The empty talk of two states

Endorsing the traditional formula for peace was smart politics for AIPAC, but that doesn’t make it a realistic option for the foreseeable future.

AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr addressing the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference on March 4, 2018. Credit: AIPAC.
AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr addressing the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference on March 4, 2018. Credit: AIPAC.
Jonathan S. Tobin. Photo by Tzipora Lifchitz.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Time was, the endorsement of a two-state solution by the executive director of AIPAC wouldn’t have been news. But when Howard Kohr told those who gathered for the group’s annual conference on Monday that the organization still believes in a vision of two states for two peoples, it was considered significant. Kohr understood that affirming the pro-Israel lobby’s stance in favor of what has long been considered the only rational solution to the conflict makes sense even if there is little reason to believe in the peace process right now.

AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr addressing the 2018 AIPAC policy conference on March 4. Credit: AIPAC.

While AIPAC had good reason to take this position, no one should think this is about any more than a matter of smart politics for a group that desperately wants to keep disgruntled liberals inside the big pro-Israel tent. Nor should U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s statement—in which he expressed the Trump administration’s willingness to consider endorsing two states if the parties should choose such a solution—be seen as an indication that the administration intends to go down that path if it announces its own peace plan in the coming months.

Perhaps some true believers hold on to hope that this formula can be revived in the near future if either, or both, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas step down from power. At the moment, however, talk about two states is nothing but posturing.

AIPAC’s motivation for reiterating a position that it has endorsed many times in the past is obvious. Giving lip service to two states is the price the group must pay in order to hold together a loose coalition of pro-Israel activists that includes Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives. Jews who are most inclined to be steadfast supporters of Israel these days are more likely to be found on the political right and among the Orthodox. But AIPAC can’t afford to write off the vast majority of American Jews who are liberals and who demand, at the very least, that the lobby must support the concept of two states, even if no one thinks anything resembling peace is likely to happen soon. That means they must adopt the pose that Netanyahu used during most of the Obama administration when he stated his theoretical willingness to live with a Palestinian state, while at the same time making it clear that he didn’t think it was a realistic option.

It bears remembering that Netanyahu endorsed a two-state solution during a speech in 2009, shortly after he returned to the prime minister’s office. But in recent years, he hasn’t felt the need even to nod at such an eventuality.

The reason for this has partly been to keep his right-wing coalition partners happy and partly a simple acknowledgement of reality. Nor is he alone in this stance. Even the two men who are his most credible challengers in the next election—assuming, that is, that Netanyahu makes it to the next election due to the flurry of corruption charges lodged against him—are also not sanguine about peace breaking out anytime soon. Both Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and the Zionist Union/Labor’s Avi Gabbay have policies towards the Palestinians that aren’t much different from Netanyahu’s.

In a perfect world, the two-state solution is the most rational approach to solving the conflict between Jews and Palestinians over the small piece of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. If the Palestinians were prepared to admit defeat in their century-old war on Zionism—and accept the permanence and legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders were drawn—they would find most Israelis ready to make drastic concessions.

But as Kohr correctly pointed out, the reason why peace hasn’t come isn’t due to Netanyahu’s intransigence, or because—as former President Obama disingenuously asserted—Israelis haven’t yet found the courage to take risks for peace. It’s because even the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority is dedicated to perpetuating the conflict. Rejection of Israel and Jewish rights over any part of the country isn’t as much a strategy as it is an integral part of the Palestinian identity. Abbas’s efforts to keep his grip on power are rooted in fomenting hatred for Jews and Israel so as to successfully compete with the Islamists of Hamas.

Repeated rejections of peace offers, added to a continued incitement and funding for terrorists on the part of the P.A., have soured the overwhelming majority of Israelis on the concept of two states. Most think that a Palestinian people still in thrall to a violent political culture rooted in rejection of Zionism couldn’t keep even a theoretical cold peace. They view the notion of a withdrawal from the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem as a repeat of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disastrous experiment in Gaza, when he pulled every settler, settlement and soldier out of the strip. Israelis would probably still be willing to trade land for peace, but understandably, they have no desire to trade more land for more terror.

Even the Arab states that were once the greatest cheerleaders for the Palestinians are no longer interested in backing them in an endless conflict with a Jewish state that is a strategic partner for those nations that wish to resist Iran’s efforts to achieve regional hegemony. It was no surprise, then, that the Trump-Netanyahu meeting yesterday centered on Iran (while ignoring the Palestinians).

The door to the theoretical possibility of peace should never be definitively closed. But as long as the Palestinians are not interested in making positive steps forward, it won’t matter how many times Israelis or Americans say the words “two states.” Until a sea change among the Palestinians occurs, any further discussion about this is just empty talk.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — The Jewish News Service. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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