Puppeteering Mediation Cannot Lead to Lasting Peace

BOSTON - DECEMBER 17: Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and president of J Street, speaks at Temple Israel in Boston, Mass. Dec. 17
BOSTON - DECEMBER 17: Jeremy Ben-Ami, the founder and president of J Street, speaks at Temple Israel in Boston, Mass. Dec. 17, 2012. (Photo by John Blanding/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

I attended a debate this week between the leaders of two well-established groups that advocate for Israel, through very different approaches, J Street and StandWithUs. I am a professional mediator and peacemaker, and, naturally, I look for where there might be consensus when I attend these kinds of events. I came away seeing both consensus and controversy. There was clear consensus among everyone in the room, including our panelists, that the intent behind all of this is to work toward achieving peace in the Middle East, particularly between Israelis and Palestinians. Both parties also seemed to be advocating strongly for a mediative presence in this conflict and a shared hope for the United States to take a leading role in the process. That, however, was where consensus ended. What I was indeed listening for, as a liberal Democrat and mediator who believes that parties in conflict are the only ones who can bear the responsibility for crafting their own solutions, was for Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street to persuade us that his goal was for the United States to act in a neutral fashion so as to bring about such a mediated solution. What I heard was something quite the opposite and distressing to me, as someone who deeply understands the process of effective mediation and the role it can play in diplomacy. What I heard from the president and founder of J Street were very specific details about what the solution should be. More distressing was his comment in support of the need for this proferred solution, "[w]e have an obligation to help and try to find solutions." In addressing the need for mediation in this conflict, he said, "[w]ithout a mediator, without terms of reference, without timelines, I don't believe the parties are ever going to get there." He told us that "J Street is going to be lobbying for an active American role in negotiations." In sum, it is his stated intent to lobby our government to adopt his solution as the official U.S. position and then "mediate" it into being the new reality for the region. This is not mediation. A mediator does not take an active role in negotiations. Under Mr. Ben-Ami's plan, the United States would be engaging in neither responsible mediation nor responsible diplomacy. Rather, it would be bullying the parties in an attempt to force an "American" agenda, or, more specifically, J Street's agenda, on the parties in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. My belief in J Street as an organization that promotes a mediative approach to this conflict was wholly undermined by Mr. Ben-Ami's lack of understanding of the process of mediation. It was in fact Roz Rothstein of StandWithUs who carried the appropriate message regarding mediation throughout the conversation. What I heard from Ms. Rothstein of StandWithUs (which Mr. Ben Ami condemned throughout the conversation) was strong and unrelenting advocacy for the state and people of Israel and repeated assertions that only the designated and legitimate representatives of the Palestinian and Israeli people can determine the solutions, and they must do it together. Short of that, no solution would be relevant or durable for the parties or in the region. We, the Jews of the United States, the most influential Jewish community of the diaspora, cannot afford to lose our objectivity in our great desire for peace in the Middle East and our hopes for the future of our Jewish homeland. In the interest of sustainable peace and in order for the people of this region to have all the rights and responsibilities of ownership in the solution, we must support, if not insist on, the independence of the legitimate Israeli and Palestinian representatives in their own negotiations. Only then will a durable and lasting peace be possible.