AIPAC American foreign policy Americans for Peace Now Barack Obama Israel Israel lobby J Street Palestinians

Glimmers of hope for a sane American Middle East policy

After the carnage of the last few weeks, there are many compelling reasons to give up hope for an enduring peace settlement between Palestinians and Israelis. But there are shards of hope to be found in the Obama administration. Assuming, as I do, that a fair, evenhanded American approach to both conflict management and more ambitiuous diplomacy is essential, here are at least a few points of light:

!) George Mitchell,

2) George Mitchell.

3) George Mitchell — Check out MJ Rosenberg for some encouraging words about the newly appointed envoy to Israel and the Palestinian territories.

4) J Street, whose PAC raised more money for candidates than any other self-styled pro-Israel PAC in the last election cycle. I believe we ain’t seen nothin’ yet from this group and their allies in the organized American Jewish community, including Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom and Ameinu.

5) AIPAC’s inherent limitations— In my forthcoming book (please don’t hesitate to stop reading this and order now), I skewer the myth that the conventional Israel lobby (which includes AIPAC) is an immovable object that no political force can possibly dislodge. It is PERCEIVED to be such an object by elected officials, but much of its clout is based on smoke and mirrors. I hope beyond hope that Obama will take to heart the historical lessons noted in the following excerpt:

“History shows that when presidents are determined to do something in U.S. interests, the lobby folds,” said Samuel Lewis a former U.S. ambassador to Israel who has held several other State Department posts related to the Middle East. “As [George H. W.] Bush demonstrated, the White House can win the fight. Carter had all kinds of problems with the Jewish community, but that didn’t stop him from going forward with our Middle East policy. The lobby didn’t have any substantive impact on Carter. To the extent that he was influenced [in Israel’s favor], it was by the Israelis. . . . Clinton stood up to them, to some extent. Presidents actually have a lot more freedom than they feel like they have. If a president wants to stand up to the lobby, he can.”

6) The “open policy window” — There is also hope to be found in the empirical observations of political scientist John Kingdon, who studied how agendas are set in DC. He wrote of “open policy windows,” i.e., junctures when opportunities exist for decisive political action. That happens, Kingdon observed, when a problem takes center stage, ideas for solving it are readily available, and political winds are blowing in the right direction. They don’t open often, and they don’t stay open long. But one reason they open is a change in presidential administrations, when, as Kingdon put it, “the new administration gives some groups, legislators and agencies their opportunity—an open policy window—to push positions and proposals they did not have the opportunity to push with previous administrations, and it disadvantages other players.”

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