The US Debate on Palestine Is Changing

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People hold placards and Palestinian flags as they march in solidarity with the Palestinian people amid the ongoing conflict with Israel, during a demonstration in London, Saturday, May 15, 2021. Photo: AP/UNB

I visited the United States 3 times.

The first of which lasted for about 3 weeks in the early year 2000, and was at the invitation of the US State Department.

One of the items of the visit included an interview with Dr. James J. Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute at its headquarters in Washington, DC.

Since that time, I have been in contact with Dr. Zogby via social media, the last of which I received from him last Tuesday, June 15th.....

Before that, specifically on May 24, I had received a message from James via my e-mail that read as follows:

In the 45 years since launching the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, I’ve witnessed more tragic wars than I can care to count and defended Palestinians against more heinous crimes than I can bear to list. During all this time, we’ve had American supporters who have embraced the cause of Palestinian rights and supported our calls for justice. But never have I witnessed the sea of change in opinion and its impact on the policy debate that is now taking place.

Five decades ago, there were a handful of Members of Congress who would courageously speak out and there were some Christian churches, peace and civil rights leaders, and small progressive Jewish groups who would endorse our appeals for Palestinian human rights. For their efforts, they, like us, were subjected to intimidation seeking to silence their voices or punish their advocacy.

Polls now show that the majority of Democratic voters hold deeply unfavorable views of Benjamin Netanyahu, oppose many Israeli policies, and favor conditioning US aid to Israel based on their treatment of Palestinians. Not only have attitudes changed, but progressive Jewish groups and organized Arab Americans have been empowered by this new political environment and have been engaging their elected officials. This has emboldened Members of Congress to speak out. In response to both Israel’s recent policies in Jerusalem and the bombardment of Gaza, this split is having an impact in Congress.

The result: for the first time in thirty years, a dozen Members took to floor of Congress to denounce Israeli efforts to evict Palestinians from their Jerusalem homes and the killings of civilians in Gaza; more than one-half of the Democratic Senate caucus has called for an immediate Israel-Hamas ceasefire; and progressives in the House are calling on the President to stop a proposed US arms’ sale to Israel. Also noteworthy has been the muted responses of normally pro-Israel Democratic Senators and Representatives. They know where their base voters are on this issue and they, therefore, are treading carefully.

The US press has given extensive coverage to this development. I was so proud to see a New York Times front page story open with the sentence “In 1988, when James Zogby...pushed Democrats to include mention of Palestinian sovereignty in their platform they responded with a clear warning... ‘If the P-word is even in the platform, all hell will break loose.” The article goes on to note how the issue we raised and lost back then, is now center stage in the policy debate.

That’s the good news. More sobering is the fact, as I noted in the same story, “The base of the party is in a very different place than where the party establishment is.” We haven’t won this policy debate, not by a long shot. But what’s new and important is that we’re forcing a debate. And that’s the first step on the road to change.

I met the famous American journalist writer Thomas Friedman once, and that was in a very limited reception, which was organized at the residence of the American Media Attaché in Cairo, following the release of Friedman's book "The Lexus and the Olive Tree in 1999."

Before the meeting, I had read Friedman’s biography, so I made sure to start my conversation with him by noting that we are not only interested in the Chinese issue, but also the timing of the beginnings of journalistic work and initial specialization as economic editors in the same year in the early eighties of the last century, and by virtue of We were also born in 1953, although Thomas's date of birth is one month ahead of me!

The day after I read James Zogby's message, I read an article of great importance in the American newspaper The New York Times by the writer Friedman, which stated the following: This is how the struggle will explode in the Democratic Party and every synagogue in America.

The writer considered that the fighting that took place between the Israeli army and the Palestinian resistance factions during the last round in Gaza revealed that the imposition of the “one-state” scenario by the occupation army would lead to an explosion of the situation not only in the occupied territories, the West Bank and Gaza, but perhaps also within the American Democratic Party As well as organizations and synagogues in America.

The writer stressed the need for US President Joe Biden to take urgent steps to revive the "two-state solution," noting that the "one-state" scenario means depriving Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank of their rights in order for Israel to preserve its Jewish identity.

According to the writer, such a scenario will mean an increase in the accusation of racial discrimination against Israel, and splits within the Democratic Party, adding that the growing progressive camp within the Democratic Party will insist on America’s distancing itself from Israel and may push matters to ban the sale of arms to it.

He said that Democrats from the centrist camp would object to the position of the progressive camp, and considered that organizations and synagogues would also be in a state of sharp division over the "one-state" issue.

He also pointed out that Jewish and other university students will abandon the idea of a Jewish state, and said that this is starting to happen from now on.

The writer quoted "Gidi Grinstein", head of the "Reut Group" (a well-known Israeli think tank), as saying that the "Israeli-Palestinian conflict" has become an issue of division within American society, as well as within the corridors of American politics and within the Jewish community.

The writer also mentioned that the division is not only between Democrats and Republicans, but also between Democrats themselves, and this is a very dangerous development for the Jewish people, stressing the need for Tel Aviv and Biden to cooperate in order to defuse this crisis.

The writer called Biden to redraw US-Israeli-Palestinian relations by opening a US diplomatic mission to the Palestinian Authority to be located near the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Biden also called for inviting the Palestinian Authority to send a representative to Washington, with this delegate serving as the ambassador for the future Palestinian state.

The writer also called Biden to propose conducting negotiations on "peace" with the plan of his predecessor Donald Trump as the starting point for these negotiations, recalling that this plan stipulated that Israel would obtain 30% of the West Bank lands in exchange for the Palestinians receiving 70%, in addition to the exchange of land.

Earlier on 12 May, two days after Israel started its bombardment of Gaza Peter Beinart published an opinion piece in The New York Times that was widely circulated on social media in which he harshly criticised Israel’s refusal to give the right of return to Palestinians who have been living outside their homeland. “The Israeli government and its American Jewish allies insist that Palestinian refugees abandon hope of returning to their homeland. This demand is drenched in irony, because no people in human history have clung as stubbornly to the dream of return as have Jews. Establishment Jewish leaders denounce the fact that Palestinians pass down their identity as refugees to their children and grandchildren. But Jews have passed down our identity as refugees for 2,000 years,” Beinart argues in the article.

Beinart is a City University, New York professor of journalism and political science who writes and tweets about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Once an unequivocal Zionist, the media face of the issue is now thoroughly revising his views in response to Israeli policies: the recent crackdown on Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem and offensive on Gaza, which killed hundreds and injured thousands, felt like the right moment to tease out his thoughts.

In an interview published by Ahram on line June 1, 2021, Peter Beinart explains why Israel’s settlement growth has changed his views on Zionism:

Throughout my entire life, I was a political Zionist – which meant I believed in the idea of a Jewish state that has a special obligation to Jews. I believed that in a post-Holocaust world, the Jews needed one country that would be particularly dedicated to their protection. Meanwhile, I thought that it was wrong for Israel to govern millions of Palestinians in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem who didn’t have basic rights like citizenship and the right to vote, so there should also be a Palestinian state next door to Israel, and that Israel should give more rights to them while retaining the core elements of a Jewish state. But over time I began to feel that Israeli settlement growth has made a Palestinian state impossible, and that was when I began to rethink the idea of Jewish statehood. I would say I became what I would now call a cultural Zionist. By being a cultural Zionist, I mean it is very important to have a strong Jewish community – what we would call the land of Israel – in which people can speak and run their schools in Hebrew, which is very important for the Jewish people. But I don’t think this has to be within the framework of a Jewish state. I think we could have a single, equal state where both Palestinians and Jews would be able to run their own schools and speak their own languages. This would also allow for Palestinian citizens to have full equality and the refugees to return. So this was the shift in my thinking.

It remains to be noted that the Israeli government allocated a billion dollars to counter the coup against it on social media, after decades of dominating the international media, in particular Western, and employing it in the service of the Israeli discourse.

The state of change in the American media has reached the extent that the New York Times published pictures of 66 Palestinian children killed in Gaza on its front page in color and says that this is the Israeli victory.

At the same time, The Economist devoted its cover and main editorial to obituating the two-state solution, and adopting the one-state solution in which Arabs and Jews are equal in rights and duties?

Kamal Gaballa, Former Managing Editor of Al-Ahram.

  • Palestine Human Rights Campaign
  • Dr. James J. Zogby
  • The US Debate on Palestine Is Changing
  • Palestinian
  • Israel

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