The two-state solution is on its deathbed, but that news didn’t reach J Street conference

When the liberal “pro-Israel, pro-peace” lobby J Street launched in 2008, it was big news. Coupled with a new presidential administration pledging sustained engagement on Israel/Palestine, the thought many had was that this was the moment a lasting peace deal could be forged between the Israelis and Palestinians.

J Street’s “No. 1 agenda item,” as founder and president Jeremy Ben-Ami told the New York Times in September 2009, was to “do whatever we can in Congress to act as the president’s blocking back.” J Street’s strategy of advocating “for urgent American diplomatic leadership to achieve a two-state solution” seemed on mark, given that President Barack Obama told the world in Cairo in June 2009 that he intended to “personally pursue” the two-state solution.

The goal of a two-state solution, in which Israel and a Palestinian state exist side-by-side, remains J Street’s message as around 2,400 activists gathered in Washington, D.C. last weekend for the group’s second annual conference. “It could not be more urgent for the administration to seize the initiative right now on peace and a two-state solution,” said J Street spokesman Isaac Luria.

But what happens when that goal, and the strategy of strong American leadership on the issue, seems out of reach? For some on the left, the current political situation means that J Street needs to adjust to the reality of fading prospects for a two-state solution.

While it’s clear, as blogger M.J. Rosenberg put it, that J Street has “opened up room” in the debate over Israel, progressive critics have called for new strategies to pressure Israel, such as the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Indeed, even some of J Street’s own constituents are frustrated with the Obama administration and are exploring more forceful ways to change Israeli behavior.

For instance, the liberal Zionist organization Meretz USA, which has close ties to J Street, recently came out in favor of a boycott of West Bank settlements. Others at the conference, like Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard, echoed Meretz USA’s stance.

“The question of boycott, for me, is very simple,” said Sfard. “I cannot imagine a cent of my money being given to settlement products or any activity that is enhancing the settlement projects. For me it is like actively supporting illegal or immoral abuse of others’ rights.”

The Obama administration’s weak stance on the issue has become even more obvious in light of recent events. The administration backed down in the face of the pro-Israel lobby and a right-wing Israeli government that keeps issuing tenders for new illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the Gaza Strip remains under a debilitating siege imposed by Israel. The release by Al Jazeera of the “Palestine Papers,” nearly 1,700 leaked documents on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, shows that despite numerous Palestinian concessions on Jerusalem, the right of return and more, the Israeli government refused to forge a deal.

The Obama administration’s ambivalence to the continued entrenchment of settlements on Palestinian land–a problem many consider to be the biggest obstacle to a two-state solution–reached new heights with the Feb. 18 U.S. veto of a UN resolution that condemned settlements as “illegal.”

“On this issue, Obama has really dropped the ball in a big way,” said Rosenberg, a former staffer at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “He may have set the cause back with that veto, and that veto will reverberate in the progressive camp for a long time.”

It was the first veto since Obama took office, and was in stark contrast to past administration calls for Israel to stop settlement expansion. J Street came out against a U.S. veto. There are about 500,000 settlers living on confiscated land in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the settlements, along with the separation barrier, have created a disjointed Palestinian landscape that makes a Palestinian state look less and less likely.

“All this talk about the two-state solution is largely meaningless. There is not going to be a two-state solution,” said John Mearsheimer, co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, in a recent Institute for Middle East Understanding press briefing. “The Israelis are in the driver’s seat here and they want to incorporate all of the West Bank, and effectively the Gaza Strip, into a greater Israel.”

For progressive critics of J Street, the veto, and continued settlement expansion, proves that alternative strategies need to be used to reach a real agreement—be it a one-state or two-state solution—rather than a mirage agreement that creates a Palestinian bantustan. “[J Street] put all their eggs into the Obama basket, and what we’re getting is bupkes,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of the left-wing group Jewish Voice for Peace.

“It’s a very clarifying moment for where we are in that it really shows us that just relying on governments, and specifically the U.S., as the vehicle for change in Israeli policy, is not going to do it,” Vilkomerson said. “That’s why we need to rely on civil society and tools like boycott, divestment and sanctions in order to get any real kind of change.”

But J Street continues to stick to its strategy of advocating for American leadership on the issue, and has come out against the BDS movement.

“J Street is focused on the policy process and political process,” said J Street president Ben-Ami during a press briefing at the conference.

J Street’s Luria insisted that the next step should be “an American initiative that lays out American ideas.” Boycott tactics, said Luria, are a “drop in the bucket compared to what an American-led peace could look like.”

The group’s anti-boycott stance, and its faith in American diplomatic leadership, reflects what blogger Richard Silverstein called a political tack “down the middle between right and left.”

As human rights lawyer Sfard put it, American pressure—currently non-existent–is not what worries the Israeli leadership, but rather the growing non-violent resistance movement in Israel and Palestine. “Traditional politics failed, party politics failed…In the last five years there has been a growing movement of civil resistance to the occupation in Palestinian villages and rural areas. This is a growing trend, and I have to say, it scares the hell out of the Israeli administration much more than the American pressure.”

That reality, though, hasn’t penetrated J Street’s leadership, though elements of its base get it.

The group’s continued push for an American-led proposal seems ever more distant, and all the more unlikely for that to materialize given that presidential elections are approaching. And the “Palestine Papers,” as former director of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center Robert Grenier wrote in Al Jazeera, revealed that the “process for a two-state solution is essentially over.”

The “Palestine Papers” and the UN veto show that the “Obama administration is absolutely not willing to use any of the sticks it has at its disposal and is only willing to use carrots with Israel,” said Jewish Voice for Peace’s Vilkomerson. “History has shown that these sorts of carrots do not get Israel to change its behavior.”

This article originally appeared in Alternet.

Zoe Zenowich is a freelance journalist and the managing editor of the Excelsior, a Brooklyn College student newspaper. Follow her on Twitter.

Alex Kane, a freelance journalist based in New York City, blogs on Israel/Palestine at alexbkane.wordpress.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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  1. pabelmont
    March 8, 2011, 1:01 pm

    Deathbed, nothing. Dead. Deeeeeeaaaaaaaaad. 2SS Kuput. Unless.

    And “unless” is where J-Street could, but refuses, to come in.
    And “unless” is where USA could, but refuses, to come in.
    And “unless” is where (2011 as the new 1947) international community could, AND STILL MIGHT, although still in lethargic-mode, come in.

    • RoHa
      March 8, 2011, 7:51 pm

      It’s passed on! This solution is no more! It has ceased to be! It’s expired and gone to meet its maker! It’s a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed it to the perch it’d be pushing up the daisies! Its metabolic processes are now ‘istory! It’s off the twig! It’s kicked the bucket. It’s shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-SOLUTION!!

      • RoHa
        March 8, 2011, 7:51 pm

        Well, someone had to do it.

      • eljay
        March 8, 2011, 8:16 pm

        >> THIS IS AN EX-SOLUTION!!

        So…you’re absolutely certain it’s not just pining for the fjords? :-)

  2. Colin Murray
    March 8, 2011, 2:03 pm

    This is a timely reminder that the two-state solution is dead and that the newest addition to the American Jewish political establishment, however well-intentioned, is fighting a battle that has already been lost.

    I am reminded of John Mearsheimer’s unwelcome but important piece The Future of Palestine: Righteous Jews vs. the New Afrikaners. The veil concealing the messianic racial supremacism that has consumed Israel is frittering away and Israel as an institutionally Jewish state can only continue over the long-term by race-based subjugation and oppression of the indigenous people of Palestine or by ethnically cleansing them.

    Contrary to the wishes of the Obama administration and most Americans – to include many American Jews – Israel is not going to allow the Palestinians to have a viable state of their own in Gaza and the West Bank. Regrettably, the two-state solution is now a fantasy. Instead, those territories will be incorporated into a “Greater Israel,” which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa. Nevertheless, a Jewish apartheid state is not politically viable over the long term. In the end, it will become a democratic bi-national state, whose politics will be dominated by its Palestinian citizens. In other words, it will cease being a Jewish state, which will mean the end of the Zionist dream.

    The Palestinians must never underestimate the danger of mass expulsion.

    Will J-Street support a democratic bi-national state or will it wring its hands helplessly until Israel initiates a second Nakba?

    • eljay
      March 8, 2011, 2:36 pm

      >> The Palestinians must never underestimate the danger of mass expulsion.

      RW has made it very clear that, while “currently [ethnic cleansing is] not necessary”, he “cannot consistently say that ‘ethnic cleansing is never necessary’.”

      And he’s not even one of the militant Zio-supremacists! He’s just the guy who “holds his nose” while others do the dirty work he approves of.

      So, yes: Palestinians, beware. Further ethnic cleansing remains an option, and there’s nothing to suggest that Zio-supremacists won’t resort to it as the final solution in their struggle to “reclaim” (i.e., steal back) the *ahem* “Promised Land”.

      • Richard Witty
        March 8, 2011, 3:17 pm

        Is that the sum total of your idea of my thinking, a passing academic statement about an event during war, 6 years before my birth?

        The present is so so much more important. And you choose to regard my present views as less so. (Including my public advocacy for repeal of the 1949-51 laws that institutionalized the prohibition from return.)

        Such a small tent you cultivate.

      • Woody Tanaka
        March 8, 2011, 3:50 pm

        eljay IS talking about the present; your present thoughts about this stuff.

        And “academic” or not, anyone who will not condemn ethnic cleansing or other crime against humanity, regardless of when the crime occurred, should be called on it. Often.

      • Shingo
        March 8, 2011, 6:11 pm

        Is that the sum total of your idea of my thinking, a passing academic statement about an event during war, 6 years before my birth?

        It’s a summation of your own words Witty. yes, I too would be embarrassed if I weer you. In fact, I would be ashamed, but shame is not something you would ever understand.

        The present is so so much more important.

        In that case, why not pretend that there was no 2nd Intifada and that the Holocaust never happened Witty? Why not just have a single democratic state if the present is so so much more important?

      • Avi
        March 8, 2011, 7:56 pm

        In fact, I would be ashamed, but shame is not something you would ever understand.

        Shame is nothing any of the trolls who pollute this website understand or know. They are content with their own delusions of grandeur and smug ignorance.

  3. eljay
    March 8, 2011, 3:46 pm

    >> Is that the sum total of your idea of my thinking, a passing academic statement about an event during war, 6 years before my birth?

    Sum total? No. But it speaks VOLUMES about you. Ethnic cleansing is utterly immoral – everywhere and always – but you have no problem approving of the past ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

    The real clincher, though, is: “I cannot consistently say that ‘ethnic cleansing is never necessary’.” That’s a whopper coming from anyone, but especially so from a self-professed “humanist”, seeing how it means that your present stand against ethnic cleansing is not necessarily your permanent stand against it.

    I’d still like to know what “Jewish state” means in the case where all citizens of Israel are equal in a secular, democratic state. Why would Israel not be an “Israeli state”?

    • Richard Witty
      March 9, 2011, 7:43 am

      I’m not attached to the language that is used to describe the state.

      I support the concept of a people self-governing, and not only people within a jurisdiction.

      It is only in the environment of threat that a state is needed. Phil’s “American Jews don’t need a haven” is a bait-and-switch from the more important, “Israelis need a haven”.

      Israelis ARE still the targets of shelling on civilians periodically and threats to their self-governance.

      • eljay
        March 9, 2011, 9:08 am

        >> I’m not attached to the language that is used to describe the state.

        You are attached enough to the language to keep referring to Israel as a “Jewish state”, so your comment above is nothing more than an attempt at evasion.

        So I will ask again: If all citizens of Israel are equal in a secular, democratic state, what does “Jewish state” mean? Why is the term “Jewish state” relevant? Why is Israel not simply an “Israeli state”?

      • Richard Witty
        March 9, 2011, 10:33 am

        You didn’t read,

        “I support the concept of a people self-governing, and not only people within a jurisdiction.”

        You don’t?

      • eljay
        March 9, 2011, 11:01 am

        >> You didn’t read,
        >> “I support the concept of a people self-governing, and not only people within a jurisdiction.”

        I did read, but your comment wasn’t clear. You appear to be saying that citizens of Israel are equal, but that Jews get to self-govern within Israel. I have no idea what that means or how that is supposed to work in an egalitarian, secular, democratic state.

        So, given that I prefer to avoid misinterpretation, I’ll re-phrase my question and hope, yet again, for a clear and precise answer:
        1. Do you envision Israel as a secular, democratic state in which all of its citizens – Jews and non-Jews alike – are completely equal?
        2. If ‘yes’, what do you mean when you refer to Israel as a “Jewish state”?
        3. How does “Jewish state” work in a state (Israel) that is secular, democratic and egalitarian?

        (You keep saying that if we want to know what you think, just ask. So I ask, and I keep asking. And you keep evading with abstract blather. My questions are simple and straightforward. Please provide simple, straightforward answers. Thank you.)

      • Richard Witty
        March 9, 2011, 1:52 pm

        The #and# democratic in “Jewish and democratic” requires equal civil rights for all.

        I consider Israel to be a secular nationalist state, in contrast to a religious nationalist state.

        Literally, “Israel is Jewish as France is French”, or as “Egypt is Egyptian” if you like that better.

      • eljay
        March 9, 2011, 2:24 pm

        >> I consider Israel to be a secular nationalist state, in contrast to a religious nationalist state.

        You left out egalitarian. Do you also consider Israel to be an egalitarian state? That is, a state in which all people are equal, all laws are applied equally to all people, and no one group is deemed special or given preferential status?

        >> Literally, “Israel is Jewish as France is French”, or as “Egypt is Egyptian” if you like that better.

        France is the country, its citizens are French. Egypt is the country, its citizens are Egyptians. Israel is the country, its citizens are – and should continue to be – Israeli. That is the logical nationality.

        How do you arrive at citizens of Israel being Jewish? Would Muslim Israelis of Palestinian descent be Jewish? Would Hindu Israelis of Indian descent be Jewish? How would that work? What does “Jewish state” mean?

  4. thetumta
    March 8, 2011, 8:19 pm

    Well, their just 10 days too late(probably a generation or more, if they are an American like Witty)! You just don’t understand history catching up with you and the cost to be paid. No clue. As for the rest of us, we have to decide if we’re going to be drug farther down this road by our own corrupt politicians.

    I recommend against it. I’m afraid that at this point we’re all focused on the wrong places. This is coming next.

    “http://www.stratfor.com/weekly/20110307-bahrain-and-battle-between-iran-and-saudi-arabia”

    I look forward to the time when we hear less from Witty and Fuster et. al. as they will undoubtedly be “putting their money where their mouths are”, defending their state’s new fronts with all they’ve got. I’m sure it will keep them very, very busy, combat has a way focusing things. But not me or you.

    As for the rest of us, it’s time to decide. Do you want to fight there or here?

    Hej! Tumta

  5. piotr
    March 9, 2011, 1:44 am

    I actually do not understand the opposition to two state solution.

    The premise is that because of the growth of settlements it is impossible to separate Palestine from Israel. But how is one state solution possible with the preservation of all settlements in West Bank and East Jerusalem?

    Perhaps this is possible, as some Likud thinkers are planning. So the better question is: how is one state solution acceptable with the settlements, military zones etc.?

  6. jon s
    March 9, 2011, 10:28 am

    The 2 state solution is the only solution which is both moral and practical.
    If I would come to the conclusion that it’s “dead” I would regard such a development as a calamity.
    Piotr, you’re right, if I understand correctly what you’re getting at. The 2 ss would entail removing the settlements, according to the precedent set in the peace treaty with Egypt. With the 1 state “solution” (which I don’t believe would be a solution at all) – the settlements stay.

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