I take great pride in having inducted John Whitbeck into the Black
Sheep Society by giving him that necktie referred to below. No one has
worked harder than John for the Palestinian cause, and he should not
regret all the time and energy he has devoted to it. Some day truth,
justice, rationality, legality, and peace will prevail. We need to
-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Flora Lewis: "One Man's Private Obsession With Mideast Peace"
(IHT, July 11, 1995)
Date: Tue, 10 Oct 2006 21:45:11 +0300
From: John Whitbeck
TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck
Having flashed back last night to Abe Foxman's effort to intimidate me
(and probably Flora Lewis too) in 1995 -- which, I must confess, did
fill me with some degree of fear and trembling at the time -- I have
re-read the provocative article by Flora Lewis which launched Abe into
his attack mode (transmitted below). I certainly must have looked like a
A decade later, this article fills me with mixed emotions. It recalls an
intensity of optimism which I had almost forgotten once possessed me. It
was tremendously exciting to believe that one had found the solution to
one of the world's great problems, to at least be listened to by major
"players" and to work directly with the political leadership of the
people I wished to help.
Looking back on my 12 years of irrational optimism, I cannot help
feeling that I was naive. For the past six years, since Camp David 2000,
I have been rationally pessimistic -- and right. Life was more
satisfying when I was still naively optimistic, but, sadly, I can no
longer see even a hint of a reason to be optimistic. (The only hope is
that, having been proven wrong in my optimistic period, I might also be
proven wrong in my pessimistic period.)
Cecil Rhodes once said, "It is trying to do the things that cannot be
done that makes life worthwhile." That provides some consolation for
failure. I certainly don't regret having tried. Still, I often wonder
whether I could have done more -- when there was still a chance to make
*One Man's Private Obsession with Mideast Peace *
IHT Tuesday, July 11, 1995
*PARIS* -- John V. Whitbeck presents the image his name suggests -- a
tall, trim, lightly tanned American, a lawyer with an elegant office in
a Paris-based international investment firm, dressed as the stylish
modern businessman in well-cut gray suit, blue and white striped shirt.
But his tie is bright red, spotted with gray sheep -- except for one,
which is black.
It is an emblem, of the "Black Sheep Society," given him by the founder,
a former American ambassador. He was told that the society is for people
who really stand out from the crowd in a good way, and that any private
citizen who works so hard for Israeli-Palestinian peace deserves to be
considered that kind of black sheep.
He laughs about that. But his eyes shine with eager intensity when he
describes his peace plan, "Two States, One Holy Land," which he has
dedicated himself to promoting with floods of letters and articles for
seven years. A Harvard Law graduate, he has worked for that most
established of American law firms, Sullivan & Cromwell. He has little to
say about his work. "I'd rather talk about my obsession than my
profession," he says.
Mr. Whitbeck has no particular ties to the Middle East, no official
function or special background. He considers this an advantage in his
tireless effort to show that "it isn't hopeless, if your ideas have some
merit, if you push hard enough, you can be in a most constructive position."
He has offered suggestions for Northern Ireland and New Caledonia but
has focused on the Middle East in his attempt to prove that with reason,
good will and resolute persistence a private citizen can change the world.
"I honestly believe that I've identified a solution to the
Israeli-Palestinian tragedy, so I feel morally obligated to keep trying
to convince people."
He is a rare kind of do-gooder, modest, open to argument, a sort of
rational zealot out to transform the utopian to the possible.
Born in New York, he studied African history in college and served in
the Peace Corps in Ethiopia. Then he set out to see the world, managing
to visit 49 of the 52 countries of Africa in a year. He had gotten to
all the world's states by 1988, but now there are new ones. Now, at age
48, he no longer feels he must add Moldova and Tajikistan to his score card.
He still feels deeply though that he can "justify my time on earth only
by trying to make the world a better place" and that his formula for
Israeli-Palestinian peace with joint sovereignty in an undivided
Jerusalem "is the best opportunity I'll ever have."
Mr. Whitbeck came to the issue when his firm sent him to Saudi Arabia,
where he worked with a refugee Palestinian lawyer, "the first
Palestinian I ever met."
"He wasn't a particularly warm or friendly man, but he was a human
being." Mr. Whitbeck said that awareness drove him to writing letters to
the press against demonizing Palestinians. Later, when the /intifada/
began in 1987, he worked out his plan by a "purely logical process,"
which he understood would fully satisfy neither side in the conflict but
would serve the best interests of both and be acceptable to most
Israelis and most Palestinians.
Relentlessly promoting it "takes an awful lot of time," he said. "I
could be playing golf. But I find it much more exciting and meaningful
to think you have a chance of making a contribution."
The urge to do that comes from "some strong feelings about morality and
His "four fabulous sons," he said, attend a French Catholic school where
he hopes religious education will provide a firm moral sense but not
leave them with the "fundamentalism that causes so much of man's
inhumanity to man." He concedes that maintaining the values but getting
"very relaxed about the theology doesn't always work out. If you believe
God gave it all to you, how do you reason? It's inherently irrational."
Robert V. Keeley