Arianna Huffington became an honorary Jew last Thursday night when she presided at the Israel Policy Forum Annual Tribute Dinner at the Waldorf. The IPF which was formed in 1993 in the wake of the Oslo Accord is probably today the most independent mainstream organization whose sole purpose is to mobilize American Jews in support of keeping the U. S. involved on a diplomatic basis in Middle East peace negotiations in whatever form they may take shape. They are not on one side or another but believe that without U.S. involvement, a peace agreement will never be reached.
The featured speaker of the evening was Ehud Olmert, the Vice Prime Minister of Israel and former Mayor of Jerusalem. Olmert started off recounting briefly the history of disengagement and his part in the process and pointed out the fact that he was pleased to be at the event in spite of the fact that the IPF hasn’t been a major supporter of Prime Minister Sharon in the past, which is another indication of how things are changing since Sharon sent a letter to the organization which was read congratulating IPF on the event.
Mr. Olmert went on to say that peace and serenity for Israel and Palestine with an independent state of their own can be accomplished by the two parties without the need for U.S. involvement; with Israel taking an independent leadership position of its own and not waiting for a specific trade-off from the Palestinians. In spite of the fact that there is a strong obstacle to taking this initiative, Prime Minister Sharon and Mr. Olmert are both committed to this process as they, together with the people of Israel in general, are tired of the fighting and tired of “being courageous.”
It may take longer and it’s not going to be a simple process but Olmert reinforced the statement that they will definitely begin moving people out of Gaza on August 15th and it will be completed in its entirety by September 15th. The result of this agenda has been to create the most serious internal crisis in Israel since 1948 and it is going to be very painful to carry out and will only take place with great fear and hesitation but it is inevitable in order to create a new relationship between Israel and the Palestinian authority according to Olmert. “There are many fears, many apprehensions but Israel is prepared to take the first risk because the prize for success is so great.” If this is accomplished as planned, Olmert expects the strong belief that there will be “a great new morning of hope emerging in our part of the world.”
While there was not universal enthusiasm among the crowd since every Israel organization contains many different points of view to say the least, it could not be mistaken that Israel is serious in its schedule and they’re prepared to live with the consequences. One cannot help but feel that the inevitability of this process unlike previous agreements, and meetings has a degree of certainty about it that never existed before because it required trade-offs and the action of one party before the other party would commit to do anything. The move out of Gaza and part of the West Bank is now going to take place on a unilateral basis and thus has much greater certainty attached to it.
In the course of the past week, I also had the opportunity to hear Cherie Blair speak at a group that has recently been formed called Generation Engage, which is a political organization focused on attempting to get young people on a bi-partisan basis involved in the political process, particularly the minority and non-college graduate community. The concept was developed by the son of Senator Jay Rockefeller and Adrian Talbot, the son of Strobe Talbot, CEO of the Brookings Institute, and is already operating in Richmond, VA and North Carolina.
While Cherie Blair has taken some hits in Washington early this week over her speech entitled “Cherie Blair: Dynamic Professional, Wife of Tony Blair." her comments in New York before a group of 100 first-time supporters of Generation Engage was much lower key and clearly on a pro-bono basis. Her comments went right to the heart of youth involvement in politics and the critical role they play in her own country’s recent elections where youth turn-out was lower in this election compared to the last, but nevertheless a very important percentage of the voters. She went on to highlight the importance that youth had played in the U.S. election and where the percentage of people under 21 was disproportionately higher than the other population segments in the country.
She also pointed out the increasing need for new techniques to reach the youth market, since they are zapping commercials in increasing frequency and that the only way to make contact with them is on a more personal basis whether it was through mobile phones or somehow finding ways to touch them on a direct basis. She was received very well by the audience from the standpoint of content, but her speech ran much longer than a standing crowd was prepared for.