“A durable Israeli-Palestinian peace can best be achieved through direct negotiations between the two parties, resulting in a Jewish state living side-by-side in peace with a demilitarized Palestinian state…”
– From “The Peace Process: Israel’s Pursuit of Peace,” currently on AIPAC’s website.
“Rejecting decades-old policy, the Republican Party approved on July 12 a platform that does not include a call for a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict…and omits any reference to a solution that would establish an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel…”
– From “In Major Shift, GOP Rejects Two-State Solution,” the Forward, July 10, 2016.
This year’s AIPAC conference, held earlier this week, was by all accounts, and on all counts, a rousing event, attended by a massive audience of around 18,000 — and yet another testimony to the preeminent pro-Israel lobby’s impressive convening power, organizational capabilities and political clout.
Bipartisanship: At what cost?
The conference was accompanied by persistent press reports suggesting that after a bruising — and unsuccessful — dispute with the Obama regime over the Iran nuclear deal, which eroded support among Democrats, AIPAC will attempt to reinstate its bipartisan status by actively reaffirming its commitment to the two-state paradigm.
Don’t misunderstand me. In principle, bipartisanism is an admirable, and in many ways, necessary goal. Indeed, as AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr pointed out in his 2016 address:
“There are those who question our bipartisan approach to political advocacy, but unless any one party controls the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, and controls them forever, bipartisanship is the only way to create stable, sustainable policy from one election to the next.”
There is, of course, much to be said for aspiring to bipartisanship, and for attempting to place Israel above the partisan rivalries of US domestic politics. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of any other way to sustain effective influence on Israel-related issues over time, in which the reins of executive and legislative power are transferred from one party to another.
But for all its merits, there is – or should be – a limit to the price required for ensuring such bipartisan approval. After all, at some point, accommodating positions on one end of the political spectrum in the name of bipartisanship may well become counter-productive and undermine the core objectives for which bipartisanship was sought in the first place.
Bipartisanship: A means to an end
After all, as important as bipartisanship is, it is in fact a means to achieving a goal – not a goal in itself — and it is crucial that this distinction be kept clearly in mind.
Thus, in his 2017 address, Kohr declared:
“…We are here because we are the bipartisan voice in America needed to help keep Israel safe in a dangerous world.
It is clear, therefore, that AIPAC’s objective is “keeping Israel safe in a dangerous world” and bipartisanship, a means to achieve it.
But what happens when the only way to attain the desired bipartisanship not only prevents keeping Israel safe, but in fact, creates a situation that places it in grave jeopardy?
This is precisely the situation that is clearly liable to arise if a Palestinian state is established — and this raises a thorny question for AIPAC: Given the fact that the Republican Party has eschewed endorsement of the two-state prescription, explicit support for two-statism would no longer seem to be an indispensable requisite for bipartisanship.
Why, then, did Kohr feel the need to pronounce such an explicit endorsement. Midway through his otherwise admirable address, he urged the US to undertake “steps [that] could…create a climate that encourages the Palestinians to negotiate in pursuit of the goal we desire: a Jewish state of Israel living side by side in peace and security with a demilitarized Palestinians state.”
A polemical and problematic proclamation
This reflects another statement on the AIPAC website, according to which:
“Israel and the United States are committed to a two-state solution — a Jewish state living side-by-side in peace with a demilitarized Palestinian state.”
Kohr’s proclamation is both highly polemic and problematic — from numerous aspects. Israel’s commitment to a two-state outcome is patently debatable — at both government and public levels.
First of all, as Hillel Fendel points out in a recent op-ed — “Why does AIPAC support two-states if Israeli gov’t doesn’t?” — over half the government ministers have publicly expressed their opposition to a Palestinian state.
Moreover, with the passage of time, opposition to the land-for-peace formula and the two-state-prescription, on which it is based, seems to be growing in the Israeli public.
A new poll released just this week showed a dramatic decline “in support for withdrawal from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state.” Conducted by the Midgam Institute, headed by Dr. Mina Tzemach, one of Israel’s foremost pollsters, its findings showed a steep fall in the “willingness to agree to a withdrawal from the West Bank as part of a peace agreement – from 60% in 2005 to 36% in 2017.”
The wide-ranging poll also examined public attitudes to various configurations of a Palestinian state. Thus, almost 80% oppose a Palestinian state in all the territory of the West Bank, and close to 60% oppose Palestinian statehood even if Israel keeps the settlement blocs. If land swaps are involved, nearly two thirds oppose establishment of a Palestinian state.
The delusion of demilitarization
The poll also found that overwhelming majorities support positions that would effectively preclude agreement with any conceivable Palestinian partner. Thus, 79% endorsed retaining a united Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty and almost 90% believe that Israel cannot withdraw from territories bordering on Ben Gurion Airport and over 80% that Israel cannot withdraw from territories adjacent to the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway (Route 443). For some reason, opinions regarding the territory abutting the Trans-Israel Highway (Route 6) were not surveyed.
These findings clearly underscore the deep suspicion the Israeli public harbors regarding the Palestinians and their peaceable intentions. Curiously, this seems to be a suspicion shared by AIPAC itself, as reflected by its repeated stipulation that the Palestinian state be demilitarized, indicating that even some future Palestinian peace partner could not be entrusted with the means available to every other sovereign state.
Moreover as Fendel points out in his previously mentioned article, even in the unlikely event that “the [Palestinian Authority] does accept the condition [of demilitarization], and then declares independence with Israel’s consent, and then takes up arms and forms an army, there is nothing that Israel would be able to do about it, nor would the new state cease being a state.”
Interestingly, this is a position that echoes one articulated by none other than the late Shimon Peres, who in his Oslo-era book, The New Middle East (1993) asked pointedly: “Even if the Palestinians agree that their state have no army or weapons, who can guarantee that a Palestinian army would not be mustered later to encamp at the gates of Jerusalem and the approaches to the lowlands? And if the Palestinian state would be unarmed, how would it block terrorist acts perpetrated by extremists, fundamentalists or irredentists?”
AIPAC would ignore these questions at Israel’s peril.
“Depraved indifference” of the two-state paradigm
Indeed, unless two-state proponents can address them adequately; unless they can provide persuasive prescriptions on how to contend with the grave dangers that may well emerge pursuant to an Israeli withdrawal; unless they present a convincing case why what occurred in the past when Israel relinquished territory, will not reoccur if, yet again, it relinquishes territory, then continued advocacy for Palestinian statehood is reprehensible recklessness.
After all, any Arab entity set up in Judaea-Samaria would have a front of around 500 km, abutting Israel’s most populous area, and total topographical superiority over 80% of the country’s civilian population, vital infrastructure systems/installations and 80% of its commercial activity.
So, even in the context of a demilitarized state – absent an air force, navy armor or heavy artillery — any forces deployed in these areas (regular or renegade) could, with cheap readily available weapons (such as those in “demilitarized” Gaza), disrupt at will, the socioeconomic routine in Israel’s coastal megalopolis, making the attrition in daily life increasingly onerous and hazardous…
Moreover, there is little dispute that if Israel were to evacuate Judea-Samaria, it is far from implausible (to grossly understate the odds) that the territory would – sooner or later — fall into the hands of Hamas-like elements, or worse. Indeed, the only way to ensure that what happened in Gaza does not happen in Judaea-Samaria is for Israel to retain control of this territory — thereby precluding implementation of the two-state formula and the emergence of a Palestinian state.
Accordingly, given the clear and present dangers entailed in the two-state paradigm, dangers considerably heightened by the precarious position of the current regime in neighboring Jordan, threatened by ever-ascendant Islamist elements, should not further advocacy of this perilous prescription be deemed “reckless endangerment” — even “depraved indifference”?
Touting tyranny in pursuit of bipartisanship
Of course, unless one assumes the wildly improbable, implementation of the two-state principle — and the establishment of a Palestinian state — will culminate in realities that are the diametric antitheses of the very values for which it was purportedly supported.
This is something that AIPAC must seriously consider in assessing its support of two-statism. For in its quest for bipartisanship by strongly endorsing the perverse two-state prescription in order to mollify miffed Democrats, AIPAC is in fact…touting tyranny.
After all, given the socio-cultural conditions in virtually all Arab countries, and the appalling precedents set in Palestinian-administered territories, evacuated by Israel in the past, the most likely outcome of the two-state endeavor is not difficult to foresee.
Indeed, there is little reason to believe — and two-state proponents have certainly never provided anything approaching a persuasive one — that any prospective Palestinian state, established on territory Israel evacuated, will quickly become anything but yet another homophobic, misogynistic Muslim-majority tyranny, that discriminates against its women/girls, persecutes its homosexuals, pursues its political dissidents and persecutes it non-Muslim residents.
Are these really the realities that AIPAC strives to foster? Is this, in the words of AIPAC’s CEO, really the best way “to help keep Israel safe in a dangerous world”?
If not, then surely it should undertake some serious soul-searching into the morality and the rationality of its embrace of two-statism in its quest for bipartisanship.
Better route to bipartisanship: Persuasion not pandering
AIPAC is, of course, in many and important ways an admirable organization, doing sterling work on behalf of the Jewish state and the Jewish people – opposing Iran’s nuclear drive, combating the global delegitimization of Israel and BDS campaign, fighting the scourge of ascendant antisemitism…
Significantly — to its great credit — it has even mustered the courage to abandoned its bipartisan position in the past, to oppose the hazardous Iran deal, which was repeatedly excoriated during the 2017 conference, probably to the chagrin of many Democrats. Even if, for the moment, it was unsuccessful, it was the right thing to do — and may well pay off in the future.
This should be its model for its position on the Palestinian issue.
Rather than pander to the Democrats by embracing the decrepit zombie of two-statism, AIPAC should lobby them to abandon this perilous and pernicious paradigm. That should be the real challenge for AIPAC — to persuade them to forgo the fatally flawed and failed formula of land-for-peace and persuade both parties to adopt new Zionist-compliant alternatives. That would be a far better route to bipartisanship.