American Jewish leaders are mad that settlement-boosting minister exposed their charade

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Israeli Economy Minister Naftali Bennett speaking at an Israel Project debate earlier this year. (Photo: The Israel Project/Wikimedia Commons)

Naftali Bennett’s blunt truth about the death of the two-state solution has ticked off American Jewish leaders. The right-wing settlement-boosting Economy Minister’s comments earlier this week struck at the heart of the charade that the American Jewish establishment, in concert with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have kept up: that Israel is interested in a peace settlement based on a two-state solution.

In other words, Bennett had the gall to say what smart observers know but what the American Jewish establishment wants unspoken: Israel is intent on controlling all of historic Palestine forever.

“The idea that a Palestinian state will be formed in the land of Israel has come to a dead end,” Bennett said in the most fitting of places: a settlement conference in Jerusalem. “Everyone who wanders around Judea and Samaria knows that what they say in the corridors of Annapolis and Oslo is detached from reality. Today there are 400,000 Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria and another 250,000 in eastern Jerusalem.”

Bennett’s comments were only the latest from Netanyahu’s coalition to pronounce the idea of a Palestinian state dead. Last week, Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon told the Times of Israel that the Israeli coalition would block any two-state deal.

As settlement expansion continues, this truth will only sink in deeper and deeper. But American Jewish leaders are busy distancing themselves from the right-wing coalition’s positions.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, told Haaretz yesterday that Bennett wasn’t really speaking for the Israeli government!

“These are all irresponsible statements which do not in any way reflect the commitment of the Israeli government, not to mention the long-standing position of the U.S., that the two-state solution is the only possible solution.” 

And American Jewish Committee director David Harris slammed the Economy Minister:

“Minister Naftali Bennett’s remarks, rejecting outright the vision of two states for two peoples, are stunningly shortsighted.”

As Mairav Zonszein pointed out on The Daily Beast’s Open Zion blog, this was a rare American Jewish condemnation of a leading Israeli politician; the Jewish establishment usually follows the Israeli government’s lead.

Why the eagerness to condemn Bennett, departing from normal practice? Harris said it himself: “Bennett’s alternative scenario offers only the prospect of a dead-end strategy of endless conflict and growing isolation for Israel.” The words “growing isolation for Israel” are key.

As Jamie Stern-Weiner writes in Le Monde Diplomatique, the drive for a two-state solution has “never been about achieving a resolution of the conflict, which can only happen on terms all Israeli governments have rejected. Rather, their primary function has been to reduce international pressure on Israel without it having to make political concessions.”

If that charade of a peace process for a two-state solution–backed by American Jewish leaders–disappears, Israel and its supporters are in trouble.

That’s what the American Jewish establishment wants to prevent. The existence of a “peace process” and rhetoric supporting the two-state solution are crucial fig-leaves to deflect international condemnation of Israel. It’s why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to offer his support for a two-state solution–though on terms no Palestinian leader could accept. He needs to mouth the words “Palestinian state” every so often to keep his relationship with American Jewish leaders and the U.S. government smooth, while at the same time presiding over actions that kill the solution he claims to support.

There’s a good reason, though, why Netanyahu won’t make real moves towards a two-state solution. The Israeli public wants nothing to do with it.

+972 Magazine’s Dahlia Scheindlin recently reported on a poll from Ariel University, showing how “the majority of Israeli Jews inside the Green Line are still basically wedded to settlements and barely register that they pose a problem.” Here’s some of the numbers: 54 percent of Israeli Jews believe the settlements are legal; and a plurality of 46 percent say the settlements provide a security “band” for Israel. Another poll conducted by the Jerusalem Post earlier this month showed that 74% of Israelis reject a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem. 

The numbers mean that the Israeli public is fully comfortable with the current status quo–a status quo that means more settlements that will kill any chance for a viable Palestinian state.

Bennett is speaking for those Israelis. Netanyahu himself wrote in 1993 that a Palestinian state would be disastrous for Israel, and though he continues that policy today, he has to watch his language. 

And the American Jewish establishment keeps clinging to Netanyahu’s current rhetoric about a demilitarized Palestinian state. Without that rhetoric, they’d be left drowning in the reality of the current Israel/Palestine situation: permanent Israeli control over millions of non-Jews. How would they able to sell that?

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