I have to admit that I have given up on the two-state solution, maybe not in principle, but I just do not see the Israelis agreeing to the minimum Palestinian demands. Also, I have always been skeptical about J Street. It seemed that the pro-Israel group did more for rehabilitating Israel’s tarnished image and promoting Barack Obama than contributing to Israeli/Palestinian peace. Yet I sometimes feel guilty about not being more sympathetic because at least they are getting Jews to talk about making peace. And then I hear another statement from their founder and leader, Jeremy Ben-Ami, which makes me, return again to my negative assessment.
Listening to Jeremy Ben-Ami speak at the Middle East Policy Council (MEPC) forum recently, I found that not only does he support the two-state solution in principle, but he supports the type of two-state solution that the present Israeli government is likely to propose. Such an agreement will either be rejected by the Palestinians or forced upon them by Israel and its American ally.
Unfortunately, the history of the peace process and the track records of current Israeli leaders indicate that the only agreement that Israel will currently sign is one that would severely limit Palestinian sovereignty, and would maximize the amount of land and the number of settlers which would become part of the future Israeli state. It is discouraging that the largest Jewish-American organization dedicated to Middle East peace would take a position which supports the Netanyahu government at the negotiation table and one that will neither bring justice for, nor acceptance by, the Palestinian people.
At the MEPC forum, Jeremy Ben-Ami stated that right-wing Israeli politicians like Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni and Tzachi Hanegbi, all have changed their previous positions and now accept the two-state solution. He also expressed confidence that the Israelis and Palestinians will reach a successful agreement during the present U.S.-brokered talks.
Ian Lustick, the author of “The Two State Illusion,” in response to Ben-Ami’s optimistic assessment of the chance for successful current peace talks, responded that the J Street leader was being “played” by Netanyahu, implying that Ben-Ami does not see that the Israeli Prime Minister has no intention of signing an equitable peace treaty despite his declarations that he is ready to do so. I wonder if Ben-Ami actually believes in Netanyahu’s good intentions, as Lustick implies. Maybe Ben-Ami actually accepts the Israeli hardline position as the only possible way to the two-state reality, which he sees as in Israel’s best interest. Listening to him, I began to think that he may be more devoted to a two-state solution and his pro-Israel position, than to a just resolution of the conflict and for Palestinian rights.
When Ben-Ami declared confidence in Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni and Tzachi Hanegbi, he declared confidence in three politicians who have long histories of opposition to any peace agreement with the Palestinians. Then, identifying with them, Ben-Ami proudly declared that both he and they were all right wing once, but now all believe in a two-state settlement. The question is: What kind of a two-state settlement?
To start with Ben-Ami legitimized Netanyahu’s insistence on maintaining a long-term Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley. This proposal is adamantly rejected by Palestinians and some Israelis who rightly see it as an unacceptable limitation to Palestinian sovereignty. But Ben-Ami mentioned it as a matter for negotiations between those who want to see the Israelis occupy the Jordan Valley for 30 years and those who do not want them there at all. Presumably, a fair outcome, according to the J Street leader, would be to split the difference and have the Israeli army remain in Palestine for 15 years!
Instead of giving the Netanyahu government its unqualified support in the current round of talks, might it be better for J Street to remain at least somewhat skeptical of the intentions of the current Israeli leaders and to support steps which would help insure the success of the current talks?
Daniel Kurtzer, who spoke at the recent J Street Conference, offered two worthwhile suggestions. First, Israel should freeze all settlement expansion during the negotiations. Second, the U.S. should present a treaty proposal to the parties based on the past agreements to be used as a starting point for the negotiations. Kurtzer is a past member of the U.S. peace processing team, as well as being a former Ambassador to Tel Aviv. He is a Jew who is pro-Israel. Still, he knows Netanyahu is not going to concede anything unless he is pushed by the U.S.
Shouldn’t Jeremy Ben-Ami also be making proposals that will support a just two-state peace agreement instead of talking endlessly about Israeli security needs, giving a vote of confidence to the Israeli government, and advocating a significant Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley?
I wonder how J Street members– who it is widely believed seek more flexibility from Israel than their organization’s leadership– feel about Ben-Ami’s tough line.