On the last day of the conference, I started out with a panel on “What’s Next for the Palestinians Leadership?” Which sounded like a very interesting one, especially since I really didn’t know very much about it. Who is running the Palestinian Authority besides Abbas, and what are they going to do when the old man dies?
The answer was clear as mud. The didn’t really talk about who the major politicians or factions were, but they did mention that there were free local elections in ’12, (so much for Palestinians not being able to vote) except for, naturally, Gaza, and that the “Palestinian State” that was sitting in the UN General Assembly was NOT the Palestinian Authority, but the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
These are important facts that aren’t known to many people. There is also a move afoot by some groups to permit political parties to exist. That would be nice. But they didn’t really say much beyond that. I should have gone to the “Rise of anti-Semitism in Europe” panel.
But the really big show was the morning plenum, and that was the one where Obama’s Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, would be giving a major speech. Everyone wanted to see that, as did I, and I was thrilled to hear they were letting the press early….only to discover that they gave us seats in the back and the side with a lousy view of the preceedings….
The opening speaker (not counting the introduction by some committee member) was Stav Shaffir, who is still the youngest member of the Knesset and the most popular member of the Zionist Union. She repeated her CV, how she spent a couple of terms in the Army, then tried to find a decent job while living in a crappy Tel Aviv apartment and starting what was the equivalent of the “Occupy Movement” in 2011 before becoming a professional politician in ’13. She then went on saying that Israel was a great country and would be far better if Bibi was no longer there. The youth in the audience loved her, as did I. (we had had a conversation the previous day)
Then…something happened that shocked the living daylights out of me.
They announced that there would be a televised message from the President of Israel. I hadn’t expected that. Considering that Reuven Rivlin is a dyed-in-the-wool Likudnik, and considering how J-street and Likud aren’t exactly lovey-dovey with each other, I hadn’t even considered he would do that. But there he was on the big screen (which I could see), giving a platitudinous greeting and wishing everyone in the audience well. A majority was enthusiastic, but some weren’t, I wasn’t surprised more weren’t.
Then came Denis McDonough, the second most powerful person in Washington. “…an occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end!” Mr. McDonough thundered, “Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely,”
That got a standing ovation. It was easy to see why.
It was something EVERYONE can agree with. Not even Bennett thinks the present state of affairs is something that most Israelis want to maintain indefinitely. Everyone at the conference was unified on the basic concept of the Two-state solution, but nobody agreed on the details.
The panel discussion afterwards led by Ethan Bronner wasn’t at all edifying, although someone mentioned Abbas’ threat to dissolve the PA because they’re running out of money. That was it.
There was going to be a gala, the press was told they would be provided pizza and seats in the back for James Baker’s speech, but that meant I’d miss my flight.
I almost did, but that’s another story….