I am pleased to share that Jewish Family and Child Service has hired David Block, M.A. as their new Executive Director starting February 17. David brings 20 years of executive level non-profit human service agency experience. We look forward to welcoming David and his wife, Bea, to Portland as they move here from Colorado Springs, CO.
What a week this has been … news about the spread of the coronavirus … Kobe Bryant, his daughter and seven others die in a helicopter crash … President Trump’s impeachment trial is providing an interesting Civics lesson … and Damian Lillard had his first ever triple-double. There were also other important events taking place in the Jewish world.
Monday was the commemoration of the 75 th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. At the event, Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, declared he was speaking neither as a survivor nor a liberator but simply “as a Jew.” He referenced a 1938 conference in Evian, France that discussed Jewish refugees and noted that while 32 countries made “lovely speeches,” only the Dominican Republic “wanted any more Jews.” Hitler, he suggested, well understood the license offered. And we know what happened. Sadly, the hatred of Jews is not disappearing anytime soon.
The biggest news in the Jewish world, however, was the publication of President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan —embraced by Israel’s leaders, rejected by the Palestinians, welcomed by several mainstream American Jewish organizations as a basis for negotiations between the parties, denounced by others , accepted with reservations by the Israeli settlement community, largely criticized by Democrats, and lambasted by the left.
In brief, the plan envisions Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and Israeli recognition of an independent, demilitarized Palestinian state on 70% of the West Bank. Parts of East Jerusalem would serve as the capital of the Palestinian state in an Arab neighborhood beyond the security barrier and a U.S. embassy would be established in Palestine. Jerusalem would still remain as Israel’s “undivided capital.”
Israel would annex the vast majority of West Bank settlements. This would provide for ongoing Israeli overall security control everywhere west of the Jordan River.
The plan dictates that Israel agree to a four-year freeze on new settlements — to give the Palestinians a timeframe to resume negotiations — but promises that no settler will be uprooted. Nor will any Palestinian whose home is in the West Bank be uprooted. The plan also envisions a tunnel connecting Gaza to Palestinian areas of the West Bank. Plus, it insists upon a demilitarized Gaza and a disarmed Hamas.
The proposal rules out a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees to today’s Israel — just as Jews cannot seek the “right of return” to their native homes in Arab lands.
There is a lengthy section on economic development and $50 billion in investment opportunities in the Palestinian areas.
Twenty years ago, the Palestinians turned down Ehud Barak’s offer of over 90% of the West Bank. And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not so much as respond to Ehud Olmert’s 2008 offer of 100% of the West Bank (with land swaps), a divided Jerusalem, and a role in an international trusteeship over the Holy Basin. And now we have this current plan which was conceived with almost no input from the Palestinians, who refuse to talk with the Trump Administration.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro wrote, “The major problems with the president’s plan result from having talked to only one side in the conflict — Israel. Ever since President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital in December 2017, the Palestinian Authority boycotted any contact with his administration.”
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov said, “The plan meets every single red line that Israel has put in place for negotiations, but stops very far from addressing the concerns of the Palestinian side.”
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris said, "Clearly, the yearning for an end to the conflict, after seven decades and repeated rejections of previous plans by the Palestinian leadership, is growing ever stronger in the region, but time isn't necessarily on the Palestinians' side, as they always assumed. No one expects the parties to endorse every proposed element with equal enthusiasm. But there's a potential basis here for starting talks in earnest."
In a first, representatives of several Arab countries (United Arab Emirates, Oman and Bahrain) were present at the White House announcement and have publicly stated their initial support for the plan. Multiple other countries have sent positive signals about moving the process forward.
The real questions, however, are: Will Israel unilaterally move forward? Will they annex territory in the West Bank? How will this proposed plan impact the upcoming Israel elections? What will the Palestinian leadership do? Will they enter negotiations? Offer a counter proposal? Or loudly maintain their “no” position? But most of all, what do the Israeli and Palestinian people want for themselves?
We have a wonderful opportunity to learn more from one of Israel’s leading historians, Professor Benny Morris, who will be speaking at Congregation Neveh Shalom on Wednesday, February 19 at 7:00 p.m. Professor Morris was a journalist at The Jerusalem Post from 1978 to 1990 and was a professor of Middle East history at Ben-Gurion University from 1997 to 2017. This program is sponsored by Israel360 and co-sponsored by Jewish Federation of Greater Portland; Judaic Studies Program, Portland State University; and Benny and Peggy Cukier.
I hope that you continue to read, listen, and learn from various viewpoints (we need to remove ourselves from our “echo chambers” and hear perspectives from all sides) on this most challenging issue. I know we will all be watching to see what transpires in the days, weeks and years ahead. But most of all, I believe we all want a peaceful resolution to this longstanding conflict.