Splitting the Child

I’ll be writing a follow-up to my piece from earlier this week about the various one- and two-state formulations shortly, where I’ll be

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, champion of the two-state solution

J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, champion of the two-state solution

focusing more on the one-state side. But today, I saw a very important example of one of the problems in the two-state crowd, especially from the Israeli side.

The Middle East Policy Council put on a very interesting panel about the future or lack thereof of the two-state solution. The leading two-stater on the panel was Jeremy Ben-Ami of J Street. Let me say that I like Jeremy, and I think he and J Street come in for criticism from the left that is often over the top and much too harsh (and, I’ll admit, sometimes I’ve been guilty of that myself). I’ve known Jeremy for the better part of a decade and I am convinced his heart is in the right place and that on balance, J Street has done good work.

On this particular panel, Jeremy defended the two-state solution in various ways, and I found some of them problematic. He echoed the “pragmatic” view that the two-state option, and particularly the Oslo formulation is the only viable option, and sometimes implied that those who advocated some other option were naïve and utopian thinkers. But he made one point that I think reflects a deeply problematic mode of thought in even the most progressive pro-Israel thinking.

The issue of the Jordan Valley came up. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has insisted that it is a “security requirement” for Israel to maintain a long-term force in the Valley and has said that the force must be there for a term of thirty years. The Palestinians, naturally, object to the idea of any occupation forces remaining in what would be their new state. Jeremy essentially said that if one side says thirty years, the other says zero, the compromise is somewhere in the middle, say ten or fifteen years.

It’s a very American approach, of course, split things down the middle. But sometimes that isn’t the best solution, as King Solomon knew very well. The notion that the forces of an occupation would remain in any part of a proposed Palestinian state – one which, by the same formulation which Jeremy shares, would already have agreed to sacrifice one of the basic tenets of sovereignty, the right of self-defense, by agreeing to be de-militarized and protected by some as yet to be determined international force which would really be there to ensure Israel’s security – is in no way a compromise. It is a total surrender, and cutting down on the length of time initially agreed to – and we must remember that in the intervening years, that agreement could be changed – changes nothing.

The problem with the Oslo formulation is not that it is made of two states, but that it is based on Israeli dominance. While one needs to acknowledge that dominance and understand that it means that any final agreement is unlikely to be perfectly equitable, a realistic and pragmatic view of the situation also leads to another conclusion: a deal can be forced on the Palestinians, but such a deal will not hold and, ultimately, will lead back to the status quo or worse. Such a deal will not bring stability in the short or long term, nor will it enhance Israeli security. On the contrary, it would increase hostility and suspicion against Israel and the United States; will increase despair and rage among Palestinians, which is likely to lead to more extremism and absolutist stances; and while in the short term this might be portrayed as Palestinian intransigence, that kind of charade is not going to last long outside of Israel and the United States.

The sort of “compromise” Jeremy proposed demonstrates a mindset where Israeli and Palestinian claims to security are not equal, but that Israel’s must absolutely trump Palestine’s. And that comes from someone who, I am quite convinced, is among the most open-minded and fair of the pro-Israel crowd, a man who does understand, in the abstract, that peace must provide real freedom for Palestinians. I know that from speaking to him directly over the years. And J Street has done good work in opening up the discussion (though they still have a good way to go in that regard, as I explained last year in Open Zion)

But the politics that follow don’t necessarily reflect those abstract views. And voices of influence in Washington are largely, with a few exceptions, far to the right of Jeremy’s. Indeed, that’s a big part of the issue for J Street—most of their arguments take place with them in the left wing, peacenik role. In such circumstances, it is hard to be optimistic about hopes for peace.

5 thoughts on “Splitting the Child

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  3. Mitchell: This article of yours reminds me of what Yair Lapid said in his recent interview with Rose: That Palestinians wanted peace and justice while Israelis wanted peace with security. Ben Ami, perhaps unwittingly, winds up supporting the almost endless expansionist game of the Israeli government under the rubric of “security.” I will say, however, that both phrases can be manipulatively employed to cut wide swaths

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