Let’s get beyond lip service on a two-state solution

It seems like almost everyone in our community — with the exception of a few on the extreme right and the far left — supports the two-state solution as the only way to solve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

But with real negotiations now under way for the first time in years, now is the time for American Jews to move beyond mere lip service. We need to fully understand and embrace what a two-state solution entails, both the tough decisions and painful sacrifices demanded from both sides, as well as the huge benefits that Israelis and Palestinians stand to reap. And then we need to get fully behind it.

That’s why J Street at its annual conference last weekend launched a $1 million campaign to educate American Jews and move them from passive to active support. We will be running advertisements and organizing dozens of town hall meetings across the country. We’ll be collecting tens of thousands of signatures for a petition to Secretary of State John Kerry expressing our support. Our Web site, 2campaign.org, is already up and running, and we’ll expand it in coming months to become a comprehensive educational resource.

The question arises, why mobilize support for something that almost everyone already says they agree with? After all, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas both back the idea of making peace with the Palestinians through an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush tried to advance that goal — and now President Barack Obama is working hard to make it a reality. The international community endorses it. Majorities of Israelis and Palestinians support it as do, according to a poll last year, more than 80 percent of American Jews.

AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are all on record supporting two states for two peoples.

The problem is, everyone sees the issue in their own terms. Too many of us support the idea of a two-state solution in theory or as a vague aspiration but oppose the concessions that Israel must make to get there. We talk about peace in the abstract, but we recoil from the reality.

We need to understand that we cannot support a two-state solution and  not be willing to talk about making Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem the capital of the new state of Palestine.

We can’t support a two-state solution yet refuse to acknowledge that the border will be drawn along the pre-1967 armistice lines with minor, agreed-upon land swaps.

We can’t support the two-state solution and call those pre-1967 borders indefensible or be unwilling to talk about evacuating settlements and relocating settlers who are currently beyond the eventual border of the state of Israel.

And, similarly, for Palestinians, they cannot support the two-state solution and be unwilling to acknowledge that those refugees from 1948 still alive and their millions of descendants will not be returning to the State of Israel.  Yes, their rights will have to be addressed, but through an agreement that provides compensation and assistance in resettling permanently elsewhere.

In the past, when negotiations have gotten tough and hard decisions are called for, both parties have backed away. At those crucial moments, Israeli and Palestinian hardliners, who oppose any kind of deal except on their own extreme terms, have mounted campaigns to make it more difficult for their leaders to make the tough decisions.

This time, when these hardliners appeal for help from their allies in the United States, our community and our elected officials must respond with a different answer: “Go back to the table, work things out, find the courage to take the tough decisions. And when you do, we will support you. We’ll have your back.”

Sometime within the next few months, we will reach an important moment — a moment of decision. The future of our beloved Israel as a democracy and a Jewish homeland will hang in the balance.

We owe it to ourselves to do everything we can to help make peace a reality.