Ideas Fest misses the mark
July 10, 2009
The word “peace” was bantered about freely and often at the Aspen Institute’s Ideas Festival, which ended Sunday. Having just completed the second session of the festival with the Middle East track as my emphasis, I was drawn to two articles that came out this past week.
The first came from The New York Times on July 7 and was about Dennis Ross’ and David Makovsky’s new book titled “Myths, Illusions and Peace.” The article included the following quote from the book: “Of all the policy myths that have kept us from making real progress in the Middle East, one stands out for its impact and longevity: the idea that if only the Palestinian conflict were resolved, all other Middle East conflicts would melt away … The major problem with this premise is that it’s not true … There have been dozens of conflicts and countless coups in the Middle East since Israel’s birth in 1948, and most were completely unrelated to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.”
The second article was written in the Wall Street Journal on July 6 by Jeff Robbins, former U.S. delegate to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. Mr. Robbins concluded his opinion piece with: “The administration’s distancing of itself from Israel is likely to empower those who believe … that American support can be degraded, and with it, Israel’s ability to survive. If this proves to be the case, the Obama administration, while intending to be helpful, will inadvertently deal whatever prospects exist for Middle East peace a serious blow.”
If the Aspen Institute’s goal is to help promote peace in the Middle East, and if you accept the premise of the above two quotes, then the Middle East track at the Ideas Festival missed its mark on both counts – first with its very strong, disproportional emphasis on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and a two-state solution, while the threat of Islamist fundamentalism, the true pervasive current issue in the Middle East, was barely glossed over … and second, by its neglect in providing Israel with a place at the table, thereby, like the current administration, distancing it.
Yes, Michael Oren, the newly appointed ambassador from Israel, did appear briefly for an interview on the first day, but at all the subsequent sessions I attended (and I was there for most of them) having to do with the Middle East, including one titled “the Future of Palestine,” Israeli representation was conspicuously absent.
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I signed up for the Ideas Festival looking forward to being presented with ideas (hopefully some new ones) about issues in the Middle East from a variety of perspectives from left to right, from Israel to Saudi Arabia. Instead I was disappointed to find myself in a “Middle East track” of a politically correct “Donkey (as a registered Democrat I think I can say that) Fest towing the Obama line.”
Judy S. Kava