Timeline: 1989 to the present
Historical Context: In the Spring of 1987, Jerome M. Segal, representing Washington Area Jews for an Israeli-Palestinian Peace met with the PLO leadership in Tunis, along with representatives from New Jewish Agenda and the American-Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. Segal returned to Tunis a year later and served as a back channel for PLO-U.S. contact.
In November 1988, the PLO issued the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, a document within which the PLO accepted the United Nations Partition Resolution calling for two states. A month later, the PLO met longstanding American conditions: recognize Israel’s right to exist, accept UN Security Council Resolution 242, and renounce terrorism. Within days, U.S.-PLO dialogue opened. Segal’s writings served as a catalyst for the Declaration.
Brief Description: Jerome M. Segal formed JPL in 1989 to give voice in Congress and the administration to two-state advocates who believed American Jews should approach their government not as advocates for the standing Israeli government, but with their own conception of how the U.S. could most effectively contribute to resolution of the conflict.
Fifty rabbis endorsed the founding statement:
Up to now, a single lobbying organization has presented itself as speaking for the Jewish community. Their view of what is to be “pro-Israel” is to give largely uncritical support for any actions of any Israeli government. We have a different conception.
We believe that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a conflict between two nationalisms, which have sought their fulfillment within the same piece of territory. We believe that a lasting resolution of this conflict can only be achieved if each party to the conflict acknowledges the other as having the same rights that it claims for itself.
Thus, the Jewish Peace Lobby on the one hand supports Israel and on the other hand affirms the equal right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including the right to establish a state in the West Bank and Gaza, which would live at peace with Israel.
The New York Times reported that “The new group, the Jewish Peace Lobby, will be an alternative to . . . AIPAC, which until now has described itself as the only organization registered with Congress to lobby on U.S.- Israel relations.”
Over time, JPL transformed from an alternative Jewish lobby with a focus on Congressional lobbying and mobilization of rabbis into an engaged think tank. Building on Segal’s book, Negotiating Jerusalem, the organization with a focus on developing new ideas for ending the conflict, and the presentation of those ideas to top policy makers in the U.S., Israel, and Palestine, increasingly engaged in “out of the box” policy development and the presentation of new ideas to top policy makers on all sides.
Membership/Chapters: From 1989 to 2000, JPL membership rose to 5,000 including over 400 rabbis and nearly a dozen chapters organized by Congressional district. In recent years, it has approximately 2,000 supporters.
Activities: From 1989 to 2000, JPL functioned as a 50C4 lobby, meeting with Congressional members both in Washington, DC and in home districts. Their positions – the two-state solution, negotiations with the PLO, sharing Jerusalem, and using aid to Israel as leverage in bringing a halt to settlement expansion – were on the edge of what was viewed as legitimate.
JPL’s very first legislative proposal was that 1% of U.S. economic aid to Israel be set aside to promote cooperative projects between Israelis and Palestinians with the goal of humanizing “the other.” After being told that the idea of earmarking even 1% of foreign aid to Israel for this purpose was a total “non-starter,” they lobbied for additional monies allocated for what became known as the Palestinian-Israeli Cooperation Project. JPL subsequently worked with the State Department to develop the implementation plan.
In 1999, JPL launched an effort to educate the American Jewish community about the necessity of sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians in order to ensure peace. Over the course of the year they held conversations with over 1,000 rabbis, and some 300 signed a public statement to that effect. The statement, which surprised the American Jewish establishment, was covered in the New York Times and the Israeli press.
JPL has developed policy ideas for Jerusalem and refugees; establishment of a UN Commission whose recommended and specific solution that would be the basis for negotiations; the use of a referendum on a peace agreement to allow Palestinians to bridge the gap between Fatah and Hamas; a Common Homeland approach to peace affirming that all of the land is the common homeland of both peoples and access should be maximized for all though divided into two distinct sovereignties. Its leadership continues to frequently publish articles in the Palestinian and Israeli press.
Today, JPL has staff in Washington, Jerusalem and Ramallah, as well as New York where they are in regular contact with diverse delegations at the United Nations.
Key Contributions: JPL was the first two-state peace group to form a political lobby and their initial success, “Palestinian-Israeli Cooperation” (PIC), became a regular part of U.S. efforts to promote an end to the conflict, funding hundreds of distinct projects, each of which is jointly designed and implemented by groups of Israelis and Palestinians. What started as the PIC program has today grown into The Conflict Mitigation and Reconciliation grants program, which operates worldwide. In FY 2012 the US Government program channeled $12 million to such efforts between Israelis and Palestinians.
JPL was the first group to recognize the power of the collective voice of rabbis and to organize them as a constituency for peace. Between 1989 and 2003 they issued ten “Rabbinic Calls” each signed by hundreds of rabbis.
Innovative ideas that originated with JPL have influenced policy discussions for over two decades. JPL maintains contact with American, Israeli and Palestinian officials engaged in peace negotiations, introducing new ideas for resolving the conflict.