Well, the 92nd Street Y debate I went to on Tuesday was not quite as contentious as the flubbed Steve Martin one happening in the night before, but it still got pretty heated. A sold-out audience came to see Peter Beinart and New York Times columnist Roger Cohen debate former AIPACer Steven J. Rosen and Wall Street Journal editoral page editor and former Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens.
In case daily reports of the carnage in Israel and the Palestinian-controlled territories wasn’t stark enough in the abstract, hundreds of mock coffins lined up in Dag Hammarskjold Plaza Tuesday offered a gripping visual aid.
“It is shock therapy,” said Yehezkel Landau, a native New Yorker now living in Israel and founder of Open House, an Arab-Israeli peace project in Jerusalem, as he surveyed the exhibit. “It helps us appreciate the qualitative and quantitative cost of this needless war we are suffering through.”
As 40 delegates from 10 countries gather here Sunday for a two-day conference focusing on Jews displaced from their Arab homelands, there is growing concern that this issue will not be a priority for the Olmert government when the topic of Palestinian refugees is raised at the Israeli-Palestinian summit in Annapolis, Md.
As Israelis honored their war dead Tuesday and celebrated their independence the next day, the bitter divisions that have pitted Israelis against Arabs, and Israelis against each other, continued to surface.
There were advances and setbacks in the Middle East peace process this past week, punctuated by a new Egyptian-Israeli trade agreement, a terrorist attack that killed five Israeli soldiers, and a call for an end to violence by the frontrunner in the race for Palestinian president. Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continued efforts to assemble a new coalition government by the beginning of next week. That would enable him to pass the nation’s $60 billion budget by Dec.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Israel this week was seen as a veritable love-fest, reinforcing the perception that the once strained Israeli-European relationship is returning to more solid ground.
Israel has embarked on a new strategy in its effort to convince Palestinian President Yasir Arafat to end the violence and return to the negotiating table — seize or destroy Palestinian property. It also positioned tanks to forcibly end regular Palestinian shooting at the residents of Gilo in southeastern Jerusalem.
A year ago, I wrote in this space on the eve of Rosh HaShanah that “5762 was one of the worst years for the Jewish people since the Holocaust era.” What, then, can I say about the year just ending — a year that saw hundreds more Israelis killed by Palestinian violence; that saw anti-Semitism increase, particularly in Europe; that brought a war on Iraq that ousted its despotic leader but left Americans wondering if had become entangled in a new Vietnam; and that ends with the Mideast road map leading, it seems, to another dead end of hopelessness?
Israel’s military approach to the Palestinian conflict — respond to attacks and defeat the enemy — doesn’t work when applied to the U.S. campus ideological clashes over the Mideast. And the more strident the pro-Israel position, the less likely tens of thousands of American Jewish college students are to be sympathetic to the Jewish state.