The streets in Washington, D.C. are organized alphabetically, numerically and by state name expanding outward from the Capitol Building. Streets running east-west start with A and continue onto Z. Streets running north-south are numbered: first, second, third, etc. Streets running diagonally through the city are named after states. But for those familiar with D.C.’s policy world, two streets stand out: K Street and Massachusetts Avenue. On and around these two streets lie influential institutions that formulate many of the policies voiced by our elected officials.
So when one of these “think tanks” publishes a paper entitled, “Israel as a Strategic Liability?” it causes a stir, especially when it’s one as moderate and centrist as the Center for Strategic International Studies. The fact that they are asking this question out loud suggests that policymakers are also asking it in private.
To be clear, think tanks do not create policy so much as refine it. The Obama administration’s clashes with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the settlements issue created the space necessary for a public discussion of Israel’s strategic value to the United States. Until then, American presidents did not allow for daylight between U.S. and Israeli policies. Policy analysts did not even discuss alternatives to supporting Israel — regardless of their actions.
One think tank now asking that question is the upstart J Street Lobby. J Street is the only lettered street that does not exist in the nation’s capital, and the group’s founders felt that was analogous to the absence of their pro-Israeli, pro-peace point of view from D.C.’s streets. Responding to the Israeli commando raid on a “Peace Flotilla” attempting to bring supplies to Gaza, they stated, “The blockade of Gaza hasn’t simply failed; it (has) undercut the goals it was meant to achieve: Hamas remains heavily armed and its hold on the Strip is as strong as ever, while the people of Gaza suffer – and they and the world blame not Hamas but Israel and the United States.”
J Street’s constructive, thoughtful criticism of Israel stands in sharp contrast to discussions of the flotilla raid at the University. In conversations on campus, the flotilla incident has driven otherwise reasonable people toward extreme viewpoints. Worse, this debate has unproductively focused on the raid itself. Supporters of Israel, Turkey and the Palestinians would be better off concentrating on what is best for their respective nations and peoples.
Turkey will never achieve its stated objective of European Union membership so long as it is perceived as supporting and even trending toward Islamic radicalism, and it stands to gain nothing from strained relations with the U.S. It will gain on both fronts by acting as an honest mediator of peace between Israel and the Palestinian people by supporting Fatah, the Palestinian Authority and pro-peace Israelis.
For Israel, the reaction to the Gaza flotilla is a symbol. It is emblematic of the way in which their hard-line approach to the Palestinians is poisoning the well of public opinion in the Middle East. This is driving a wedge between Israeli and U.S. strategic interests.
Moreover, what is best for the Palestinian people is for Israel and Turkey to pursue peace. The immediate humanitarian crisis in Gaza is a symptom of the underlying problem, which is the conflict with Israel. Until peace is achieved, Palestine’s other problems will never be solved.
Peace, then, is in everyone’s interest and U.S. policy should shift to reflect that fact. The U.S. should no longer blindly support Israel when it engages in tactical blunders, such as the flotilla raid. But Palestine’s supporters should also recognize that the Palestinians are not yet a viable negotiating partner and stunts like the “Peace Flotilla” only strengthen groups like Hamas at the expense of pro-peace groups like Fatah.
All debates about Israel and Palestine — whether they are in Michigan, D.C. or Jerusalem — should be focused on how to create peace, not on publicity stunts. A successful effort by groups like J Street to shift the discussion away from finger-pointing and toward the peace process would serve everyone’s strategic interests.
Jason Kerwin is a Rackham student. He and Sam King direct the Positive Impact Institute.