PLO Representative at BJPA: “Don’t Blindly Support Israel”

The Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner hosted PLO Representative Maen Areikat at a luncheon on March 2nd to discuss the role of American Jews in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

A mix of professors, students, Jewish communal leaders, journalists and others came to listen to Representative Areikat discuss the situation between the Palestinian leadership and the Israeli government, and what needs to happen for the peace process to move forward. As the JTA noted, this appearance is part of a larger effort on the part of the PLO “to open dialogue with the Jewish community.”

“Time is not on either side,” said Areikat, but he emphasized that it is of the essence. He stated that Israel has the opportunity to work with a willing Palestinian government who is committed to peace. Palestinians are frustrated, however, with the fact that Israel continues to build settlements while also claiming to want peace, he said. Areikat held firmly to the stance that “peace negotiations and settlements cannot go hand in hand” and contended that it is necessary to find a new approach.

Perhaps a new approach is on its way; in an article about the event, Haaretz noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu “is considering a plan to cooperate with the Palestinians on the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders, as part of an interim peace agreement”. As that story had not yet broken widely in America while the event proceeded, no one asked Ambassador Areikat during the Q&A whether this idea would be acceptable to the PLO.

This discussion built up to the main point of the event—what American Jews should do. On this Areikat was clear: “Don’t blindly just support Israel. Do not abandon [it], but…look beyond tomorrow.” Practically speaking, he stated that American Jews should support their government’s efforts to end this conflict. Many Jews are reluctant to criticize Israel or support anyone who does, he argued, but a successful peace process requires recognizing positive steps from both sides, and condemning those who won’t cooperate—including Israelis.

The Jewish leaders in the audience for this event showed no signs of “blindly” supporting Israel. Every Jewish questioner during the Q&A voiced support for a Palestinian State. This may be because those who chose to attend this event were those who were most inclined to this position, but it may also indicate how marginal the position against Palestinian self-determination has become in contemporary American Jewish discourse. A few decades ago, opposition to any form of Palestinian nationalism was well within the American Jewish mainstream (see this piece by Avraham Weiss, and this by Richard Cohen.) But at Wednesday’s event, this perspective was not evident.
The content of the discussion was hardly surprising, but the fact of the discussion is still noteworthy. While the event began with the formality of a diplomatic speech, by the end, when the Q&A broke down the wall between speaker and audience, it was a lively conversation over lunch.

Watch the video below:

Crossposted to BJPA Blog. Written by: Seth Chalmer, Director of Communications for the Berman Jewish Policy Archive @ NYU Wagner & Aimee Gonzalez a project assistant at BJPA and a Master’s candidate in Politics at the NYU Graduate School of Arts and Science.

9 Responses to “PLO Representative at BJPA: “Don’t Blindly Support Israel””

  1. Maybe next they should talk to Jews in Russia? Or maybe Argentina? The Palestinians seem willing to speak to Jews everywhere, except in Israel itself. Instead of racking up frequent flier miles, take a taxi to the PM’s office and start negotiating.


    Victor · March 14th, 2011 at 7:14 pm
  2. Perhaps Victor because the Jews in USA, Russia and Argentina are not contuing to colonize lands in the West Bank, where the Palestinians (and almost the whole world)want to see Palestine.

    PM Netanyahu wants to talk, but he wants “a peace process”, not “peace”. Peace can be achieved by sticking to the Roadmap (which is where the settlement freeze demand comes from). Under this Roadmap, the Palestinians did their part, with reocgnition from the Americans, and the Israelis themselves.

    If you assume that the Palestinians are wrong and telling lies, then why the whole world is suddently angry at Netanyahu, including his best buddy, Angela Merkel?

    Why is everyone in the Israeli press talking about Israel’s current isolation?
    Dear Victor,
    You take a taxi for a shorter ride only when you know it would get you where you want.


    Gahgeer · March 14th, 2011 at 9:27 pm
  3. Did the Palestinians do their part, Gahgeer? Which Palestinians? The ones who daily incite their people into murdering children, or the ones who launch rockets randomly at civilians?

    You take a taxi for a shorter ride only when you know it would get you where you want.

    With two concrete offers of statehood rejected, Gahgeer, that’s what we are all trying to figure out. What is it that the Palestinians want? Apparently, the answer is to not negotiate.


    Victor · March 14th, 2011 at 10:18 pm
  4. Well Victor what I said on the PA’s fulfillment of its obligation comes from the Israeli security establishment and US military/security officials who supervise the PA security and monitor the implementation of the Roadmap.

    Therefore, my opinion is not based on considerations related to how the Israeli govt and its US non-governmental allies portray the situation.

    The incitement to kill children is very old news and it has been pulled from the shelf by Netanyahu, who’s doing everything to make political gains in Israel itself and with the Palestinians from the blood of Itamar’s children.

    You can go through Palestinian state media with a tooth comb, but you won’t find anything. Actually, Palestinian children in Gaza and WB study Egyptian and Jordanian syllabi, respectively, which don’t tell them to kill others.

    The offers may have been concrete, but it’s below what the Palestinianis can accept under the UN resolutions on the conbflict, which guide principles of negotiations.


    Gahgeer · March 15th, 2011 at 8:28 pm
  5. The main interesting point in this article to me, and it bears great relevance to Gahgeer– is that the vast vast majority of Israelis/ Jews have come to learn (to an extent) and accept the Palestinian narrative and need for a state (whether whole heartedly, or begrudgingly). But for all but a very tiny majority- Jews support a Palestinian state. What remains to happen is Palestinians accepting a Jewish state. WHich is why the education issue IS crucial. IF your history books (I haven’t seen Egyptian and Jordanian syllabi) but I’m willing to bet it doesn’t mention that the Jews lived here 2000 years ago and never stopped dreaming of coming back. So how is Palestinian youth gonna find any empathy/ understanding of why the JEws have been and will be here- like it or not?
    ANd by not teaching the narrative- they are opening the gates to turn Jews into settlers/ colonialists/ Western agents of etc… and targets.
    People don’t shoot/ stab/ hate others before they have somehow denied them. and the education system is the place where P A leadership can make a serious action for peace. In Israel it’s tremendously popular- Chinuch l’Shalom… PEace education..


    shaul · March 16th, 2011 at 6:54 pm
  6. it’s below what the Palestinianis can accept

    It’s ok. In 1948 the Palestinians launched a civil war to kill or drive away all the Jews. Now just you’re bargaining for hilltops. Tomorrow you’ll be bargaining for rocks. Israel can wait.


    Victor · March 17th, 2011 at 12:25 am
  7. Shaul, I agree with you that Jewish history of the land should be part of the history classes,in the same way they study the Cananite, Egyptian, Crusade, to the history of WWII. But, by the way, under the Oslo agreement, the PA is not allowed to teach history, and hence the adoption of history books from Jordan and Egypt.

    Nevertheless, Jewish history exists strongly in the psyche of many Palestinians. Many of them worked there, and many were in prisons and speak Hebrew. Try to count the Palestinians called Yacuv, Moses, Isaac and Reuben and you’ll find so many.

    We also study the Jewish presence in Spain with the Muslims, and their joint exodus to Nort Africa after the Inquisition. All Palestinian kids know that the doctor of Haroun Arrachide, the Abbasid caliph, was a Jew. they also all know about Memonides (Ibn Maymoon), the Andalusian Jewish philosopoher.

    However, without an end to the occupation – which is the direct and strongest source of incitement – all the amendments to history books will be futile.

    What can you expect from a Palestinian child, who, leafing through his history chapter about the kingdom of Solomon, when he’s forced to stop for hours at a checkpoint, then searched to humiliation by an IDF soldier before deciding on whehter or not he could pass through?


    Gahgeer · March 18th, 2011 at 10:30 am
  8. Victor, please allow me to disengage from further discussion about events that are subject to the interpretation of its readers, depending on who they are and where they come from. I also believe the web is full of reference material on what actually happened from 1920 to 1948.

    Otherwise, a British station, Channel 4, showed recently a four-part series called The Promise. It narrates the story of a British Mandate soldier’s service in Palestine 1945-1948, and it explains alot about those days (from both Israeli and Palestinian perspectives).

    It’s worht a watch, even though I don’t know if you can find it online. (it’s available on their catchup service, which is uk-only)


    Gahgeer · March 18th, 2011 at 10:35 am
  9. I’m well informed about what happened in 1920-1948, Gahgeer. I encourage you to read “1948″ by Benny Morris, the preeminent historian of the civil war and the Palestinian exodus, along with his other works (i.e. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited, etc). Not to mention the autobiographies of Abba Eban, Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir, Nusseibeh and others. As for the British perspective, I think I’ve had enough of it in “Major Farran’s Hat”.


    Victor · March 18th, 2011 at 4:13 pm

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"I may attack a certain point of view which I consider false, but I will never attack a person who preaches it. I have always a high regard for the individual who is honest and moral, even when I am not in agreement with him. Such a relation is in accord with the concept of kavod habriyot, for beloved is man for he is created in the image of God." —Rav Joseph Soloveitchik