SOUTHAMPTON, NY—For many American Jews there is the apparent moral conundrum—how do you support Tibet (the Dalai Lama) over China without supporting Palestine over Israel? Simple. In this equation, Israel is the underdog—at least when it comes up against the combined might of the Arab world and the (real or imagined) nuclear power of Iran just around the corner.
I’m not saying that this is an equation that I can even entertain. Still, this was the nature of part of the discussion around the dinner table Saturday night at Louise MacBain’s place in Southampton.
Louise, who three years ago launched the extraordinary Global Creative Leadership Summit and called together a few of us for the weekend to brainstorm this Fall’s session, invited a couple of high-powered investment types to join us for dinner on Saturday. Both, with their wives, happen to
be committed Zionists, though in deference to the clearly off-the-record nature of the evening, I’ll refrain from identifying them.
The context is the fact that Louise, who’s an extraordinary entrepreneur in her own right with her stable of art publications including Art+Auction and the landmark ArtInfo.com, has also taken up the cause of China and its efforts to reach some form of modus vivendi with the Dalai Lama and return peace to Tibet. Recently, she returned from a round of shuttle diplomacy between Lhasa and Beijing. “I want only what is best for the Dalai Lama and his spiritual foreigners,” she says most diplomatically, “and to embrace the reasonable demands of China as well.”
She’s also quite committed to bringing all sides together in Palestine and Israel as well, along with close friends James Wolfensohn and Mortimer Zuckerman. But more about them in a moment.
Above all, Louise believes in communication—all sides talking to each other, removing barriers to free movement of people, ideas and goods (so she’s a big free-trade and Doha advocate as well).
Inevitably, the talk on Saturday turned to Israel and Palestine. But only after we had thoroughly explored Louise’s recent efforts in China and Tibet where she travelled to gain support for an international fund administered by her Foundation for the cultural preservation of Tibet—a fund that would complement China’s already existing $70 million investment into the preservation of the region’s cultural heritage. She believes fervently that the Dalai Lama and China should sit down and talk, work out their differences and move on to peace and development for the benefit of the Tibet Autonomous Region. She is persuaded that the Dalai Lama and his supporters have been somewhat outrageous in their demands—which appear to amount to a takeover of a quarter of the territory of China itself, or “Greater Tibet” as it is often put.
Her guests were as reluctant to spring to China’s defense as they clearly were to spring to the defense of the Palestinians.
Indeed, one of her two guests, ordinarily soft-spoken to the point of taciturn, exclaimed that it was impossible for Israel to negotiate with Hamas not to mention its backers in Syria, Lebanon and, ultimately, Iran. Israel, in his view, has its own back to the wall. Its very survival as a nation is at stake. Whatever is necessary to ensure this survival is acceptable, indeed non-negotiable.
Still, there was another viewpoint Saturday evening. Halfway through dinner, Louise jumped to her feet and returned to the dinner table with a huge map which she spread out as we pushed back candles and plates. It showed the West Bank—honeycombed with small colored triangles and squares—Israeli security checkpoints that have turned a simple two-hour trip from north to south into an impossible slalom lasting days or even weeks.
Two years ago, she said, two of her close friends, former World Bank president James Wolfensohn and real estate mogul Mort Zuckerman (also the publisher of US News & World Report and the New York Daily News) and a few of their friends, including, some reports later suggested Bill Gates as well, ponied up some $14 million to buy a huge collection of greenhouses in Gaza that had once supplied the bulk of fresh fruits and vegetables to Israel. They bought them from Jewish settlers who, when the Palestinian Authority took over Gaza, were moved out. The greenhouses were turned over to Palestinians to run.
Within a short time, they’d failed completely. Security checkpoints had prevented any of the produce from reaching markets in Israel in any sort of timely fashioned, Louise observed. Blocked at every turn, the fresh produce rotted in trucks. Eventually, many of the greenhouses were effectively abandoned, then looted by Palestinians themselves. She respects Jim and Mort for their efforts, she says now—a definite step in the right direction of economic development as a road to peace.
But with the kind of bad faith that led to an end to the greenhouse project, what possibility is there of peace and cooperation? Without trade, there is no possibility of economic growth and progress. Without healthy economies, there is no real hope for the future. And with no hope, there can be no peace. What possible incentive is there for dialogue without hope?
“So who do you talk to?” one of the financiers at dinner asked Saturday night. “Hamas?” He tossed his hand with a dismissive gesture. You can’t talk with terrorists, he suggested. Yet this is the very kind of environment where geopolitical de-stabilization can only flourish.
“So should Israel attack Iran’s nuclear arsenal?” I asked. Absolutely, was the answer. No discussion. Bomb Iran. It’s necessary if Israel is to survive. And totally forgivable.
There are other, historical analogies that suggest a more peaceful solution is not out of the question, however. The next morning over breakfast, one of our fellow conferees, Matthew Bishop of The Economist, pointed to Northern Ireland where, against all odds, a truce has emerged from decades of violence and chaos. That’s working.
Former bomb throwers from all sides now have a stake in Northern Ireland’s success and prosperity. Both Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams’s Sinn Fein were brought into a government that has ended terrorist attacks in central London and pitched battles in the streets of Londonderry.
As the BBC reported on March 26, 2007, “Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams, sitting side by side for their first news conference in Stormont, confirmed that power-sharing would begin on 8 May. Mr Paisley said the DUP was committed to full participation in government and Mr Adams said it was a ‘new era’.”
Today, The Troubles are over.
Of course in Northern Ireland, there’s never been a de-stabilizing proto-nuclear power one country away with hostile, allied territory in between and where short-range missiles could be lobbed at will across a barbed wire frontier.
Nevertheless, on Saturday evening, Louise had the last word. “Our goal,” she observed, “should be not giving bad people an excuse to succeed.”
David A. Andelman is the editor of World Policy Journal and The World Policy Blog. A veteran domestic and foreign correspondent and editor of The New York Times, CBS News, and most recently Forbes.com, he is the author of A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today.