Miller is a brilliant analyst with a combative, but engaging style of public discourse. He began his remarks by quoting a young Jordanian girl who attended a Seeds of Peace summer camp. She said: “In order to make peace with your enemy you have to go to war with yourself.” A wiser and more knowing comment about this conflict I have not heard in a long time.
Among the many interesting observations he made was that an ‘Iron Triangle’ has united to advance Israel’s interests in the halls of Congress and the White House: the Evangelical Right, the organized Jewish community (more specifically AIPAC), and the neo cons. In the current conservative political climate, this is an unbeatable combination. Israel and the American Jewish community have latched onto a brilliant strategy. Its success is due in no small part to the fact that the evangelicals are a core constituency of the Bush presidency and the neo cons have provided much of the intellectual heft (such as it is) for Bush’s more controversial policies (Iraq, pre-emptive war, USA Patriot Act, torture of enemy combatants, etc. ).
Miller noted that while the evangelicals support some of the most extreme Israeli politicians and policies (remember Tom DeLay opposes Sharon’s Gaza withdrawal despite the fact that it now has been endorsed by the entire Knesset!), they primarily view Israel through a theological prism. Israel’s real purpose is to be a harbinger of the End of Days and Christ’s Coming. When all of the world’s Jews are ingathered to Israel, then the Final Days and Armageddon will begin leading to Christ’s return.
Miller described speaking engagements all over the United States in which he talks to Jewish and Arab audiences. He regularly hears these members of respective diaspora communities speak on behalf of Israel or Palestine using the term “we.” “We” suffer from terrorists attacks. “We” cannot be expected to make peace until the Arabs stop killing us. “We” cannot make peace with Israelis until they stop the Occupation. Use of the “we” term in this way angers Miller who says: “how can someone thousands of miles away from the conflict who lives in peace and security, know anything about what it’s really like for the combatants themselves? Why are Jews ready to fight to the last Israeli and Arabs to fight for the last Palestinian when neither really has to worry about shedding their own blood. Such talk comes cheap and is counter-productive because it allows the Diaspora to take far more maximalist positions than anyone in Israel or Palestine would. He critiques such defeatist approaches with this quotation (for which he unfortunately did not provide a source): “The perfect shall not be an enemy of the good.” Both sides, he said, expect to get everything they want and not to have to give up anything they don’t want to give up. But the reality, of course, is that for there to be peace both sides much accept less than perfection and be willing to give up some of what they’d prefer to keep.
He noted also that Jews are often guilty of what he calls the “cosmic oy veh syndrome:” the notion that there is always a disaster right around the corner to afflict the Jewish people. Such an expectation of disaster subverts the notion that things can change between the two principal combatants in the Mideast conflict. Jews and Arabs use too much emotion and not enough intellect in approaching this problem, he said.
After I asked Miller whether he believed that AIPAC’s unwillingness to endorse the Sharon Gaza pullout would be unhelpful to the success of the peace process, he promptly didn’t answer–at least not directly. But Miller did say that Jewish organizations do themselves a disservice by linking to one particular Israeli party (he was talking about AIPAC’s long-time informal alliance with the Likud, though he didn’t say so).
This Mideast analyst believes that in light of the new unity government pasted together by Peres and Sharon, Labor and Likud may dissolve themselves and reconstitute with left Labor MPs going to Meretz and other left of center parties and with right Likud moving to the more extreme right-wing parties. That would leave the center of both Labor and Likud to create a centrist party that might have the stability to resolve the conflict.
Miller reported that he spoke to AIPAC’s young leadership conference and told them that too many American Jews get all their information about the conflict from a single source. The conflict, he told them, is far too complicated to make judgments based on such limited data. And he received a standing ovation!
He closed by declaring that Israeli politics is more confused than ever. The solution to the conflict may be years in the offing and it may come down to waiting till the current older generation of “stubborn idealists” (Arafat, Sharon, etc.) passes from the scene. But MIller despairs of potential future leadership. “Who is there who can take the place of the Rabins and the Arafats? For better or for worse, they are the only ones who had the stature to end this. Who in the younger generation can lay claim to this mantle? No one.” However, he relented a bit and acknowledged that there WAS one man who could take on this responsibility for the Israeli people: Ami Ayalon, former director of Mosad. Ayalon has all the security credentials one would need to establish credibility with the Israeli electorate. He is a tough, shrewd but humane figure who could do the job–if only he would agree to enter the political arena (which he has not yet done).
Aaron Miller served at the State Department as adviser to six Secretaries of State, formulating U.S. policy on the Middle East and the Arab-Israel peace process, most recently as the Senior Adviser for Arab-Israeli Negotiations. He was Deputy Special Middle East Coordinator for Arab-Israeli negotiations, Senior Member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, and in the Office of the Historian. He has written three books on the Mideast.
Seeds of Peace is dedicated to empowering young leaders from regions of conflict with the leadership skills required to advance reconciliation and coexistence worldwide. It has a special Middle East focus. Over the last decade, it has intensified its impact, dramatically increasing the number of participants, represented nations and programs. From 46 Israeli, Palestinian and Egyptian teenagers in 1993, the organization still focuses on the Middle East but has expanded its programming to include young leaders from South Asia, Cyprus and the Balkans. Its leadership network now encompasses over 2,500 young people from four conflict regions.
For further information about the Seattle chapter of Brit Tzedek, e mail btvshalom_wa[at]yahoo[dot]com or me at this blog.