“This is paradise,” said Daniel Abraham as he looked down from the heights of his suite on the 17th floor of the Hilton on the magnificent Tel Aviv beachfront. “What a beach. And the sea, tell me please, what in God’s name is wrong here. What’s wrong with you Israelis? Why don’t you understand that you can truly turn this place into paradise?”
Daniel Abraham is already 89. One year and one day younger than the person he calls “my big brother,” President Shimon Peres. In the meantime, he’s not slowing down. A Jewish-American billionaire, who dedicates much of his energy, and his funds, to promote peace in the Middle East. The S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace is alive and kicking. Abraham is still shuttling between regional capitals. This week he was in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Ramallah, before returning to Washington and Palm Beach, where he resides, of course, on the beach. I meet him, from time to time, on the quick trips he makes to our region. I absorb some of this man’s energy and optimism, his very clear and far-reaching worldview, his Sisyphean, ceaseless efforts to put an end to the bloody conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Over the past 20 years, Abraham has conducted innumerable shuttle diplomacy missions between regional leaders, generally from Jerusalem to Ramallah and back, but to other places as well. He’s like a member of Shimon Peres’ family. He had an open door to late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He defines Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “friend” (although they haven’t met in two years). He eats lengthy dinners with Palestinian Chairman Abu Mazen, has visited most Middle Eastern capitals dozens of times. He has covered every inch of this region numerous times in an attempt to find the formula for redemption. When we meet, he wants me to provide him with an analysis of the Israeli public. What do you want, what do you think now, who are you afraid of. This week, in Tel Aviv, was the first time I noticed signs that he might be giving up. Today, in Abraham’s smile, you can also see the first signs of frustration. “Things could be so good here,” he said. “I just don’t understand you. I truly don’t.”
“Israel is a powerhouse,” said Abraham. “What a country you’ve built here. The economy is stable, the best air force in the world. You are strong, well equipped and organized, light years ahead of everything around you. You have high-tech that is a world leader. Who is a threat to you, who are you afraid of, for God’s sake? Egypt? Have you seen what’s going on in Egypt? Syria? Jordan? The Palestinians, who are still living under occupation? What are you afraid of?” Abraham continued, “It’s as if some six-foot tall, 30-year-old bully who is solid muscle will come along and be afraid of me, a 90-year old coot. Israel has nothing to fear. Israel is a country in full bloom that is strong and stable, enjoys endless support from the US, with domestic product per capita on par with Europe. A country that is experiencing growth, is vital, yet still continues to conduct itself like a scared little waif, with a mentality that maintains that the whole world is against us and our destruction is imminent. Who will destroy you? Who will throw you into the sea, for God’s sake? The only threat to Israel is demography, the fear that Israel will find itself in 10 or 20 years from now as a country of all its citizens, with a non-Jewish majority, and then it will be too late to regain its footing.”
Abraham backs his comments and thoughts with figures. He has an interesting graph titled, Percentage of Jews among the Population of Israel and Palestine in Various Scenarios, between 2000 and 2030. The bottom line of this research indicates that according to Abraham’s data, if Israel continues to hold the West Bank, in 2020 the number of Jews in the general population will fall to 49%, and in 2030 to only 44%, between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean (the data includes the Palestinians in Gaza). In contrast, without the occupied territories, in 2020 there will be 78% Jews, in 2030, 76%, and if we deduct the Arabs in east Jerusalem from this number, and also include the possibility of territorial exchanges, the number of Jews after this comprehensive arrangement, in 2030, will reach 83% of the Israeli population. Abraham’s center continued and added a column that analyzes the situation under the assumption that Israel will agree to allow 100,000 refugees to return. The number of Jews in this situation would be 75%. ''What’s wrong with that?' asked Abraham.
He then showed me a survey, actually a combination of two in-depth surveys conducted by two different and well-respected institutes in Israel, professor Mina Tzemach’s Dahaf Institute and the Smith Institute. The bottom line is clear: A peace plan based on the well-known parameters — a Palestinian state, 1967 borders plus territorial exchanges, no right of return to Israel, Arab Jerusalem to the Palestinians and Jewish Jerusalem to the Israelis, special arrangement for the holy places — will have strong majority backing by the Israeli public, ranging from 67% (Dahaf) to 68% (Smith). And, if we add the issue of strict security arrangements, support for the arrangement increases to 75%-80%, respectively. Abraham tells me, “You Israelis want peace.” Then he continued, “You support peace,” he repeated, “So why isn’t there peace?”
I tried to explain that there is no problem here with an arrangement, plan or logistics. The issue is one of trust. I told him that the Israelis do not see themselves as the regional Goliath. They are David. They don’t view the Arab world surrounding them as an entity that is going up in smoke, falling apart and growing weaker, but as a stormy sea of radical Islam that wants to destroy them, one way or another. It’s 7 million against 120 million, that’s the equation for your average Israeli. They are also not fully convinced that if they give up territory and bring Israel to a place where its width is 15 miles, that it will be possible to defend the country. Late Foreign Minister Abba Eban, who was a dove from the Labor Party, was the one who called those borders the “Auschwitz borders.” The Israelis would sign any peace plan their government would present to them, I said to Abraham, if they only believed that there was someone on the other side to sign it. We don’t trust them. They don’t trust us. We are convinced that they are strong and want to destroy us. They are convinced that we are strong and want to dominate them. That’s the whole story. We don’t need a fair mediator here, I said to Abraham, we need a psychologist.
Abraham agreed with me. It didn’t make him very happy. “You have to get rid of the Palestinian issue,” he emphasized. “It’s like something in your stomach that causes an ulcer, it’s an ulcer, a wound that won’t disappear, won’t heal. It simply needs to be removed. You don’t understand what could be here if you resolve this problem, if you establish a state with a solid Jewish majority, the sky would be the limit.”
Now it was my turn to agree with him. I asked him why he hadn’t met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for two years. He smiled. Bibi’s a friend, he said, but for some reason, it doesn’t work out. Last time I was here, I met with him and then went to Abu Mazen with a special message, and then I returned with an answer, but that’s where it got stuck, and Bibi didn’t meet with me. Two years ago, I flew to Las Vegas to meet Sheldon Adelson. I understood that Bibi consults with him. I know Sheldon. I sold him his first plane, which had been my plane, 20 years ago. We spent several hours together.
I would die to be a fly on the wall in a meeting like that between these two elderly and Zionist Jewish billionaires, each in their own way unique. Adelson and Abraham are opposites, negative and positive, Netanyahu and Peres. They — they are the whole story. That meeting was a long, but tough, one. Two world views, the optimistic and the pessimistic, collided with a big boom, and nothing good came of it.
That’s the whole story.
Ben Caspit is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Israel Pulse. He is also a senior columnist and political analyst for Israeli newspapers, and has a daily radio show and regular TV shows on politics and Israel.