiate: Abbas has continually spoken of his willingness to enter into final status negotiations with Israel. Only Olmert refuses to do so citing the demand that Hamas meet preconditions before he will negotiate with Abbas.

Now let’s talk about the Road Map. Forman reminds us:

Has President Carter totally forgotten that a central requirement of the Phase I portion of the road map is that the P.A. bring a halt to violence, terrorism and incitement?

But what he and other hardline pro-Israel folk always neglect to add is that the Road Map was a MUTUAL document that called for simultaneous actions by both sides. And while the Palestinians were supposed to stop terror Israel was supposed to stop new settlement activity. Israel has not done so and new building is happening in the West Bank as I write this. Why does Forman believe that only the Palestinians are subject to the provisions of the Road Map while Israel isn’t?

While Forman fulminates on Carter’s perfidy toward Israel, events on the ground both in Palestine and Israel will render the former’s views completely obsolescent. In the coming months, possibly in a year, Israel will be negotiating with Abbas and Hamas. In the end, Israel’s Exclusion Wall will be dismantled in whole or in part. The final border will run very close to the Green Line with only a few diversions to incorporate those settlement blocs which both Israeli and Palestinian negotiators designate as Israeli territory (in exchange for Negev territory per Clinton’s Camp David proposals). All argument to the contrary is mere hackery and a distraction from reality.

In fact, one wonders why the NJDC and Aipac’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more hardline than those of the Bush Administration? Hell, they’re even more hardline than some ministers in the current Israeli government. Now, why might that be?

As a Jewish liberal Democrat, I can see that the NJDC does not represent me when it comes to Israel. I’m much more comfortable with Brit Tzedek, the Israel Policy Forum and American Friends of Peace Now. That NJDC appears to be in the pocket of Aipac irks me no end.

I value Jimmy Carter’s contribution to the Israel-Palestine discussion. NJDC should too. President Carter has done more to advance the cause of Israeli-Arab peace than most Americans. What has Ira Forman done on that score? I wonder why Aipac & NJDC both detest him so & what this says about relations between these two ostensibly independent groups?

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Peter H June 1, 2006, 8:57 PM

    Hi Richard,

    I’m certainly not defening Forman, but it his job to raise support for Democrats within the Jewish community. I guess Forman feels he needs to attack insufficiently pro-Israel Democrats to bolster his credibility in the Jewish community. The reality is, in American politics today, being ‘pro-Israel’ means nothing less than unreservedly supporting the agenda of whatever Israeli government is in power.

  • Richard Silverstein June 1, 2006, 11:13 PM

    I understand what you’re saying. But my point is that Forman’s, NJDC’s & Aipac’s positions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are totally out of line with those of American Jews. They are, however, in line with the views of the fatcat Jewish donors (in Aipac they’re called the “Gang of Four“) both to the party & Aipac. The fatcats views on Israeli politics are hardline and far to the right on the Israeli political spectrum.

    In American politics today being pro-Israel means unreservedly supporting the agenda of the Israeli right. The above listed groups did NOT support the Gaza withdrawal (a stated policy of the Sharon government) until the very last minute. If Amir Peretz ever came to power these groups would NOT support his agenda. In fact, Yitzchak Rabin once gave an Aipac national convention a tongue-lashing because they’d treated him & his party so shabbily before they came to power & after.

  • Peter H June 2, 2006, 7:59 PM


    You make a good point about groups like AIPAC taking views that are to the right of American Jews. However, with all due respect, I find it hard to believe that most American Jews would agree with Jimmy Carter’s criticism of Olmert, which is who Forman was responding to (FWIW, I agree with the former President 100%).

    I agree that a majority of American Jews will support negotations when it’s the policy of the Israeli government in power. However, American Jews get very defensive when American presidents openly clash with Israel. Carter and Bush I both lost huge amounts of Jewish votes for confronting Likud governments over settlements. There’s something about the image of Israel as a tiny, beleaguered country that makes most Jews in the diaspora feel that any criticism from the left is tantamount to treason Plus, Olmert has substantial support from those Jews who identify with Peace Now etc., which Begin or Shamir never had.

  • Richard Silverstein June 2, 2006, 11:07 PM

    Peter: Thanks for yr comments here.

    Yes, these are complicated issues for American Jews & they do react defensively to perceived criticism. That being said, what would the majority of American Jews disagree with in Carter’s critique of Olmert’s “realignment” plan? Would they disagree w. Carter’s comment that Israel’s border should conform to the 1967 borders? I don’t think so. Would they disagree with Carter’s claim that Israel, except for its largest settlement bloc, must withdraw fr. the vast majority of its West Bank settlements? I don’t think so.

    While you are right that Carter & Bush pere lost support among some elements of the American Jewish community for being perceived to “bully” Israel on settlements, I think we’d both admit that times have changed. The vast majority of American Jews no longer believe there is any rationale that can justify continued settlement activity or retention of existing settlements. Personally, I believe that Bush fils could exert much greater pressure than he has on Israel & still not lose many Jewish votes. However, he certainly might lose support fr. the Aipac fatcats & they do carry a big stick w. which they might try to hurt him politically. But I just don’t think they carry they same weight they used to in American Jewish politics. Just look at how progressive Jewish groups pushed back against Aipac’s steamroller for the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism bill. It took months for Aipac to get that thing passed & it was all because three progressive groups did their damndest to stop it. Their work will further encourage the Senate to hold the line against the worst parts of the bill when it comes to conference.

    I’m not sure why you say Olmert has support from those who identify w. Peace Now. If you mean that Peace Now supports the “realignment” plan to withdraw fr. W. Bank settlements–that is certainly true. I support that part of his plan as well. But if you mean that they also support the corollary of his plan to fix international borders acc. to the route of the Separation Wall–I wouldn’t agree. That’s where the peace movement parts ways w. Olmert. And I believe that’s where the American Jewish community parts ways w. him too.

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