Two-state advocates are on the defensive in debate on Capitol Hill

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Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street

Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street

In a historic debate over the two-state solution on Capitol Hill this morning, advocates for the two-state solution were put on the defensive in ways that surely reflect a shift in the mainstream thinking about the peace process.

Leading the attack on the two-state paradigm, Ian Lustick, author of a recent New York Times piece called “Two State Illusion,” argued that while the two-state solution is theoretically possible, it is at this point highly implausible and not worth our government’s time to pursue.

Dragging out a meaningless peace process only serves Israel’s rightwing government. “They’re using this tantalizing mirage in order to justify the tightening grip… of the occupation,” Lustick said at the forum organized by the Middle East Policy Council at the Washington Court Hotel (the original venue, a House building, was unavailable due to the shutdown).

The Israeli right only pretends that it cares about a Palestinian state, Lustick said, scorning statements by Benjamin Netanyahu in his recent Bar-Ilan speech and by a rightwing Likud member, Tzachi Hanegbi, at the J Street conference. Lustick says he knows Hanegbi from his own days in Israel. “I know what makes this guy tick.”

Then he challenged Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, to consider the possibility that Hanegbi and others in the the right wing are “using you” to advance their maximalist and oppressive policies in the West Bank.

“Jeremy you have to be aware of the possibility that you’re being played.”

For his part, Ben-Ami said that there is no alternative to the two-state solution. It would resolve a battle between two groups with legitimate rights to the same land. The idea of sharing that land is implausible, he said– given the needs of Jews for a Jewish state and given the sectarian landscape of the Middle East, in which Coptic Christians in Egypt experience persecution. A one-state outcome, “Isra-stine,” will only lead to endless bloodshed. The two sides would come much later, and at huge cost, to a conclusion that the world has reached now: partitioning the land.

Ahmad Samih Khalidi of Oxford University also referred to the violence in the Middle East as an argument for the two-state solution. But he admitted that the next generation of Palestinian intellectuals regards the two state solution as a “Zionist solution.” The two state solution once answered Palestinian nationalist dreams, he said, but today “the vast majority of young people have gone almost completely into one-state-ism.”

The livestream from the Middle East Policy Council was intermittent, but Yousef Munayyer of the Palestine Center also spoke and reflected these generational Palestinian ideas. He said that Israel has been an apartheid state since 1948, because of its treatment of Palestinian refugees who were not allowed to return to their homes after the war over Israel’s independence.

Ben-Ami took sharp exception to the statement. He said that he believes that Israel will become an apartheid state if it fails to disgorge the occupied territories. But citing his own Zionist parents and the dreams of European Jews to escape oppression in the Middle East, he said, “Israel must be a state rooted in justice.” So it must eschew apartheid; and what was made by human beings can be unmade; settlers can be moved.

Lustick said by that logic, Israel also was made by human beings, and it can be unmade. But that likelihood is as implausible as the likelihood that the settlers will be removed from the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

And after Ben-Ami declared that he will never give up on the two-state solution, Lustick said that he is paving the way to “permanent occupation.”

Munayyer also addressed the theme of permanent occupation. One of the great deceptions of our political leaders is the oft-repeated claim that the status quo is unsustainable. In fact, occupation has been sustained for a very long time. And all the actions by the U.S. government serve to sustain that occupation. Our leaders do nothing to pressure Israel to change.

Ben-Ami said that political pressure is beginning. One of J Street’s greatest moments was urging the US government not to veto a UN Security Council resolution against settlements– which the US government did veto, bowing to the official Jewish community. J Street was attacked for its stance, but Ben-Ami said that recent polling shows that American Jews are against settlements, overwhelmingly, and the mainstream Jewish organizations are “out of step” with their own public.

Lustick suggested this shift was meaningless. Cuba and Israel are the “third rails” in US politics. The president’s domestic advisers tell him that his entire political agenda is at risk if he touches one of those rails. And so the president says what it is safe to say, and says the two-state solution is alive when it’s dead.

He implied that the president’s foreign policy advisers are charting a different course. The US is quietly supporting European efforts to condemn Israeli actions over the Green Line. Thus the US will be embroiled in an international campaign that will push Israel into “pariah state” status.

Update: This post originally said that 600-700,000 settlers could be moved. I’m told I misheard, that Ben-Ami spoke of 100,000; but I’ll await clarification, and correct later.

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