Henry Siegman is a man who deserves to be listened to. He has traveled a long path. He has led several Jewish organizations including the American Jewish Congress and the Synagogue Council of America. Formerly an expert on Israeli-Palestinian affairs at the Council on Foreign Relations, Siegman is now the director of the US/Middle East Project and a research professor at the Sir Joseph Hotung Middle East Program at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.
Siegman has advocated a two-state solution and ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories as measures vital for Israeli security, future, and morality.
Most recently he has turned his considerable understanding and diplomatic prowess to the question of how to engage with the Islamists of Hamas and whether engagement with them can create a more solid basis for a peaceful future in the region. He has met with Hamas leaders and clearly thinks the answer is ‘yes.’
Siegman had this piece in last week’s Financial Times. He gets it right.
Mr Olmert and his associates devote their diplomatic skills to finding ever more tortured pretexts for blocking every opportunity for peacemaking, while posturing as peace-lovers in search of “reasonable” Arabs who qualify as partners for peace. Their goal remains to prevent a peace process that would require them to halt Israel’s expansion of its settlements and its effort to cut off East Jerusalem from its Palestinian hinterland.
This deception worked well for a while and perhaps still convinces president George W. Bush and those he relies on to understand the Middle East – the folks who gave us the Iraq war – but has worn thin with much of the rest of the world, including many Americans. Several US columnists who bought into the old paradigm, or avoided the subject for fear of be¬ing labelled anti-Israel, now reject it.
Israel has lost the high moral ground. It will not regain it until its citizens elect a government that understands that the price of peace – whose outline was agreed to by both sides in the Taba talks after the failed Camp David negotiations – is far less than the cost of its current rejectionism.
To be sure, the moral high ground does not necessarily provide security. But for a western country – located in the heart of the Arab and Islamic world – that has been the beneficiary of vastly disproportionate US and western support because it has been seen as a moral avatar, the loss of that high ground could not be more devastating to its long-term security.
Read the full piece here.