Jonathan Zausmer

An open letter in reply to Abraham H. Foxman

Mr. Foxman, I speak as a Jew and a Zionist who has made Aliya and who has lived in Israel for most of my adult life, served in the defense force, raised a family here and have had the fortune with my fellow Israelis to have built a community here.

May I state at the outset that you have made a bold and important statement by speaking out against the ministers within our government who oppose and actively undermine the two-state solution. You ask correctly “who is in charge and whether this government is able to show strength in being able to implement its own policies.” The answer to this as I will point out further, is that at this time the settler wing is in charge and Mr. Netanyahu is sadly an empty vessel on the issue of the peace process. However as in the case of many who fall victim to coercion there is always a mindset that enables such temerity to dominate.

Second, you posit that the ministers’ statements serve to obscure the fact that progress has not been made because of rejection by the Palestinian authority for almost five years and that Mahmoud Abbas has done “everything imaginable to avoid …..peace and a Palestinian state…”

Here I believe you err and perpetuate a narrative which Prime Minister Netanyahu continually falls back on in order to justify his failure as a partner in any peace initiative. The Palestinians are of course not blameless for the current quagmire we find ourselves in but there is much evidence to suggest that that the Netanyahu government these last five years has created conditions which made any headway impossible long before the Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N. The same measures continued following their U.N. action and continue today.

Abbas as a partner for peace

Current U.S. policy with respect to Israel endorsed by the Obama administration, by the quartet and most countries of the world was initiated by the Bush Administration and is commonly known as the Roadmap for Peace. While it took several years to mature due to the second intifada, it basically calls for an end to terror by Palestinians and an end to settlement by Israel in occupied territory in in order to create conditions ultimately for the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Since Abbas has taken control we have seen an end to terror; a zero tolerance approach to fanatic fundamentalism such as Hamas, even at the severe cost of an internal conflict in Gaza which removed the Fatah presence there; a complete remodeling and re-training of Palestinian police and security networks; day to day liaison and coordination with Israeli security forces; an emphasis on financial growth and state-building measures. Does this sound like a man who is doing everything to avoid negotiation and peace? I urge you to view the short clip in the following link to understand moderate Palestinian perceptions today

Israel’s failure to meet basic requirements of the Roadmap

All the while following the Roadmap and specifically these last five years Israel has continued and continues a policy of rampant and reckless settlement in the land destined for the future Palestine. The one basic and fundamental tenet of the Roadmap obligating Israel has simply been ignored.

You will no doubt advance the notion that a settlement freeze existed for ten months but Palestinian leaders refused to meet Israelis. This is incorrect. The Palestinians met Israeli representatives three times during the freeze and encountered point blank refusal by Israel to move forward on any basic parameters already agreed on: neither Annapolis, nor the Clinton parameters, definitely not the Geneva Initiative. Mr. Netanyahu wishes to wipe the slate clean and start from a place which is a non-starter. The concept of 1967 borders with equitable land swaps enabling the large settlement blocs to remain and a vision of Jerusalem where Jews govern Jews and Palestinians govern Palestinians, which lies at the heart of Obama policy is not within the terms of reference of Mr. Netanyahu. The non-starter place is Israeli unilateral action: a settlement process which continues unabated and that will continue during any negotiation despite the Roadmap, despite Annapolis, despite the bad faith involved, despite common sense.

Only weeks before the Palestinian action at the U.N., Mr. Abbas spoke to the Israeli people in a television interview stating specifically that though a child of Safed he knows he cannot and will not return there, he vowed against any armed struggle and all this within the framework of a very conciliatory viewpoint that looks for peace. There was the moment of reach-out handed to the government in order to stop the U.N. action yet Prime Minister Netanyahu chose to ignore. The recent changes within the Arab Peace Initiative are met by the current Government of Israel with nothing more than a blank stare. Professor  Alan Dershowitz’s creative ideas to move forward have fallen on deaf ears. Secretary John Kerry’s latest efforts have been met with nothing less than cynicism and disdain.

Root causes

At the core of our current impasse lies (as you have intimated) Mr. Netanyahu himself. I contend that while the prime minister is aware of the long term threat to Israeli democracy he is smitten by the passion and emotion that are part of the settlement endeavor which embodies biblical, historical, ideological, emotional forces so great, they dominate and consume any dispassionate view which from time to time is verbalized yet minutes later forgotten. Only days ago, plans were deposited for building 675 housing units in Itamar, a settlement deep in the West Bank and way out of any consensus position and 550 housing units in Bruchin an illegal settlement. This comes despite the High Court position of illegal outposts, despite possible future negotiation, despite world opinion, despite the threat to Israel’s democratic future which you point to in your article. As an illicit lust for another becomes an obsession and an affliction, so has Mr. Netanayahu’s embroilment in the settler enterprise become a force beyond restraint. And as with every such compulsion, it is accompanied by dependency and enablement.

Dependency and Enablement

The Likud today is not the moderate conservative party it once was. At the heart of the Likud lies a bloc estimated at between ten to twenty thousand members who are either settlers or supporters of the settlement wing who vote in cohesion thereby determining who is elected into the Knesset, who dominates party policy and ultimately who sits in government. This is the force that expelled moderates such as Dan Meridor from a leadership role and conservative democrats such as Benny Begin from the decision making process. This explains why Minister Danny Danon allows himself the outrages we witness. He is not alone. Look no further than our deputy foreign minister who should be at the head of any peace initiative and who is in fact one of the heads of the Greater Israel movement.

Into this scenario appears Naftali Bennett and his party who openly advocate annexation and an end to the two-state solution. It is a political perfect storm and with this kind of dependency, together with a long history of settlement sympathy, Netanyahu cannot and will not effect change.

With respect to enablement, we know that often those closest provide the way for perpetuation of the problem. Here, in a way we in Israel are all to blame. In our quest for social change and a sharing of the national burden the Yesh Atid party has put the matter of peace on the shelf in favor of collaboration with Bennett in order to reach this goal. Mr Lapid’s interview with the New York Times is the Israeli way of saying that we are on the never-never schedule towards peace but there is nothing to worry about.

Remedies and Solutions

It is clear to one and all that in terms a peace process we have reached rock bottom. There is not much further to go. The future of the Jewish State, indeed the Jewish people at large is in peril. This has been spelled out for us many times but as you eloquently stated “Israel needs a Palestinian state as much as the Palestinians. Rejection…would be a disaster”

We know that approximately 40% of world Jewry is in Israel and another 40% in the U.S. The latter is a shrinking number which means that within several decades Israel will be the epicenter of world Jewry both culturally and demographically. A minority Jewish presence in what was once the Jewish State is in essence the tragedy that awaits us. The luxury of wait-and-see is one we do not have. Time is an affordable commodity – indeed an advantage – only to the other side.

The only factor that can bring about the change needed is, sadly, a price that leadership is forced to pay as long as settlement continues. By a price I do not mean BDS which advocates the destruction of Israel, though this indeed will be the price if nothing is done.                                                                                         It It is at this juncture that American Jewry has a critical role to play. To those who say only Israelis have the right to criticize and act, my answer is that when business czars with unlimited resources bankroll settlement and government policy, from Vegas and New York, today it’s a free for all. The future of the Jewish people is at stake here and we need an intervention. A tough one, with as they say, family and friends. One that challenges the enablers within us. A good start would be rather than receiving Mr. Netanyahu with a standing applause every time he appears at public Jewish forums in the U.S. like Bashar Assad in his parliament, or Kim Jong-un in the square, a rigorous challenging American Jewry needs to confront him head on. You have come part of the way with your polite yet critical article, but you are going to have to go the extra mile here.

We in Israel understand the language of force and power far better than a friendly chat.  Secretary of State Baker taught us all that lesson two decades ago. Better that it come from friend than foe.

About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.