Most of the J Street audience was disappointed by Dennis Ross (although not surprised), as they desire a more assertive White House role in brokering a peace agreement--as do I. The predominant sense of the conference is that it's urgent to effectively pressure the parties toward an agreement on establishing two states because the status quo is unsustainable. Ross even said this about the status quo, but he gave us no hint of anything happening to back up this statement. Still, Tom's thoughts are at least a good jumping off point for looking at the conference:
... Having attended an AIPAC conference in 1995 during the Oslo conference and the J Street conference in 2009, what struck me about the former was that it was mostly intended to fire up the troops and allow politicians to compete in kissing up to the Israeli lobby. J Street instead of just conducting workshops on messaging and the upcoming election cycle in the U.S., attempted to educate its supporters about the conflict by inviting members of the Palestinian government and the Israeli Knesset to the conference to serve on panels.
Nachman Shai, a former academic expert on the Israeli nuclear deterrent and now an MK for Kadima, was very open. "There is no chance for electoral reform or for a constitution with the coalition parties." This means that Israel is incapable of producing the type of party system that will produce the two-party coalitions that ran the peace process in Dublin. It was these coalitions that allowed the dominant party to give up Ireland's constitutional claim to Northern Ireland. Israel has the much tougher task of giving up a physical occupation and hundreds of settlements after 43 years.
Oren Magnezy, a former aide to Ariel Sharon who is now an MK in Kadima was honest about Israeli decision making. "We work at an emotional level when making decisions. Its a lot about messaging. We have an obligation to reach Israelis in the Center who aren't liberals or Left like J-Street." Another Kadima MK, Yoel Hasson said, "Not all Israelis want peace. Some don't want it because they know the price that must be paid for peace and they don't want to pay it."
Dahlia Scheindlin, a public opinion analyst, was blunt: "The Left is toxic in Israel right now. Israelis don't like to think in the long term. This is a problem. They need a leader with a vision." She cited a polling survey to claim that 45% of Israeli Jews self identify as Right, 27% as Center, and 17% as Left. She claimed that those in the Center behave much more like the Left than like the Right when it comes to the solution to the Conflict. She also said that a larger percentage of Kadima supporters than Labor supporters listed peace as their top concern in politics.
"Among young people the dominant sentiments are nationalism, patriotism, and Zionism," according to Scheindlin. "This is the narrative of resignation." They grew up in the last decade with the failure of Camp David and the Al-Aksa Intifada as well as with two wars. They are volatile and could drift to the Center or even the Left depending upon how events unfold. ...
Sadly, Dr. Mitchell may be correct in the following assessment, but I don't think that we can afford to automatically accept this as true:
Israeli doves are expecting J Street to work as a deus ex machina to deliver Washington to impose a peace agreement on the Israelis and Palestinians. But as former Chief Negotiator for the Middle East Dennis Ross said in a plenary speech, "For peace to succeed the parties have to own it; to own it they have to invest in it." In other words Washington cannot do for Jerusalem and Ramallah what they cannot do for themselves. ... This links to his entire post.