By Kent Kroeger (Source: NuQum.com, December 22, 2016)
“I believe that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an existential necessity if Israel is to remain a Jewish homeland,” recently wrote Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder and president of J Street, a nonprofit advocacy group that lobbies to end the Israel–Palestinian conflict peacefully and diplomatically. “As important, I believe ruling as an occupying power over millions of Palestinians for 50 years while denying them their rights is not only strategically unwise but also morally unjustifiable.”
“Never before has a diplomatic novice been placed in this sensitive post, where a single wrong word or move could pour fuel on fires already burning in the region,” wrote Ben-Ami in a Washington Post editorial opposing the nomination of David Friedman, a New York bankruptcy lawyer, as the U.S. Ambassador to Israel by President-elect Donald Trump.
Friedman’s response to Ben-Ami and his other Jewish-American critics has been harsh, to say the least. He’s even included a particularly ugly and noxious slur that relates Ben-Ami and J Street supporters to “Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.” I don’t know Mr. Ben-Ami but what I’ve read and heard from him — in his own words — does not strike me as deviant from the mainstream opinions within the American-Jewish community.
In Pew Research’s October 2013 survey of Jewish Americans, 61 percent of Jewish Americans said they were optimistic that there is a way for Israel and an Independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, compared to only 50 percent of adults in the U.S. In the same survey, 44 percent of Jewish Americans said Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories “hurt” Israel’s security, compared to only 17 percent who said the settlements helped.
Interestingly, Ben-Ami’s position on the necessity of the “two-state solution” is also consistent with the stated position of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in May 2016 said, “We are willing to negotiate with the Arab states’ revisions to the (Arab Peace) initiative so that it reflects the dramatic changes in our region since 2002, but maintains the agreed goal of two states for two peoples.”
I am not suggesting Ben-Ami and Netanyahu are of a like mind on how to achieve a two-state solution, but at a minimum their stated goal for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict does not deviate from the UN resolutions on the “Peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine” that date back to 1974.
I know little about David Friedman, except what he wrote about Ben-Ami and J Street and what I’ve heard and read about him in the media.
My general rule is: Don’t make a judgement about someone through what you hear or read about them through the media. I have also learned with age that sometimes people we don’t agree with (or even like) can be that shock to your own system of beliefs that moves you into a new and more productive direction. Friedman may fill that role if he becomes the U.S. Ambassador to Israel.
In a June 2016 interview on Israeli TV, Friedman said: “I think if you look at the Palestinians, they share something in common with the entire Muslim world, which is 90% or so of them are perfectly fine, good people. They’ve been hijacked by the 10% that observes radical, Islamic jihad. I think if you went to those 90% and said to them, ‘Would you rather live under an Israeli regime or under a new Palestinian state,’ I would be shocked if the majority of them wouldn’t prefer Israeli rule,” he said.
Prepare to be shocked, Mr. Friedman. I don’t think 90 percent Palestinians will agree with you on that. However, more and more Israeli and Palestinian activists, sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, are also saying that the two-solution is O.B.E. (Overtaken by Events) and that the resolution to the conflict requires a new paradigm.
In a recent conversation with a young Palestinian, currently studying at Iowa State University, he gave me his diagnosis on the two-state solution.
“It is dead,” he said.
“What replaces it? The one-state solution?” I asked.
“Right now, nothing. It’s the status quo – which is the most unacceptable version of the one-state solution.”
But, unlike even five years ago, when it was hard to find anyone talking about a ‘one-state solution,’ there are now prominent activists sharing the same sentiment as that ISU student. Scholars Noura Erakat and Leila Farsakh, after attending a meeting with European Union leaders in 2013, concluded that the failure of the two-state solution has left the region with a de facto one-state solution. Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, has been quoted as saying, “Good riddance! The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is finally dead.”
In his eulogy for the two-state solution during a book tour in 2013, U.S. religious scholar, Reza Aslan, gave what may be the simplest explanation for its demise:
“When Oslo was signed (in 1993) there were about 100,000 settlers living in Palestine. That was when the peace process was started. And 20 years of the peace process has led to 500,000 Israelis living on Palestinian land. The two-state solution is over.”
On that conclusion, Aslan, Barghouti, Erakat, Farsakh, Friedman and likely Netanyahu, too, aren’t that far apart. Obviously, the nature and future direction of this de facto one-state solution substantially separates Friedman and Netanyahu from the aforementioned academics and social activists. Nonetheless, Trump’s consciously provocative nominee for the U.S. ambassadorship may at least serve the purpose of cutting through the cynicism and unrealistic posturing that continues to dominate the mainstream rhetoric of Israeli, American and Palestinian leaders.
After eight years of failed American leadership with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is time for change.