Israeli PM Netanyahu’s dismissal of the two-state solution in the last days of the election campaign in Israel is having a huge and beneficial effect on the discussion of the conflict inside the United States. Yesterday President Obama leaped on the PM’s comments at a press conference, stating severely that the two-state solution is not going to happen in the next “several” years, and we have to deal with that reality, and no one’s going to get anywhere by singing “kumbaya.”
Obama seems to be doing what many on the US left are doing: preparing Americans to think about what one state looks like.
But Obama’s open reassessment of the relationship is panicking the U.S. establishment. He is getting pushback from odd places. The New York Times has a somewhat-condescending piece out of Jerusalem warning Obama that he is speaking disrespectfully to Israeli voters (the Jews anyway) and unnecessarily aggravating the tensions between the countries. While last night on MSNBC— “No two-state solution for next several years?”--Bob Woodward and Ron Fournier of National Journal both urged Obama to be a big boy and make up with Israel, because Israel needs us and the U.S. needs Israel (we need to be allied with a “democracy” in the Middle East, Woodward said). Chris Matthews wondered why Obama is doubling down.
Here is a roundup of official statements and comments about the crisis of the two-state solution.
At his press conference yesterday, Obama said this, answering several questions:
Prime Minister Netanyahu in the election runup stated that a Palestinian state would not occur while he was Prime Minister, and I took him at his word that that’s what he meant, and I think that a lot of voters inside of Israel understood him to be saying that fairly unequivocally…
Even if you accept it, I think– the correctives of Prime Minister Netanyahu in subsequent days– there still does not appear to be a prospect of a meaningful framework established that would lead to a Palestinian state even if there were a whole range of conditions and security requirements that might be phased in over a long period of time, which was always the presumption…
But I am required to evaluate honestly how we manage Israeli Palestinian relations over the next several years…
What we can’t do is pretend that there’s the possibility of something that’s not there, and we can’t continue to premise our public diplomacy based on something everyone knows is not going to happen at least in the next several years… This can’t be reduced to a matter of somehow, ‘Let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya.’ …
I have a very businesslike relationship with the Prime Minister, I’ve met with him more than any other world leader. I talk to him all the time. The issue is not one of relationships between leaders, the issue is a very clear substantive challenge.
The issue has never been do you create a Palestinian state overnight, the question is: Do you create a process and a framework that gives the Palestinians hope?
Nedra Pickler of AP said that “businesslike” is how Obama describes his relationship with Vladimir Putin (appearing on MSNBC last night).
Next, here is White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough speaking on Monday to the liberal Zionist lobby J Street in Washington. He also refuses to accept Netanyahu’s post-election effort to claim he is for a two-state solution, and describes the “occupation” as illegal and inhumane.
In 2009, Prime Minister Netanyahu publicly endorsed a two-state solution. Over the course of President Obama’s administration, most recently with the tireless efforts of Secretary Kerry, the United States has expended tremendous energy in pursuit of this goal. That is why the Prime Minister’s comments on the eve of the election-in which he first intimated and then made very clear in response to a follow up question that a Palestinian state will not be established while he is prime minister-were so troubling.
After the election, the Prime Minister said that he had not changed his position, but for many in Israel and in the international community, such contradictory comments call into question his commitment to a two-state solution, as did his suggestion that the construction of settlements has a strategic purpose of dividing Palestinian communities and his claim that conditions in the larger Middle East must be more stable before a Palestinian state can be established. We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the Prime Minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations.
In recent days, some have suggested our reaction to this issue is a matter of personal pique. Nothing could be further from the truth. America’s commitment to a two-state solution is fundamental to U.S. foreign policy. It’s been the goal of both Republican and Democratic presidents, and it remains our goal today. Because it is the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.
That is why President Obama has said that we need to re-evaluate our approach to the peace process and how we pursue the cause of peace – because, like all of you, we care deeply about Israel and its future. We will look to the next Israeli government to match words with actions and policies that demonstrate a genuine commitment to a two-state solution. And, like every administration since President Johnson, we will continue to oppose Israeli settlement activity since it undermines the prospects for peace. …
An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state….
Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely. That’s the truth. And as President Obama has said, neither occupation nor expulsion of Palestinians is the answer. Anything less than true peace will only worsen the situation. A “one-state solution” would effectively end Israel’s nature as a Jewish and democratic state. Unilateral annexation of the West Bank territories would be both wrong and illegal. The United States would never support it, and it’s unlikely Israel’s other friends would either. It would only contribute to Israel’s isolation.
Peace is also undeniably just. Palestinian children deserve the same right to be free in their own land as Israeli children in their land. A two-state solution will finally bring Israelis the security and normalcy to which they are entitled, and Palestinians the sovereignty and dignity they deserve.
The White House’s reassessment of the relationship has panicked New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, who avers in a story called “Rebukes from White House Risk Buoying Netanyahu” that the Prime Minister’s statements during the election mean nothing, he’s all for the two state solution. Her piece begins with Israelis lecturing Obama:
“Everybody understands this is part of the political campaign,” [former national security adviser Giora] Eiland said of Mr. Netanyahu’s pre-election comments promising that a Palestinian state would not be established on his watch. “To try and say: ‘I caught you; I heard you say something. Since that’s what you said, I’m going to make a reassessment,’ it sounds like, ‘Well, I have been waiting until you make such a mistake, and now I’m going to exploit it.’ ”
By the way, Eiland called for slaughtering civilians during the Gaza war last summer (“they are to blame for this situation just like Germany’s residents were to blame for electing Hitler as their leader and paid a heavy price for that, and rightfully so”).
Rudoren really is inside rightwing Zionist opinion, fighting any pressure on Israel:
Israeli analysts are now suggesting that Mr. Obama and his aides might be overplaying their hand, inviting a backlash of sympathy for Mr. Netanyahu, and that they may not have clearly defined what they expected to gain diplomatically by continuing to pressure the Israeli leader.
The president’s harsh words have been deemed by some to be patronizing and disrespectful not only to Mr. Netanyahu but also to the voters who rewarded his uncompromising stances with a resounding mandate for a fourth term.
Several Israeli analysts said the administration’s criticism of Mr. Netanyahu seemed like a pretext for a longstanding plan to change the United States’ policy of protecting Israel in international forums, which the administration has said it will reassess. Others suspect a ploy to undermine Israel’s lobbying efforts against the American negotiations for a nuclear accord with Iran.
By the way, that is just what J Street wants: the president to shift slightly in international fora to put pressure on Israel. But not to cut off any military aid to the illegal occupier. No; Denis McDonough assured J Street that would not happen.
On Democracy Now! yesterday, Yousef Munayyer explained that rhetoric without sanctions will produce nothing:
I think the big problem with J Street is that it advocates for an outcome, but does not advocate for any concrete steps towards actually realizing that outcome… And what we’ve seen from J Street is advocacy for continued negotiations, which have only acted as a cover for the very settlement expansion that they deplore. So, because of the sort of the precarious position that they’re in, in trying to be both pro-Israel and pro-peace, even though the Israeli state has its entrenched interests focused on maintaining the occupation, put it in such a place so that it can’t effectively do what it says it wants to do. And so it’s become something of a transitory state for people who are overcoming their previous affinity with the state of Israel and Zionism as they progress along a spectrum that is increasingly critical. And to the extent that it plays that role as a transitory step, I think it’s fine. Beyond that, though, I don’t think it’s doing much of anything effective.
AARON MATÉ: You’re the director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. At this moment when U.S.-Israeli ties are so low, what happens next for activism here in the U.S.?
MUNAYYER: I think there’s really only one answer to that question. And that is, in every way possible, the costs of occupation to the Israeli state have to increase. For many years they have decreased, and it’s become very easy for Israel to consider a future where perpetual occupation—
Munayyer is wise to speak of the transitory step that J Street is providing for American Jews. (That’s why I’ve always clapped for J Street with one hand.) Lisa Goldman of the New America Foundation joins in the paradigm collapse, stating on Democracy Now! that the two-state solution has passed its sell-by date and everyone at J Street knows that, consciously or not.
J Street this year was very, very interesting, for a couple of reasons. I think the main reason was, one of my friends, actually, an Arab friend of mine who was there, said it sounds like the liberal Zionists are sitting shiva for their ideology. I wouldn’t go quite that far; he was joking, of course. But there was a sense, like J Street is an organization—it’s an NGO. It’s a liberal Jewish NGO—well, not just Jewish, but their slogan is pro-Israel and pro-peace, and they advocate for a two-state solution. They sort of are—by many, are regarded as a liberal-left version of AIPAC. And they’ve had some interesting successes. I think that they’re—you know, they’re a very interesting organization in the sense that they try very hard to bring disparate voices under a single umbrella to talk about alternative solutions.
But there are a lot of people who were at J Street who said, “Look, you know, with all due respect, the two-state solution is a wonderful idea, but it’s a bit late.” And I’m actually one of those people. And I don’t advocate ideologically one state. I don’t think it’s, you know, going to be the best outcome, just for pragmatic reasons. But I just think that at this point, talking about a two-state solution, negotiating it—you know, we’re 20 years after the Oslo agreement, we have 500,000 Jewish settlers—I think it’s just a bit too late.
Chris Matthews ought to host Munayyer and Goldman. Last night he puzzled over Obama’s anger. We are pro-Israeli in this country, that’s not going to change, he said. But Obama is “not going to quit this fight. Why has he decided to keep this fight going?” The answer is that he is trying to break the news to America that the two-state solution is dead and that Israel’s intransigence is hurting the U.S. in the Middle East.
Matthews said, “In the Democratic Party, we always think of Israel as the Jewish community’s biggest interest, and it is.” For religious reasons, and because of the Holocaust, he said. Goldman and Munayyer are saying that it’s time American Jews let all that mythology go. That’s what Obama is also nudging us towards. The most disputed territory in the Middle East is between American Jews’ ears; once American Jews give up the idea of a two-state solution, and of a Jewish state, we can proceed (calmly, I pray) to the next phase.
And that’s why Jodi Rudoren at the NYT is so important: coming out of a pro-Israel background herself, she seems bent on blocking any awareness in the U.S. Jewish community that it’s one state right now and 4 million people have no rights.
Yonatan Amir at +972 is doing the exact opposite, trying to foster awareness. He has a piece titled, “It’s time for a one-state solution” that explains the reality. He says the burden is on the Israeli left to abandon its Zionist roots. Obama ought to read this.
Every time I say that the two-state solution is no longer realistic, and that we need to think about new approaches to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, center-left voters respond with anger, condescension and pity. They claim that this is a far-fetched idea, not to mention dangerous and cruel (!) — an idea that proves the desire to destroy the State of Israel, and is disconnected from the will of the “sane Jewish majority.”
Let’s start with a reminder: the new Knesset includes 107 members belonging to Jewish parties. Seventy-eight of them oppose the two-state solution, and are divided between those who have no qualms about their stances (Likud, Jewish Home, Kulanu, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beiteinu), and a minority that talks about a solution but creates obstacles to ever achieving one (Yesh Atid). On the other side we have the supporters of two states: five MKs from Meretz and 24 from the Zionist Camp. All in all, 29 versus 78….
Instead of trying to sell the Right on fantasies of dividing the land, which are destined to fail, [the Left] must work with it to bring about one state with equal rights for all residents on both sides of the Green Line.
This move will not abrogate Palestinian national aspirations. It will not put an end to either Jewish or Arab terror and will not solve all of Israel’s essential problems. But it will help build a more stable and fair infrastructure based on democracy and equality, which so crucial for the existence of a healthy society.
Finally speaking of discursive changes, Bill Kristol is determined to marginalize himself, and that’s a good thing. Notice how explicitly he pushes for an American war with Iran because they’re Nazis. This man is deluded.
“You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.” Winston Churchill, after Munich, 1938.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) March 23, 2015
Thanks to Max Blumenthal.