Peter Joseph is chairman of the Israel Policy Forum, an American organization that serves as the centrist voice promoting a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and strengthening Israel’s security. After a 2009 merger with the Center for American Program in Washington, D.C., didn’t work out, the IPF is now being revived as an organization. Prominent supporters include Reform leader Rabbi Eric Yoffie, Rep. Gary Ackerman, Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt and philanthropist Charles Bronfman.
Joseph, 60, of Riverdale, has been involved with the American Jewish community and the State of Israel for many years. A private investor, he currently serves on the board of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He was interviewed by phone Monday during an IPF visit to Israel.
Q: Why didn’t your merger with the Center of American Progress in Washington work?
A: The center is a multi-issue Washington-based think tank and we are a single-issue institution of the Jewish community. We found that the culture, practices and agendas did not mesh.
As you see it, what is the status of the two-state solution today?
Right now it is not going anywhere. But by everyone’s general consensus, for Israel’s long-term security interest it is the only practical resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians.
Whose decision was it to revive the IPF?
In the face of the Palestinian proposal to move to the UN [for recognition] last year, a number of us from earlier times came together and felt that there was a need to think about what the Palestinians were proposing and react to it. We also felt we needed to revive the IPF because of the increasing polarization in the Jewish community over the two-state issue, and the lack of ability to engage in a civil discourse about the issue.
Will it be a membership organization?
No. We’re thinking of it as it functioned in the past — as a leadership organization building networks of mainstream, centrist, pragmatic Jewish leadership to advocate for the two-state solution.
You met this week with Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, the Labor Party’s Isaac Herzog and the Kadima Party’s Yohanan Plesner. How did each react to news of the IPF’s revival?
These are old friends with whom we have been working for many years. They know the IPF from way back and are very encouraging of us as a centrist, pragmatic, mainstream organization. We had a very sophisticated exchange. They are in the business of imparting an understanding of what is going on here, and it is our job to communicate what we learned from those conversations to our community.
And what did you learn?
Obviously right now the Iranian issue is dominating public opinion in Israel, and so in some ways the Palestinian issue is not getting primary attention at least in the minds of the Israeli public. But having said that there is no one here who believes we do not need to find a solution; time does not work to anyone’s advantage.
You normally meet with Palestinian leaders during IPF trips to Israel. I didn’t see that on your itinerary this time. Why not?
We typically go to Ramallah [for such meetings]. It’s not that we are ignoring the Palestinians, but we are here for the Israeli Presidential Conference and time constraints prevent us from going there. But we will be meeting here with a former minister of the Palestinian National Authority.
Three Israelis — former Israeli domestic security agency head Ami Ayalon, entrepreneur Orni Petrushka and former Israeli peace negotiator Gilead Sher — are calling for a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank in order to realize the two-state solution. Isn’t that proof that the two-state solution proposal is not dead?
Absolutely. The widespread aspiration of most Israelis is that there should be a state for the Palestinians and a state for the Jewish people. The only question is how you get there.