September 25, 2018

A VISIONARY’S INSIGHT: Can Yossi Klein Halevi Bring Us Hope for Peace?

French Hill is the center of the universe of author and journalist Yossi Klein Halevi. It’s a neighborhood in East Jerusalem where his “apartment is in the last row of houses, which you see as steplike structures built into the hillside.”

I grew up not far from those “steplike structures.” When Klein Halevi immigrated to Israel as a young adult in the early 1980s, I was a teenager on the hill next to his, roaming the area with my friends, climbing the rocky terrain, walking for many miles, looking for mild trouble.

From his residence, Klein Halevi sees the “concrete wall that cuts through the landscape we share” — that is, cutting Jerusalem from the West Bank, separating neighborhoods, serving as a barrier, a deterrent and a reminder that not all is well on the Israeli-Palestinian front.

When I was growing up, it was not yet there. There was no need for it because Palestinian violence and resistance to the Israeli 1967 occupation was still mute. If, at that time, I had written “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor,” the title of Klein Halevi’s new book, they could have been hand delivered. Of course, because there was not much trouble, and because I was still young and more careless, the necessity of any such letters eluded me. Admittedly, I do not know if such letters can be helpful today.

Klein Halevi is a man who has very few, if any, enemies. He’s a man loved by everybody — a quality that can be annoying. While reading his book, you will fall in love with him, too, because the book very much reflects his admirable features: gentleness, soulfulness, cautious optimism. He loves people, friends and enemies alike, and they love him back. He loves his country, Israel; he loves his people, the Jewish people; he loves his culture and religion, Judaism. But then, he also loves Islam, its sacred sites and adherents, and he loves the Palestinian people. And he seems to think that we can all get along lovingly if we only …

Only what?

His book makes the case that what Israelis and Palestinians need is to better understand one another and have more respect for their competing narratives. “I don’t believe that peace without at least some attempt at mutual understanding can endure,” he writes. “Whatever official document may be signed by our leaders in the future will be undermined on the ground, on your hill and mine.” And by understanding, he doesn’t just mean understanding what happened yesterday or 50 years ago. By understanding, he means understanding everything: What we believe in, what our values are, what our story is dating back thousands of years, what we dream at night, what we ask for in our prayers, and of whom.

In many ways, he turns the Western diplomatic formulation on its head. As he tells it, religion is not the problem, it is the solution; tradition is not the problem, it is the solution.

So his letters tell his side of the story — our side of the story — in the hope that Palestinians would read it. A translation into Arabic is available to download for free. Without asking him, I have no doubt that Klein Halevi is no less interested in the number of copies downloaded for free by Palestinians, than by the number of copies sold in English for a solid price. Yes, I suspect his motivations for writing the book are not material. Some might say that this is also annoying.

The book begins with the destruction of the Temple and ends with the holiday of Sukkot. On French Hill, Klein Halevi builds his sukkah, from which he can “clearly see three distinct political entities. The sovereign territory of the state of Israel ends at the wall. In the distance is the Palestinian Authority. And in the farthest distance, the hills of Jordan.” Yet, the book is hardly one about “political entities” in the naked, secular, businesslike sense. It is about the history of the Jewish people, about their beliefs and customs, about their traumas and fears, about their redemption and joy. It is a story from which a Palestinian could benefit, and also a book from which many Jews could benefit — a comprehensive, yet easy to digest, introduction to our story. The story of the Jews and their land.

Klein Halevi is a spiritual man, and his story of the conflict is a spiritual story, and his proposed remedy for the conflict is a spiritual remedy. In many ways, he turns the Western diplomatic formulation on its head. As he tells it, religion is not the problem, it is the solution; tradition is not the problem, it is the solution.

In fact, Klein Halevi might convince you that ignoring religion, ignoring tradition, ignoring myths, ignoring theological conundrums is the problem. The “peace process” tended to treat religious Israelis and Palestinians as obstacles to peace — they are the radicals, the conservatives, the belligerent, the ignorant, the non-forward-looking — without realizing that untying the knot of tradition is the only way to achieve real peace. Not a peace of signed papers — a peace of minds and souls.

In fact, this book is an attempt to fix this fatal flaw that mired all peace processes and all attempts at resolving the conflict. An attempt to fill in the gaps that negotiators and observers — most of whom are secular, modern, unburdened by traditions and theologies — tended to neglect. Klein Halevi doesn’t talk much about security arrangements, geopolitical considerations, economic agreements or legal complexities. He talks about myths and religion, about ancient texts and their contemporary meaning. He talks about a sacred land that cannot be traded offhandedly. He talks about traumas and empathy.

In the chapter about the Holocaust, Klein Halevi argues that its psychological aftermath is “devastating” not just for Jews but also for Palestinians. “The war against Israel’s existence has reawakened old demons in new form. When the worst Jewish fears are incited, your suffering becomes, for us, not a tragedy to redress but a threat to rebuff.” In other words, if the Palestinians or their supporters speak or act in ways that echo the tragic past, Israel’s instinctive response is to be aggressive.

Holocaust denial is a root cause of the ongoing conflict, Klein Halevi argues, including Holocaust denial in hard or soft forms (accusing Israel of committing crimes much like the Nazis is also a form of Holocaust denial). His book doesn’t mention it, but recent comments made by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas prove this point.

Yet, denying the Jewish narrative doesn’t begin nor end with the Holocaust. It begins with the allegation that Jews have nothing to do with the land of Israel. “When Palestinian Authority president Abbas would speak of Jerusalem, he’d invoke the Muslim and Christian historical presence and pointedly omit the Jewish presence,” Klein Halevi writes. His retelling of the story of Jewish connection to the land is aimed at convincing his Palestinian neighbor to reconsider, to accept that the Jews are an indigenous people.

“If you were in my place, neighbor, what would you do?  Would you take  the chance and withdraw  to narrow borders and trust a rival national movement that denied your right to exist?” — Yossi Klein Halevi

Klein Halevi also retells the story of early Zionism, to rebuke the common myth that Israel is a compensation that the Europeans agreed to pay the Jews to remedy the damage of the Holocaust. He tells the tale of non-European Jews who fled their countries and are not living in Israel. He tells the stories of 1947 and of 1967 — the latter being the main actor in Klein Halevi’s previous book, “Like Dreamers.”

He explains how the Jewish settler movement began, the motivation behind it, and the moment when he no longer accepted its motivations and actions. It was “in Hebron that my romance with the settlement movement ended. On an autumn night in 1984, I went to report on a Jewish celebration that was happening in the streets of Hebron. It was the night after Simchat Torah, the festival when Jews dance with Torah scrolls to mark the completion of the annual cycle of biblical readings in the synagogue. … To accommodate the celebration, the army had shut the streets. … I saw Jews raising Torah scrolls, which contain the injunction to remember that we were strangers in  Egypt  and  so  we  must  treat  the stranger fairly, dancing in the streets emptied of their Palestinian neighbors.”

It is easy to believe the author. He is a wonderful writer with an uncanny ability to be not just a good storyteller but also a good listener. “For me the compelling Palestinian argument against partition is the more straightforward one,” he writes. “As I’ve often heard Palestinians put it: If a stranger squatted in your home, would you accept dividing the house with him? Even if he gave you three rooms and kept ‘only’ two, would you regard that compromise as fair?”

Of course, it doesn’t end here. We’re not supposed to be convinced that the Palestinian narrative is more tragic than ours, but rather to be convinced that it is profound enough for us to take into account. Or, to put it more accurately: Palestinian readers are supposed to be persuaded that the author cares about their narrative, and they are also supposed to care about the author’s.

I suspect this message is tailored not just to catch the eye and gain the confidence of Palestinian readers, but also to gain the confidence of young liberal Jews in the United States (possibly the primary target audience of this book).

So it is easy to believe him, but in all honesty, it is also easy to question his message’s prospects for success. Klein Halevi prays a lot. While sitting at home or visiting the Cave of the Patriarchs, he prays the kind of prayer that has a disarming quality. Wrapped in his tallit, head bowed, lips whispering, eyes shut — there is nothing intimidating about his presence, nothing threatening. In the cynical world of politics, such a posture can be a surprise maneuver that catches everyone off guard — or it can be a naïve posture that catches no one.

To believe that this book can have an impact on Palestinians and Jews, one has to accept two premises: First, that people are ready to be convinced by the stories of others; and second, that what prevents Palestinians and Israelis from achieving peace is a lack of sufficient knowledge. “If you were in my place, neighbor, what would you do?  Would you take  the chance and withdraw  to narrow borders and trust a rival national movement that denied your right to exist?” Klein Halevi asks. His supposition is that a negative answer — “No, I would not withdraw” — must prompt understanding and, hence, acceptance of Israel’s refusal to withdraw. Then again, I’m not sure this is how it works. Maybe a Palestinian answer would be: No, I would not withdraw, and I still want you to withdraw.

And there’s another problem — well, it’s not a problem, but it could seem like a problem to some readers. Klein Halevi wants something that many Israelis and Palestinians don’t currently want. He wants division of the land and separation of the people. He wants the “two-state solution.” Klein Halevi believes in an arrangement that many of Israel’s Jews have ceased to believe in (at least for now). In other words, by telling the story of the Jews the author attempts to convince the Palestinians to accept a deal in which many of his fellow Jews have lost faith.

The bottom line is obvious: No book can ever resolve an intractable conflict. We have yet to see if the Palestinian neighbors of Klein Halevi will read his letters. Let’s hope they do.

In the meantime, what’s left is you and me, the people who grapple with this issue, the people who have doubts and questions, the people who feel uncomfortable but aren’t sure why, the people with conflicting impulses about an unbearable conflict. By providing an honest, soulful and balanced recap of two emotional narratives, “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor” has given us a spiritual roadmap, if not to peace, then at least to hope.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner’s Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Pity Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during his meeting with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro at the Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

Only a confirmed hater of Palestinians — and a confirmed anti-Semite — could believe that they have the leadership they deserve.

Permit me to explain.

Last week, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas blamed the Jewish behavior of usury and money lending for causing the Holocaust. This isn’t the first time that Abbas has engaged in bizarre theories of history. Year ago, his doctoral dissertation, written while he was a student at Patrice Lumumba University in Russia, was on the “secret” relationship between Nazism and Zionism. Six million was exaggerated. He was a soft-core Holocaust denier.

Only this year, he reiterated that often repeated myth that the Jews have no attachment to the Temple Mount, none to Jerusalem or to the land of Israel, the Bible — archaeological evidence and religious practice of 2,500 years notwithstanding.

Now an elderly, sick man of 82, Abbas has been president of the Palestinian National Authority — to some, the State of Palestine — for 13 years and will go to his grave with no accomplishments to his name as the leader of his people. Divided between Gaza and the West Bank, they are ever more distant from statehood.

His achievements: He has become the No. 1 ally of Israel’s right-wing intent on having a one state solution, a Jewish state.

And he has become the No. 1 enemy of those of us who support a two-state solution because he has little credibility and alienated all but the most extreme for support for Palestinian statehood. Any possibility of a two-state solution will have to await not only a change in Israel’s current attitude but, more significantly, a change in Palestinian leadership.
He twice has rejected reasonable offers from former Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, walking away, as did the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat before him, without even countering an offer of his own, afraid that he might be assassinated or go down in history as having betrayed his people’s most maximalist goals.

One must view Mahmoud Abbas as a pathetic figure and pity his people who hold onto him because they can’t imagine another way.

He even has alienated support within the Arab world, which no longer sees the Israel-Palestinian conflict as the central issue of the Middle East. Many Arab leaders view the Sunni-Shite conflict as more fundamental, and Israel as an indispensable force against Iran dominance.

I am beyond anger. Anger is based on expectations and disappointment when those expectation are not met, but I have no expectations from Abbas. Time has passed him by, his place in history is now secure. He has achieved nothing. Challenge yourself to name one positive accomplishment by him.

So one must view Abbas as a pathetic figure and pity his people who hold onto him because they can’t imagine another way.

Still, I cannot rejoice in the magnitude of his defeat because unlike the Israeli right and their American-Jewish supporters, I think that Israel desperately needs a two-state solution because it cannot sustain a Jewish state and a democratic state while still retaining control over so sizable a population that has no desire to be ruled by Israel. Day in and day out, we witness the cost of occupation not only to the Palestinian people but to Israeli democracy.
Nothing can happen until Abbas is no longer in power; the only way for something to happen is for the Palestinians to reverse the pressure on Israel by presenting a credible possibility of co-existence.

And again, the hypocrisy of some global institutions is glaring. When Abbas touched the sacred cow of the Holocaust, he was forced to retreat. He offered an apology: “Sorry to offend,” “didn’t mean to attack Judaism as a religion.” Yet when he denies Jewish ties to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem, its capital under David and Solomon and the locus of Jewish prayers since 70 C.E., many are silent and UNESCO and others endorse his fantasies. And then they wonder why Israel turns rightward and inward, scorning those institutions that should be pressing Palestinian leadership not to follow the path to perdition.

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute and a professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University.

Don’t shoot the messenger: On Natalie Portman

When the Genesis Prize Foundation announced last November that the Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman would be the recipient of this year’s prize — often described as the “Jewish Nobel” — it offered Portman the highest praise:

“Without a doubt, she is a role model for millions of young Jews around the world.”

That compliment now seems both prescient and alarming.

Since Portman has decided to reject the prize and boycott the ceremony in protest of Israel government policies and practices — saying she did not wish to attend an event at which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be present — what must those millions of young Jews think now? And what does it mean that the most high-profile cultural censure of Israel to date has not come from the invidious Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, but from one of our own?

It is worse than a pity that Portman chose to rebuke Israel with her boycott. As Jane Eisner wrote in The Forward, couldn’t she have gone to the ceremony and given a killer human rights speech in Netanyahu’s face? If she wishes to protest Israeli policies, I wish she would say which ones. Or does she want us and the world to think the entire Israeli government, despite a robust democratic opposition, is a total disgrace?

But OK, I get it. Portman didn’t want her acceptance of the prize or her presence at the event to be seen as an endorsement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. As a citizen of Israel, she’s entitled to her dissent. That’s what Israeli democracy is about. We can be proud that one of Israel’s democratic strengths is that it can tolerate criticism.

That problem is the collapse of peace talks and the idea and promise of a two-state solution.

At this point, I’m far less interested in whether Portman’s decision to refuse the Genesis Prize makes her a hero or a traitor. Scores of outspoken Jews in the opposing camps have issued their views over the past week, exacerbating an already painful situation. I don’t really care what your personal politics are, when an Israeli Jew rejects an Israeli honor, it should hurt. It signifies that the Jewish world has a big problem on its hands, far more disruptive than Jewish disunity. Portman isn’t the problem, she is a reflection of that problem and a harbinger of how much worse it could get.

That problem is the collapse of peace talks and the idea and promise of a two-state solution.

Yes, the two-state solution. Remember that old thing? You should, because it’s the only thing that could end the terrible occupation that has been a stain on Israeli and Jewish consciences for more than five decades. And, because the alternative to a two-state solution spells political and moral catastrophe for the Israel we love.

Maintaining the status quo — the current one-state solution — means more and more boycotts. It means international isolation. It means more and more Jews turning away from the Jewish homeland because they can’t conscience a triumphalist Israel over a virtuous one. The alternative to a two-state solution is personified by Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement and an enemy to the idea of a Jewish state, who said: “I can sense our South Africa moment coming closer.”

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you that South African apartheid didn’t end with a two-state solution. (Never mind that the comparison between Israel and South Africa is intellectually unsound; most people aren’t educated enough about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to know the difference, and as we all know, even fake news gets traction.)

Portman may not be the tipping point, but the tipping point may come if “millions of young Jews around the world” choose to follow in her footsteps and alienate the Jewish state when there are millions of reasons to love it. The tipping point is coming when the actions of those young Jews will be hard to distinguish from the actions of the BDS movement. Be angry about that outcome, but don’t dismiss it.

Whatever one feels about Portman’s decision or the “liberal American Jews” who might disappear in a generation, we should care about the reasons why they would want to distance themselves from Israel in the first place.

We should also want to find a way to get them back.

Episode 78 – Why Isn’t the Arab World Interested in Peace?

Photo by Iliya Yefimovich

“You promised a dove.” Those words were written by the Israeli poet, Shmuel Hasfari, in his song “Winter ‘73”. Some interpreted them as a sort of eulogy to peace. A peace which was promised to a generation of Israelis who only found themselves disappointed time after time at the ever eluding prospect of peace with the Arab world.

The song was written around the same time as the Oslo Accords were signed between Israel and the PLO – a time of great hope for this generation – the kids of ‘73. But soon they were devastated once again. With the outbreak of the second intifada, many gave up hope for the prospect of peace. Some pointed their fingers at the Israeli leadership who failed them. Some blamed the settlement movement and others pinned the failure to attain peace on the Palestinian’s lack of determination.

Dr. Einat Wilf, a former Member of Knesset, grew up as a member of the Labor Party and was an ardent advocate of the two state solution. She believed that if only Israel and its leaders would propose the right deal, at the right time, we would have peace. We would have that allusive and elusive “dove”.

The kids of ‘73 had a childhood full of hope and aspirations. They grew up to peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and the Oslo Accords. However, the failure of those Accords, the atrocities of the second intifada, and stalemates upon stalemates in the peace process caused many in that generation to abandon hope.

Dr. Wilf join us today to talk about how her experiences both in and out of politics shaped her perspective on the peace process.

Einat Wilf on Twitter and her official website 

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Palestinian Authority wants two-state commitment from Trump administration by end of August

Husam Zomlot, the PLO envoy to Washington, speaks to reporters in Washington, D.C., Aug. 17, 2017. Photo by Ron Kampeas.

The Palestinian Authority expects the Trump administration to commit to a peace deal endgame before the close of this month and prefers it would be the two-state solution.

“We need them to tell us where the hell they are going,” Husam Zomlot, the Palestine Liberation Organization envoy to Washington, said Thursday at a meeting in his office with reporters. “It’s about time we hear it.”

Zomlot said a high-level U.S. delegation comprising Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and his top adviser charged with Middle East peace; Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s top international negotiator; and Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser, would meet Aug. 24 in Ramallah with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian negotiating team.

The meeting will come toward the end of a tour in which the U.S. officials also will meet with Israeli and other regional leaders, including from Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Zomlot said that for the Palestinian Authority, the preferred outcome remained a recommitment to the two-state solution. Trump retreated soon after assuming the presidency in January from a two-state outcome, which has been U.S. policy since 2002. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had committed to a two-state solution in 2009, also has been silent since then about his commitment. A majority of Netanyahu’s Cabinet opposes having two states.

“A two-state solution has international equilibrium, it has regional backing and it has a global consensus,” Zomlot said. “We are saying to them, we have a starting point, and letting go of this starting point is the worst thing they can do.”

Zomlot said the Palestinian Authority wanted two states based on the 1967 borders, and wanted to hear from the Trump administration how best to deal with factors that would endanger a peaceful outcome, including Jewish settlements, the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and religious tensions at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, which both Jews and Muslims claim as holy.

“The how is crucial,” he said.

He said that in the wake of serious negotiations, “the Palestinian consensus government will be tasked with two things: the ending of the situation in Gaza — the unprecedented situation in Gaza — and as soon as possible the convening of Palestinian national elections.”

A major obstruction to advancing peace talks has been the absence of P.A. control in the Gaza Strip, where the Hamas terrorist group is the authority. Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, along with Israel, have been squeezing Gaza by reducing basic supplies to its Hamas rulers, including electricity.

Zomlot would not say what the Palestinian Authority would do if the U.S. delegation did not lay out an endgame, but said uncertainty could lead the P.A. to return to seeking international recognition for statehood — a posture that Israel and the United States adamantly oppose — or to further Palestinian resistance against Israel. He said the resistance would be “peaceful.”

Zomlot conveyed an overall positive impression of Trump and his negotiators, saying they had carefully considered Palestinian positions, and that Trump’s commitment to an endgame rather than simply perpetuating the process was positive.

“The character of President Trump himself — we believe this is a person who could actually take the leap, who could exert pressure on all sides,” he said.

Zomlot and the Palestinian Authority appear to be relying on pressure by Trump as a means of delivering Israel on the two-state solution. Zomlot made clear that he did not believe Netanyahu had the wherewithal to advance to final status negotiations on his own.

“Netanyahu is behaving like a politician, not a statesman,” he said of the prime minister’s coalition maneuvering, in which he must deal with partners who oppose concessions. “Israel deserves better leadership.”

Zomlot expressed anger with Congress and the welter of proposed bills that would cut U.S. assistance to the Palestinian Authority and otherwise penalize it. Chief among the measures is the Taylor Force Act, named for an American stabbed to death in a 2016 terrorist attack, which would link funding to the Palestinian areas to the cessation of P.A. payments to the families of Palestinians killed in or jailed for attacks on Israelis.

He said the Palestinian Authority was ready to “revise and negotiate” its payment system, but would not submit to pressure.

“Don’t use financial pressure with us,” he said. “It does not work.”

Poll: Palestinians’ support for two-state solution rising

A general view of the West Bank city of Hebron on July 7. Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters

A nearly equal majority of Israelis and Palestinians back a two-state solution, and the Palestinians’ support is rising, a new poll shows.

Support among Israelis is at 53 percent, a decline of 2 percentage points since December, and at 52 percent among Palestinians both in the West Bank and Gaza, an increase of 8 points, according to Palestinian-Israeli Pulse: A Joint Poll, published July 31.

Tel Aviv University’s Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah conducted the survey with funding from the European Union and the Netherlands Representative Office in Ramallah.

The poll was conducted in June and early July among representative samples of 1,200 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and 900 Israelis, with an additional sample of Jewish settlers and Arab citizens.

The margin of error for both surveys was plus or minus 3 percent.

The survey tested the details of a permanent peace agreement, with incentives for those who are opposed; perceptions of the other; and alternate scenarios to the two-state solution, including both equal and unequal versions of one state, and a confederation of two states.

When presented with a peace agreement package based on previous rounds of negotiations — including a demilitarized Palestinian state and Israeli withdrawal to pre-June 1967 lines with land swaps; family unification in Israel of 100,000 Palestinian refugees; West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, with the Old City divided among the two sides; and the end of the conflict and claims — overall Israeli support declined to 41 percent from 46 percent in December, with backing among Jewish Israelis falling to 32 percent from 41 percent. Palestinian support rose 4 percent to 43 percent, with much of the rise coming from Gazans.

Incentives offered to those who opposed the peace agreement package caused the total support to rise on both sides. Among the incentives offered was the release of all Palestinian prisoners, which caused Palestinian support to rise to 73 percent; Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, which spurred support among Jewish Israelis to rise to 58 percent; and changing educational textbooks on both sides to remove incitement, raising support by one-third on both sides.

Some 57.5 percent of all Palestinians and 58.3 percent of all Israelis opposed the idea of a confederation of a Palestinian state and the State of Israel in which citizens of each country could live in the territory of the other under their laws, with security and the economy handled jointly by both countries.

A majority of Palestinians, or 52.3 percent, believe a two-state solution is no longer viable, and 43.9 percent of Israelis agree. In a separate question, 58 percent of Palestinians and 61.4 percent of Israelis opposed one state for Palestinians and Israelis.

Some 47.2 percent of Israelis support or strongly support the evacuation of Jewish settlements under a peace agreement, with 44.8 percent opposing or strongly opposing such a move.

In a question on the perception of others, 39.6 percent of Palestinians said they agreed or certainly agreed with the statement “I feel fear toward Israeli Jews,” and 67.5 percent of Jewish Israelis agreed or certainly agreed with the statement “I feel fear toward Palestinians.” Some 53.3 percent of Palestinians said they disagreed or certainly disagreed with the statement “Most Israelis want peace,” and 62.2 percent of Israelis said they disagreed or certainly disagreed with the statement “Most Palestinians want peace.”

A Palestinian state: Like Gaza, only bigger

Jason Greenblatt, left, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a visit to Jerusalem on March 13. Photo by Government Press Office

“Two-state” Middle East proposals are alluring given the prizes they offer each side: a Jewish, democratic Israel; and an independent Palestine. But any real two-state “solution” (and not just a two-state result) must improve the daily lives of both Israelis and Palestinians. For Palestinians, that’s unlikely.

Ten years ago this week, the radical terrorist group Hamas took control of the already-miserable Gaza Strip – and daily life in Gaza has only worsened in the decade since. Indeed, two million Gazans face massive unemployment and daily struggles to find adequate food, housing, electricity, clean water, and medical care. The United Nations predicts the area will be “unlivable” by 2020.

Gaza’s dire straits are usually blamed on the blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, as well as other travel and economic restrictions that wouldn’t apply if Palestine were independent. But Palestinian structural, political, and cultural problems mean the Gaza script is all too likely to be replayed on the West Bank in the event of a two-state resolution. How long before the Palestinian residents of Nablus and Hebron begin pining for the good old days of Israeli presence?

With all the complaints about Israeli checkpoints and other restrictions, it’s easy to forget that Israel built the skeleton upon which Palestine has rested, for better or worse, for half a century.

I’m not sure Israel would simply hand over the infrastructure it created – let’s face it, mostly for its own citizens – in the event of a Palestinian state. Two states would not reflect a “divorce” as in Czechoslovakia in 1993, since the land for Palestine originally came from Jordan and Israel was never binational. If Palestine asks Israel to defer to its declaration of independence, it can’t reasonably expect to simply keep everything Israel built within its borders. The two states would have to negotiate the disposition of the West Bank’s water systems, telecommunications, transportation, electric grid, and more.

But even if Israel did abandon all claims to the foundation it built through massive investment in the West Bank, Palestinians have no experience administering and operating it efficiently. Over in Gaza, the technical problems are not solely due to Israeli interference; Hamas blunders also play a role.

The currency Palestinians use – even in Gaza – is the Israeli shekel. An independent Palestine would have its own currency, which – even if pegged to the dollar or the Euro – would be untested and a risky change from Israel’s currently robust shekel.

People often forget that Israel’s military presence in the West Bank modulates the territory’s internal conflicts. Palestinians are sharply divided, particularly regarding the religious and political shape of any future state. Israel’s army has kept those tensions from boiling over into civil war. Who will play that role if Israel withdraws?

And some of Gaza’s plight results from Palestinian cultural factors that would stymie a healthy democracy. (Indeed, the technically democratic Palestinian Authority hasn’t held an election in 11 years.) Notorious corruption on the West Bank combined with tribal and regional rivalries suggest a constantly destabilized Palestine, particularly after it can no longer (well, should no longer) unify its people by blaming its disarray on Israel.

Of course, one of the reasons for Gaza’s hardship is the three short but devastating wars it fought with Israel. Israel had to invade each time because of rockets being fired at its civilians – and not only by militants controlled by Hamas. An independent Palestine will be hard-pressed to prevent individuals and groups from launching missiles on Israel – this time from closer range to Ben Gurion Airport and Tel Aviv. Palestinians bemoan the deaths of Gaza residents from Israel’s “disproportionate response” to its defensive actions. Independence in the West Bank would double down on that problem.

Why are Palestinians even pushing for an independent state given its likely failure to improve their lives? It’s not like they are unaware of the obstacles. Well, for many of them, an independent Palestine is just one step toward the ultimate goal of a unified nation including all of their “heritage” – and that includes Tel Aviv and its suburbs as much as it does Gaza, the West Bank, and Jerusalem.

Not every world problem has a solution. Korea remains divided and China still occupies Tibet. Many Israelis have welcomed he Trump Administration’s signals it is not wedded to the two-state approach. Perhaps Palestinians should also be heartened and eager to explore different strategies for easing the conflict, lest a two-state result produces a Palestinian state that is basically Gaza, only bigger.


David Benkof is a columnist for The Daily Caller, where this essay first appeared. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) and Muckrack.com/DavidBenkof, or E-mail him atDavidBenkof@gmail.com.

Resuming Israel-Palestine talks now would fail, backfire

Israeli Prime Minister and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Photo by Reuters

Current political realities make an Israeli-Palestinians peace agreement unattainable now. Even in the unlikely event that President Trump’s visit to Jerusalem and Bethlehem leads to new talks, resuming negotiations now would almost certainly fail – or, worse, backfire. Every previous attempt at direct, bilateral negotiations has failed, often followed by violence. And each setback intensified the deep mistrust and misunderstandings between the leaders and peoples on both sides, further diminishing confidence among Israelis and Palestinians that peace will ever be attainable.

As lifelong supporters of Israel, we have to acknowledge – though it pains us – that the peace process is broken. Yet, only a two-state solution will safeguard the Zionist dream – a state that is Jewish, democratic, and secure.  A one-state reality would either lead to a majority Arab population in control, whereby Israel would no longer a Jewish state, or to a Jewish minority ruling an Arab majority, which would clearly not be a democracy.  Either scenario would be a recipe for prolonged civil war.

Therefore, the goal of reaching a comprehensive peace agreement needs to be set aside for the time being. Instead, preserving conditions and hope for a two-state solution should become the goal, and it is up to Israelis to reach it. The immediate objective should be a realistic interim arrangement that could reduce resentments and increase prospects for an atmosphere on both sides that would be conducive to a two-state deal in the future.

The  Commanders for Israel’s Security (CIS), a network of 280 retired Israeli generals who have served at the highest echelons of the Israeli army, police and intelligence forces, has developed a pragmatic set of proposals  that would attain this objective. The generals’ plan would also immediately improve Israel’s security and enhance its regional and international standing, while improving living and economic conditions for Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.  Moreover, it can be implemented now.

Israel would acknowledge that the 92 percent of West Bank land east of Israel’s security barrier would be included in a future Palestinian state, and construction beyond built-up areas in the major settlement blocs, where 80 percent of settlers reside, would be prohibited.

Israel would close gaps in that security barrier but also reroute sections of it to minimize disruption to Palestinian lives.

Because Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation has been so successful, the Palestinian Authority’s police force would gradually expand its coverage to include some 700,000 Palestinians who currently have no police protection. This would be achieved by re-designating segments of the West Bank now under full Israeli civilian and security control (about 10 percent) and bringing them under Palestinian civil and administrative control.  This step would also lead to greater Palestinian territorial contiguity.

To take advantage of the current alignment of regional interests among Israel and moderate Sunni Arab states, Israel would accept the Arab Peace Initiative offered in 2002, with appropriate reservations, as a basis for future negotiations.

These and other steps can be taken independently by Israel today. They do not involve moving any settlers, dismantling any settlements, or evacuating any Israeli soldiers before a final agreement is negotiated.  They would improve Israel’s daily security, while halting its downward slide towards a one-state nightmare.

The commanders’ proposal, which our organization, Israel Policy Forum, endorses, would not bring about a final settlement now.  But it would enhance hope for the possibility of reaching a two-state solution in the future by freezing the expansion of Israeli settlements.  Moreover, it would increase public confidence among Israelis and Palestinians that a lasting peace is attainable, by tangibly enhancing their daily lives. For Israelis, it would reduce border infiltration that enables terrorism. For Palestinians, it would improve their economy as well as their daily life by expanding the role of their own police in guarding their security and making their land more contiguous.

The resultant improved atmosphere for talks could ultimately facilitate negotiations on two tracks – between Israelis and Palestinians to separate into two states, and between Israel and Arab countries to achieve normal relations and a regional security arrangement.

This will not be easy; provocateurs on both sides strive to prevent a two-state solution. However, an extended period of calm and a diminution of points of friction would reduce the ability of these spoilers to influence policy and public opinion. Gradually, a new atmosphere would enable leaders to defy provocation and advance toward a negotiated final status agreement, empowered by their publics’ desire to live in two separate states and their confidence that it is possible.

The United States should support the Israeli generals’ plan, encourage Israel to implement it, and call on the Palestinians and moderate Arab states to reciprocate toward Israel with equally constructive actions.

This pragmatic program is an achievable way forward to preserve an Israel that is Jewish, democratic, and secure. The vast majority of American Jews – indeed, all Americans – should support it, as should all Israelis.


Charles R. Bronfman is Advisory Council chair and Susie Gelman is Board chair of Israel Policy Forum, a non-partisan American organization that supports a two-state solution consistent with Israel’s security.

Five alternatives to designating separate states

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

This opinion tackling the two-state solution is the “con” argument published in conjunction with Alan Elsner’s “pro” argument, “The Two-State Solution Won’t Die.

Israel never seems to have a good answer to accusations of occupation and illegitimacy of the settlement enterprise. Whenever the claim that Israel stole Palestinian lands is heard, Israel inevitably answers, “We invented the cellphone” and “We have gay rights.” Obvious obfuscation. And when pushed to explain why the much-promised two-state solution is perennially stuck, always the answer is to blame Arab obstructionism.

This inability to give a straight answer is a result of 30 years of bad policy that has pressed Israel to create a Palestinian state on the historic Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria, which the world calls the West Bank. This policy has managed to legitimize the proposition that the West Bank is Arab land and that Israel is an intractable occupier there.

But for us settlers, the truth is different: The two-state solution was misconceived and will never come to pass, because Judea and Samaria belong to Israel. We have a 3,700-year presence in this land, our foundational history is here, and we have reacquired control here in defensive wars. The world recognized our indigeneity in the Balfour Declaration of 1917 and the San Remo accords of 1920.

Additionally, as a result of Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, when Hamas seized control and turned the strip into a forward base for jihad, starting three wars in seven years, most Israelis, however pragmatic, no longer believe in a policy of forfeiting land in the hopes of getting peace in return. No Israeli wants an Islamic State of Palestine looking down at them from the hilltops.

But as Israel is beginning to walk back the two-state solution, it is not easy to admit we were wrong, and many people’s careers are on the line. This is why Israel still mouths the two-state party line yet takes no steps toward making a Palestinian state a reality.

Now, the time has come for a discussion of new options in which Israel would hold on to the West Bank and eventually assert sovereignty there. Yes, Israel will have to grapple with questions of the Arab population’s rights, and the issues of the country’s security and Jewish character, but we believe those questions can be worked out through the democratic process.

At least five credible plans are on the table.

The first option, proposed by former Knesset members Aryeh Eldad and Benny Alon, is called “Jordan is Palestine,” a fair name given that Jordan’s population is estimated to be about 80 percent Palestinian. Under their plan, Israel would assert Israeli law in Judea and Samaria while Arabs living there would have Israeli residency and Jordanian citizenship.

A second alternative, suggested by Naftali Bennett, Israel’s education minister, proposes annexation of only Area C — the territory in the West Bank as defined by the Oslo Accords where a majority of 400,000 settlers live — while offering Israeli citizenship to the relatively few Arabs there. But Arabs living in Areas A and B, the main Palestinian population centers, would have self-rule.

A third option, which dovetails with Bennett’s, is promoted by Israeli scholar Mordechai Kedar. His premise is that the most stable Arab entity in the Middle East is the Gulf emirates, which are based on a consolidated traditional group or tribe. The Palestinian Arabs are not a cohesive nation, he argues, but are composed of separate city-based clans. So, he proposes Palestinian autonomy for seven noncontiguous emirates in major Arab cities, as well as Gaza (which he considers an emirate already). Israel would annex the rest of the West Bank and offer Israeli citizenship to Arab villagers outside of those cities.

The fourth proposal is by journalist Caroline Glick, author of the 2014 book “The Israeli Solution.” She claims that contrary to prevalent opinion, Jews are not in danger of losing a demographic majority in an Israel with Judea and Samaria. Alternative demographic research shows that due to falling Palestinian birth rates and emigration, combined with the opposite trend among Jews, a stable Jewish majority of above 60 percent exists between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea (excluding Gaza), and is projected to grow to 70 percent by 2059. On this basis, Glick concludes that the Jewish state is secure and that Israel should assert Israeli law in the West Bank and offer Israeli citizenship to its entire Arab population without fear of being outvoted.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely similarly would annex and give the Palestinians residency rights — with a pathway to citizenship for those who pledge allegiance to the Jewish state. Others prefer an arrangement more like that of Puerto Rico, a United States territory whose 3.5 million residents cannot vote in federal elections. Some Palestinians, like the Jabari clan in Hebron, want Israeli residency and are actively vying to undermine the Palestinian Authority, which they view as illegitimate and corrupt.

None of these options is a panacea and every formula has some potentially repugnant element or tricky trade-off. But given that the two-state solution is an empirical failure and Israelis are voting away from it … there is a historic opportunity to have an open discussion of real alternatives.

Finally, there is a fifth alternative by former Knesset member and head of the new Zehut party, Moshe Feiglin, and Martin Sherman of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies. They do not see a resolution of conflicting national aspirations in one land and instead propose an exchange of populations with Arab countries, which expelled about 800,000 Jews around the time of Israeli independence. In contrast, Palestinians in Judea and Samaria would be offered generous compensation to emigrate voluntarily.

None of these options is a panacea and every formula has some potentially repugnant element or tricky trade-off. But given that the two-state solution is an empirical failure and Israelis are voting away from it, and given that the new Donald Trump administration in the U.S. is not locked into the land-for-peace paradigm, there is a historic opportunity to have an open discussion of real alternatives, unhampered by the bankrupt notions of the past.

YISHAI FLEISHER is the international spokesman for the Jewish community of Hebron, home of Machpelah, the biblical tombs of Judaism’s founding fathers and mothers.

The two-state solution won’t die

An Israeli flag is seen near the minaret of a Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City. Nov. 30, 2016. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

This opinion tackling the two-state solution is the “pro” argument published in conjunction with Yishai Fleisher’s “con” argument, “Five Alternatives to Designating Separate States.

Seldom has an idea been pronounced dead more often than that of making peace between Israel and the Palestinians through a two-state solution. Politicians, experts, pundits and columnists have lined up to deliver their eulogies, lay it to earth, fill in its grave and recite Kaddish over its remains.  

Except that it still lives.

Even President Trump, who last month said he had no preference between a two-state solution and a so-called one state solution, has apparently reverted to a fairly classic two-state policy. His envoy, Jason Greenblatt, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas this week, was discussing reining in the Israeli settlements, presumably to preserve land for a future Palestinian state.

The reason even skeptics eventually come back to the two-state solution is that it remains the only viable, equitable and reasonable way of ending the seemingly endless conflict. Two peoples, who live side by side in the same land, can either fight over control of every square inch, denying the other side any ownership or control or dignity, or they can decide to share. The two-state solution does not pretend to give either side everything that they want – but it does give them everything that they need.

True, ultra-nationalists, who base Israel’s claim to the West Bank on their interpretation of God’s will, will never accept any solution that involves Israel relinquishing control over Judea and Samaria. Among this small group, various other “solutions” are regularly floated. A good example were the five “alternatives” proposed in a New York Times article last month by Hebron settler Yishai Fleisher (with whom I will debate at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills on the evening of March 30).

The five alternatives all have one thing in common: they do not treat Palestinians as equal to Jews and do not afford them anything close to equal rights. They do nothing to acknowledge Palestinian aspirations to control their own destiny in a state of their own. Fleisher himself recognizes this, stating that all his so-called plans have “potentially repugnant elements.”

The first of these alternatives — allowing Palestinians in the West Bank to become Jordanian citizens, while continuing to live in the West Bank under Israeli rule –would probably destabilize Jordan, a key US and Israeli bulwark against ISIS and al-Qaeda. And the plan itself is preposterous. Imagine if all the African-American residents of Michigan were suddenly told they were henceforth citizens of Canada and not the United States. They could send delegates to Parliament in Ottawa and help determine policies north of the border – but not where they live.

Two of Fleisher’s other so-called alternative solutions are based on Israel’s annexing most of the West Bank, leaving the cities as small Palestinian islands in charge of sewage collection and street lamps but not much else. They would be, in effect, Bantustans – a system attempted unsuccessfully by South Africa during the apartheid era.

The fourth solution suggested by Fleisher would give Palestinians full citizenship in Israel. They would have to swear loyalty to the Jewish state to earn this privilege. While this would not violate their human rights, it would effectively mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state with a Jewish majority, if the Palestinians accepted the conditions. It’s hard to imagine any of the Zionist parties in Israel even pretending to consider this or many Palestinians signing on.

The final alternative in Fleisher’s list is the “voluntary” emigration of some 800,000 Palestinians from the West bank who would be financially “incentivized” to leave for their ancestral lands and rights. Where would they go? Jordan, which is already staggering under the weight of some  1.4 million refugees? Western Europe, where anti-immigrant populist movements are vying for power? Or perhaps Israel could persuade President Trump to accept a few hundred thousand Palestinians in the United States.

All of these false formulas, based on self-deception and fundamental injustice, should persuade us once more that the two-state solution is the only way to end the conflict. The moment the two-state solution really does dies, both peoples condemn themselves to a future of conflict without end, generation after generation – and that is a future too awful to accept.

At the core of this idea are the fundamental principles of peace and justice. With beautiful simplicity and economy, Psalm 34 tells us to “seek peace and pursue it.” With equal terseness, Deuteronomy 16:20 commands us, “Justice, Justice shall you pursue.”

Though current prospects are bleak, I believe that the moment for the two-state solution will come because eventually both sides will realize they have no other choice and that the status quo will become intolerable. The moment may come in five years, it may take longer. But ideas, unlike mortals, have the power to persist for generations, centuries and even millennia when they stand on the fundamental human principles of peace and justice. This is an idea that is too strong to die.

The author is Special Adviser to the President of J Street.

Israel/Palestine: Standing Firm Means Never Getting Anywhere

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

As Jason Greenblatt meets with Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu, you can’t help wondering: will anything change? Through several U.S. administrations, the talking points have remained virtually the same. Meanwhile, confidence in a two-state solution is waning in both Palestine and Israel.

“Young Palestinians start to lose faith in two-state solution,” declared a Financial Times headline recently. NPR had the same story last month. In a piece broadcast on February 17, reporter Joanna Kakissis interviewed two students at Bir Zeit University. Both of them said they don’t recognize Israel as a country. “It’s not even their home,” says one of them, referring to Jewish Israelis.

This is hardly news. In 2014, when the journalist Nir Baram interviewed people living in Israel and the West Bank, a Palestinian woman told him “We can’t live with you, we want our own state. The Jews can go back to America or Europe.” As one man put it: “All of Palestine is Palestine, from sea to sea. I don’t believe there is such a thing as Israel. All the Israelis came here from far away and conquered our lands.”

Yaasir Arafat made the same argument over 40 years ago. To him, Palestine was like Algeria under French rule. He saw the Jews as European invaders, promoting a colonialist, imperialist project which should be overthrown in favor of national sovereignty. Arafat explicitly promoted an armed struggle whose “causes do not stem from any conflict between two religions or two nationalisms. Neither is it a border conflict between neighboring States.” His goal was a single Palestinian state where Jews might also live.

On the Jewish side, advocates of two states have consistently believed in negotiations to establish agreed-upon borders between the states, arguing that nothing else could preserve Israel as both Jewish and democratic. Skeptics, on the other hand, foresee a Palestinian state that would resemble some of its Arab neighbors: unstable, undemocratic, and a greater threat to Israel’s security than the status quo. Over more than 40 years, those arguments haven’t changed much either.

All that these efforts have accomplished is to maintain a stalemate. Whether you believe that they reflect high principle or simple intransigence, the inescapable fact is that the predicament remains the same as 50 years ago. Maybe that’s the best we can hope for: an uneasy ceasefire in a multigenerational conflict, with occasional eruptions of individual and military violence.

What else could be done? The parties might accept the status quo as preferable to any of the alternatives and abandon the pretense of seeking negotiations. On the other hand, they might conclude that the situation is deteriorating and unsustainable, and be willing to modify their long-held beliefs as the basis for new negotiations. Or, combining elements of both outlooks, they might conclude that the status quo is unsustainable but that negotiations are ineffectual, and that the conflict can be resolved only by force.

Of course the participants in the Israel/Palestine debate may prefer to stick to their long-standing positions rather than contemplate something new. But is that really tenable? It takes a lot of courage to reconsider one’s own fundamental assumptions and consider changing them. But it’s a necessary step towards progress. Standing in place won’t get us anywhere.

Trump reiterates neutrality on two-state solution, but says he ‘likes’ it

President Donald Trump reading the first of three Executive Orders he will sign in the Oval Office on Jan. 23. Photo by Ron Sachs/Pool/Getty Images

President Donald Trump said he “likes” the two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict while reiterating his noncommittal approach.

Asked during an interview with Reuters Thursday whether he had backed away from the two-state concept during his Feb. 15 joint White House appearance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said, “No, I like the two-state solution.”

But, he added, “I ultimately like what the both parties like.”

His position diverges with that of previous U.S. presidents, who said two states was the only viable solution for resolving the conflict.

According to Reuters, Trump “expressed his preference” for the two-state solution over the one-state one during the interview. But the article published by the news agency based on the interview contained no direct quotes by the president expressing such a preference.

During the meeting with Netanyahu, Trump told reporters, “I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like. I can live with either one.”

Egypt and Jordan: Don’t give up on two-state solution

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi sits before a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (unseen) at the presidential palace in Cairo Aug. 2, 2015. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/REUTERS.

he heads of Egypt and Jordan said a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be based on having two states.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan met Tuesday in Cairo.

“The two sides discussed future movements to break the gridlock within the Middle East peace process, especially with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration taking power,” read a statement issued after the meeting.

“They also discussed mutual coordination to reach a two-state solution and establish a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as a capital which is a national constant that cannot be given up.”

The leaders also reportedly discussed Jerusalem and the maintenance of the status quo on the Temple Mount.

The meeting came days after the Israeli daily Haaretz first published a report revealing that one year ago, then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry presented a plan for a regional peace initiative to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a secret meeting in Aqaba that included Abdullah and al-Sisi.

The deal would have included recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and a renewal of talks with the Palestinians with the support of the Arab countries.

The meeting also comes after last week’s meeting in Washington, D.C., between Netanyahu and  Trump, in which Trump did not commit to a two-state solution in a break from U.S. policy from the early 2000s.

Why Trump shook up the two-state solution

President Donald Trump greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

At his press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Donald Trump uttered words that will live in Mideast infamy— “I’m looking at two-state and one-state. I like the one that both parties like.”

On the surface, those words appear innocuous—let the parties decide their future. But in truth, they represent a diplomatic earthquake. No Western leader has ever had the guts to challenge the conventional wisdom that the two-state solution is the only desirable outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, this two-state idea, which really means the establishment of a Palestinian state, has been the shiny object worshipped by diplomats around the world and repeated like a mindless mantra at one failed peace conference after another.

By disrespecting this shiny object, Trump introduced the idea that the object may, in fact, not be worth all the worship. His ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, tried to soften Trump’s stance when she expressed U.S. support for the two-state solution, but she pointedly added, “we are thinking out of the box as well.”

Thinking out of the box is what Trump did when he refused to bow down to the two-state idol. What may have looked so beautiful twenty years ago—two states for two peoples living next to each other in perfect harmony—has become, in reality, a potential disaster for all sides. For one thing, the high likelihood that Hamas and ISIS would swoop in and turn the West Bank into another terror state is disastrous not just for Israel, but for the Palestinians and the United States. This is the kind of mud on the idol of a Palestinian state we rarely hear about.

One reason we rarely hear about it is that the notion of a Palestinian state is still as shiny as ever. On the Israeli side, it would mean separating from two million Palestinians and securing its future as a Jewish democracy. And on the Palestinian side, it would mean securing their national aspirations. Those ideals are still in play, but only in the abstract. In reality, even moderate commentators like Aaron David Miller have called the two-state solution “dead.”

It doesn’t matter who you blame for this death. The fact is, the more the world has pursued the two-state solution, the more distant it has become. No conflict in modern history has generated more frequent miles, fancy hotel rooms and media coverage than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Former Secretary of State John Kerry made over twenty trips to the region to try to jumpstart talks. He could barely manage to arrange “talks about talks.”

A fresh observer like Donald Trump, with his business background, probably looked at this dead corpse and figured he had little to lose by shaking things up. Since the obsession with the two-state solution seems to have killed the two-state solution itself, maybe he figured: Let’s see what happens if we lose that obsession. A good dealmaker, after all, never shows desperation and keeps his options open.

Ironically, putting an alternative on the table may well improve the odds of a two-state solution, if the parties end up seeing that the alternative is even worse. We’ve never had a serious debate about this, partly because, up until now, that alternative has come from the fringes. Trump has now put it front and center. The New York Times published a remarkable op-ed the other day by Jewish settler leader Yishai Fleisher, who calmly laid out five alternatives to the two-state solution. That sounds to me like a new chapter in a long debate.

A wild card that is sure to influence this debate is Trump’s desire to involve in the peace process Arab states that have grown closer to Israel. Maybe this is Trump’s way of shaking up the Palestinians and telling them they’re no longer the only game in town.

Let’s face it. A huge reason for the death of the two-state solution has been the chronic refusal of the Palestinian leadership to make any concessions or even to make any counter-offers to Israeli proposals– which is consistent with their continuous promotion of Jew-hatred and glorifying of terrorism. They’ve never paid a price for this. If anything, the world has rewarded them. My guess is, they’re now looking at Trump and saying, The party’s over. This guy’s not going to coddle us. He’s going to demand some real concessions, or else.

Will this Trumpian disruption lead to anything good? Will it empower the moderates on all sides and create a perfect storm of circumstances that can bring the two-state corpse back to life?

Who knows. The only thing we know for sure is that when you’re looking at certain death, any alternative is welcome.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

Palestinian support for two-state solution drops, poll finds

Israeli soldiers stand guard as Palestinians wait to pass during a protest calling for reopening of a closed street, in the West Bank city of Hebron Feb. 9. Photo by Mussa Qawasma/REUTERS.

A majority of Palestinians do not support a two-state solution to the conflict with Israel, a survey found.

The survey released Wednesday found that 44 percent of Palestinians back the two-state solution, a decline from 51 percent who supported this approach in a similar survey from June. The later survey had 59 percent of Israelis supporting two states, down from 55 percent in the earlier poll.

The survey, called Palestinian-Israeli Pulse: A Joint Poll, was released by the Tami Steinmetz Center for Peace Research at Tel Aviv University and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah with funding from the European Union.

The poll, which surveyed 1,270 Palestinians and 1,207 Israelis, Jewish and Arab, was conducted in December. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percent.

It also found that just over one-third of Palestinians and a majority of Arab Israelis supported one state as well as a confederation, while 24 percent of Israelis backed one state and 28 percent a confederation.

Nearly identical numbers of Jewish Israelis (58 percent) and Palestinians (57 percent) said they supported a broader regional peace involving the Arab world and Israel.

The survey also found that 86 percent of Palestinians feel Israeli Jews are untrustworthy, while 71 percent of Israeli Jews do not trust Palestinians. In addition, 51 percent of Israeli Jews, 48 percent of Israeli Arabs and 68 percent of Palestinians agreed with this statement: “Nothing can be done that’s good for both sides; whatever is good for one side is bad for the other side.”

In addition, 66 percent of Jewish Israelis fear the Palestinians; among West Bank settlers the number rises to 72 percent. Nearly half of Jewish Israelis also fear their fellow Arab citizens of Israel, and 60 percent of West Bank settlers feel this way.

Some 43 percent of Palestinians said they fear Jewish Israelis in general, and 52 percent fear soldiers and armed settlers. Most Arab Israelis, or 82 percent, do not fear Jewish Israeli.

Jewish groups express dismay as Trump says he can ‘live with’ one-state solution

President Donald Trump, second from right, and wife Melania, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and wife Sara, left, at the South Portico of the White House, Feb. 15, 2017. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS

Liberal and centrist American Jewish groups expressed dismay following remarks by President Donald Trump that he “can live with” a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Speaking Wednesday at a White House news conference prior to closed-door meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump was asked if he were “backing off” from the two-state solution, a pillar of U.S. policy under at least three former presidents.

“So, I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like,” Trump replied, going on to refer to Netanyahu by his nickname. “I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”

The Reform movement called Trump’s response “potentially devastating to the prospects for peace and Israel’s Jewish, democratic future.”

“The question is: can Israelis and Palestinians live with it in a way that allows for a Jewish, democratic State of Israel and realization of the legitimate rights and aspirations of the Palestinians,” Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement. “Only a two-state solution can achieve the goals of the Israelis and Palestinians.”

The American Jewish Committee, while welcoming the “spirit of cooperation and friendship expressed at the press conference,” also reaffirmed its support for a two-state solution. Its statement quoted from a policy issued by the AJC National Board of Governors in December reasserting that “a two-state solution is the only realistic resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as established through direct bilateral negotiations between the parties themselves.”

Trump’s comment came days after a senior White House official said a two-state solution was not a necessary outcome of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. If formalized, it would represent an official retreat from U.S. policy since 2002, when President George W. Bush said Palestinian statehood was a goal of peace talks. A two-state outcome was also the implied policy of Bush’s predecessor, President Bill Clinton.

Israelis and Palestinians have different conceptions of — and fears about — a “one-state” solution. The pro-Palestinian movement has promoted the idea of a single binational state of Jewish and Palestinian citizens, which many Israelis warn would erase the Jewish majority in Israel. The right wing in Israel has spoken of annexing most or all of the West Bank, but without extending citizenship to the Palestinians living there.

“The only alternative to that [two-state] outcome is one bi-national state and increased violence, with tragic consequences similar to the recent war in Syria,” Ami Ayalon, Gilead Sher and Orni Petruschka wrote in an op-ed in USA Today on Tuesday. The authors are principals of the Israeli nonpartisan organization Blue White Future.

Rep. Nita M. Lowey, D-N.Y., the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, also urged the president to reaffirm a policy that “secures two states for two peoples — a democratic, Jewish state of Israel and a democratic, Palestinian state.”

“Today President Trump refused to lend his voice toward this goal. Not only were his remarks shameful, they were short-sighted,” she said in a statement. “A two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians is the only means to ensure Israel’s long-term security and enable Palestinian aspirations for their own state. That is why Presidents from both parties, the vast majorities of the House and Senate, and the American people have consistently supported this objective, and why President Trump must as well.”

In its statement on Wednesday’s meeting, the Republican Jewish Coalition did not mention the president’s remarks on one- or -two-state solutions.

“Today’s meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu is a welcome sign that a new era has arrived for United States-Israel relations,” the RJC said. “It is in the interests of both our nations’ securities that we recognize the fundamental challenges facing the region, and their root causes. Whether it’s preventing a nuclear Iran, or the responsibilities of the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table in order to reach peace, we will only achieve our mutual goals if we stand united in the process. Thankfully, it’s clear that going forward there will be no daylight between the U.S. and our closest ally in the Middle East.”

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder welcomed the meeting as “extremely positive” and called it “an encouraging sign that the historic alliance between Israel and the United States is back on strong footing.”

Palestinians blast Trump’s break with two-state policy

A Palestinian man watches a joint press conference by President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a coffee shop in the West Bank city of Hebron. Feb. 15. Photo by Mussa Qawasma/REUTERS.

Palestinian officials slammed President Donald Trump for breaking from decades of U.S. policy supporting a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

One unnamed official told Israel Radio on Wednesday, after Trump at a joint White House news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he “can live” with either a one- or two-state solution, said the president’s words were “the biggest disaster it was possible to hear from the American president.”

The official also said that no regional approach to the Arab-Israel conflict will be successful without a solution for the Palestinians.

The Trump administration had suggested in recent days that a two-state solution was not a necessary outcome of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. During the news conference, Trump did not commit to any particular solution.

“I like the one the two parties like,” Trump said in answer to a question about what solution he prefers. “I can live with either one.”

The Palestinian official told Israel Radio: “What’s this two state or one state? Why not five states already? This is worthless talk.”

He added that the Israeli prime minister is not the only player in the region and that Trump should also listen to the Palestinians’ opinion on the issue.

“If Trump would like to be in touch with us, we are here and not going anywhere,” he said.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior member of the PLO, responded to Trump’s remarks in a statement.

“If the Trump administration rejects this policy it would be destroying the chances for peace and undermining American interests, standing and credibility abroad,” Ashrawi said. “Accommodating the most extreme and irresponsible elements in Israel and in the White House is no way to make responsible foreign policy.”

Arab-Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, deputy speaker of the Knesset, told CNN in an interview following the news conference that if a one-state solution gives Palestinians the vote, he will run for prime minister and win. He also said that a solution other than two states “could lead to violence.”

Israel’s opposition leader Isaac Herzog, head of the Zionist Union coalition, called it “sad and shameful” to see Netanyahu “twisting and turning just to avoid the idea of separating from the Palestinians in the form of two states.”

“Every Israeli should be concerned tonight about the very concept of one state between the sea to the Jordan, which means no Jewish state. This is a very dangerous disaster and we will fight it in every way possible,” Herzog said.

Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party, celebrated Trump’s backing away from a two-state solution.

“A new era. After 24 years, the Palestinian flag is lowered and the Israeli flag is put in its place,” Bennett wrote on his Hebrew-language Facebook page. On his English language page he posted:

“A new era.
New ideas.
No need for 3rd Palestinian state beyond Jordan & Gaza.
Big day for Israelis & reasonable Arabs.
Congrats.”

Following the meeting, Netanyahu tweeted: “@realDonaldTrump, thanks very much for the warm welcome. Israel has no better friend than the US; the US has no better friend than Israel.”

Dear Chuck Schumer: Stop David Friedman

Dear Senator Schumer,

We represent a broad constituency of scholars of Jewish studies committed to the democratic values that gave rise to the United States of America. We are alarmed by the prospect that new administration may erode these values and are particularly troubled by a number of President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed appointments. We write you today to register our concern about Mr. David Friedman’s nomination as our country’s Ambassador to the State of Israel.

Mr. Friedman has no diplomatic experience and has spoken in the most undiplomatic terms on issues about which we have scholarly expertise. He has written that members of J Street, a strong supporter of the two-state solution, are “worse than Kapos,” referring to the oft-reviled cell-block attendants in Nazi concentration camps. We were also alarmed to hear Mr. Friedman pro­claim that the Anti-Defamation League, one of the oldest and most venerable of American Jewish organizations, is comprised of a bunch of “morons” and that its director is outside of the Jewish communal mainstream. These outrageous claims attest to an absence of good judgment and lack of historical understanding. One expects to hear such language from anti-Semites, not a Jew who fashions himself a supporter of Israel, and cer­tainly not from a potential diplomat. Mr. Friedman’s comments cheapen the Holocaust and demon­strate his disdain for those who face discrimination.

Mr. Friedman’s rhetorical extremism is cause for grave concern on its own. But it is matched, if not super­seded, by the extremism of his positions on Israel, which demonstrate that he cannot be an impartial broker of peace or an effective diplomat. He is the president of a charity supporting Beit El, a radical West Bank settlement that hosts the far-right website Arutz Sheva, to which he himself has contributed. Of even greater concern, Mr. Friedman’s positions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict place him to the far right even of the current Israeli govern­ment. He is opposed to a two-state solution, which has been America’s own policy for several decades. He favors annexation of the West Bank, in contravention of international law, the conse­quences of which would be the denial of the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and, if the Palestinians of the West Bank are not granted Israeli citizenship, the end of Israeli democracy.

The signers of this letter represent a diversity of views on Israeli and American politics. But we are united in our belief, drawn from the study of modern Jewish and Israeli history, that democracy is the best guarantee of equal rights for all, including Jews. We are concerned that the incoming administration, as reflected in this case in its nominee to the ambassadorship of Israel, does not hold to that basic truth. Mr. Friedman’s appointment, rather than promoting peaceful coexistence, will throw fuel on the fires of conflict in the Middle East with potentially catastrophic consequences.  Mindful of the abuses to which Jews and others have been subjected, we feel a sense of urgency in conveying to you our grave concern. Accordingly, we call on you and your colleagues to vote against this nomination.

Sincerely,

Anne Albert, University of Pennsylvania

Robert Alter, University of California, Berkeley

Ari Ariel, University of Iowa

Eugene M. Avrutin, University of Illinois

Beverly Bailis, Brooklyn College

Omer Bartov, Brown University

Maya Barzilai, University of Michigan

Albert Baumgarten, Bar Ilan University

Adam Becker, New York University

Elissa Bemporad, Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center

Mara Benjamin, St. Olaf College

Sarah Benor, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, LA

Joel Berkowitz, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

David Biale, University of California, Davis

Jeffrey Blutinger, California State University, Long Beach

Ra'anan Boustan, Princeton University

Ross Brann, Cornell University

Benjamin Braude, Boston College

Francesca Bregoli, CUNY

Adriana Brodsky, St. Mary's College of Maryland

David Brodsky, Brooklyn College

Andrew Bush, Vassar College

Debra Caplan, Baruch College, CUNY

Jessica Carr, Lafayette College

Flora Cassen, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Bruno Chaouat, University of Minnesota

Julia Cohen, Vanderbilt University

Steven M. Cohen, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

Alon Confino, University of Virginia/Ben-Gurion University

Jessica Cooperman, Muhlenberg College

Lila Corwin Berman, Temple University

Max Daniel, UCLA

Galeet Dardashti, New York University

Natalie Zemon Davis, Princeton University

Carolyn Dean, Yale University

Evelyn Dean-Olmsted, University of Puerto Rico

Rachel Deblinger, UC Santa Cruz

Lois Dubin, Smith College

Glenn Dynner, Sarah Lawrence College

John Efron, UC Berkeley

Jodi Eichler-Levine, Lehigh University

Susan Einbinder, University of Connecticut

Ellen Eisenberg, Willamette University

Todd Endelman, University of Michigan

Marc Michael Epstein, Vassar College

Kirsten Fermaglich, Michigan State University

Reuven Firestone, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, LA

Arnold Franklin, Queens College, CUNY

Joshua Furman, Rice University

Alexandra Garbarini, Williams College

Gary Gilbert, Claremont McKenna College

Maja Gildin Zuckerman, Independent scholar

Sharon Gillerman, Hebrew Union College

Amelia Glaser, UC San Diego

Erin Graff Zivin, University of Southern California

Denise Grollmus, University of Washington

Atina Grossmann, Cooper Union

Karen Grumberg, University of Texas, Austin

Aaron Hahn Tapper, University of San Francisco

Sarah Hammerschlag, University of Chicago

Alma Heckman, UC Santa Cruz

Susannah Heschel, Dartmouth College

Ari Joskowicz, Vanderbilt University

Jonathan Judaken, Rhodes College

Daniel Judson, Hebrew College

Ava Kahn, Independent scholar

Brett Kaplan, University of Illinois

Marion Kaplan, New York University

Ruth Karras, University of Minnesota

Emily Katz, Duke University

Ari Kelman, Stanford University

Shaul Kelner, Vanderbilt University

Shira Kohn, CUNY Brooklyn College

Oren Kosansky, Lewis & Clark College

Rachel Kranson, University of Pittsburgh

Chana Kronfeld, UC Berkeley

Paul Lerner, University of Southern California

Mark Leuchter, Temple University

Laura Levitt, Temple University

Lital Levy, Princeton University

Jason Lustig, UCLA

Barbara Mann, Jewish Theological Seminary

Jessica Marglin, University of Southern California

Devi Mays, University of Michigan

Yitzhak Melamed, Johns Hopkins University

Deborah Dash Moore, University of Michigan

Regina Morantz-Sanchez, University of Michigan

David N. Myers, UCLA

Ranen Omer-Sherman, University of Louisville

Anne Perez, UC Davis

Shachar Pinsker, University of Michigan

Riv-Ellen Prell, University of Minnesota

Todd Presner, UCLA

Elliot Ratzman, Swarthmore College

Bryan Roby, University of Michigan

Monique Rodrigues Balbuena, University of Oregon

Naama Rokem, University of Chicago

Sara Ronis, St. Mary's University, Texas

Kate Rosenblatt, University of Michigan

Nora Rubel, University of Rochester

Gwen Satran

Allison Schachter, Vanderbilt University

Joshua Shanes, College of Charleston

David Shneer, University of Colorado

Jeffrey Shoulson, University of Connecticut

Amy Simon, Michigan State University

Neta Stahl, Johns Hopkins University

Ronit Stahl, University of Pennsylvania

Deborah Starr, Cornell University

Jeffrey Veidlinger, University of Michigan

Agnes Veto, Vassar College

Dov Waxman, Northeastern University

David Weinfeld, Virginia Commonwealth University

Steve Weitzman, University of Pennsylvania

Beth Wenger, University of Pennsylvania

Matthew Williams, Stanford University

Rebecca Winer, Villanova University

Diane Wolfthal, Rice University

Saul Zaritt, Harvard University

Steven Zipperstein, Stanford University

Jeremy Ben Ami and Morton A. Klein talk Israel, Palestinians, settlements and the two-state solution

Small majority of Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution

A new poll finds that only a small majority of Palestinians (51 percent) and Israelis (59 percent) support a two-state solution, meaning an independent Palestinian state next to Israel. There is a high level of distrust and fear on both sides and both sides believe there is little chance for an independent Palestinian state.

These were the findings of a joint Israeli-Palestinian poll, published by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) in Jerusalem, and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah. The poll, which has a margin of error of three percent in either direction, surveyed 1,270 Palestinians and 1,184 Israelis and was released Monday in Jerusalem.

For many in the region, the results come as no surprise. There have been no substantial Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in years, and a recent wave of violence of Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians have left more than 30 Israelis and 200 Palestinians dead in the past year. Yet the poll’s results can be seen as hopeful or pessimistic depending on your frame of mind.

“I thought the situation would have been much worse,” the Israeli pollster responsible for the survey told The Media Line. “I think we are not yet at the point of no return. We still have a majority believing in the idea (of a two-state solution) and it’s all about leadership. Public opinion is not the main obstacle (to a peace deal).”

Others however, see the glass as half-empty.

“I am worried — it underlines the fact that there is a diminishing level of support on the Israeli side for the mere substance of peace,” Elias Zananiri, a former journalist who is today the Deputy Chair of the PLO’s Committee for the Interaction with Israeli Society, told The Media Line. “The fact that only 48 percent of Israelis want peace is really frightening for me as a Palestinian.”

When it comes to the question of perception of the other, the situation is even more bleak. The survey found that 89 percent of Palestinians feel Israeli Jews are untrustworthy, while 68 percent of Israeli Jews feel the same way about Palestinians. Two-thirds of Israelis say they fear Palestinians, while close to half of Palestinians feel the same way.

The survey was partially funded by Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, a German political foundation, and the European Union. EU officials said they saw cause for hope in the findings.

We need to continue to articulate our support for the two state solution, and publicly outline what we can do to bring the parties back to the negotiating table,” David Geer, the Deputy EU Representative in Jerusalem said. “There is no room for complacency and a great deal of work needs to be done.”

Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki said he was most surprised by the reactions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which has been controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement since 2007. Shikaki said Palestinians in Gaza were more in favor of a peaceful solution with Israel than Palestinians in the West Bank.

“It seems a lot of people who liked Hamas do not necessarily buy into Hamas’ policies regarding the issue of the peace process,” Shikaki told The Media Line. “Support for Hamas in Gaza is due to other factors and it doesn’t mean they share Hamas’s value system.”

The survey asked about support for a peace agreement “package” based on issues discussed in previous rounds of negotiations. It suggested a demilitarized Palestinian state, Israel withdrawal to the pre-June 1967 lines with agreed-upon territorial swaps, a group of 100,000 Palestinian refugees being allowed to return to Israel, West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, and an end to all future claims.

Support for this nine-point plan is highest among secular Israeli Jews (56 percent) versus just nine percent for ultra-Orthodox. On the Palestinian side, some 57 percent of voters from the Fatah movement of Mahmoud Abbas support the plan, compared to 25 percent of Hamas voters.

But adding incentives can change people’s minds. If the agreement includes a wider or regional Arab-Israeli peace, one quarter of Palestinians and Israelis would change their mind and support a deal. In 2002 Saudi Arabia offered the Arab Peace Initiative that would give Israel peace with dozens of  Arab and Muslim states but it did not get off the ground as the second intifada broke out. Some in the region say it is time to revive that initiative.

“Regional peace is a winner,” Shikaki said. “If I have any advice for the next US administration, it is to think regionally.”

ADL ‘disappointed’ GOP platform excludes two-state solution language

The Anti-Defamation League On Wednesday expressed their disappointment with the Republican Party dropping its longstanding support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the party’s 2016 platform.

“We are disappointed that the platform draft departs from longstanding support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and the shared vision of successive American presidents and prime ministers of Israel, including the current leadership in both countries, who believed it was the only viable way to secure Israel as both a Jewish and democratic state,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.

The Republican Party’s Platform Committee 


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GOP platform committee approves new Israel language

The Republican Party’s Platform Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved proposed language that drops any reference to the party’s longstanding support for the two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the 2016 platform.

“We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier,” the platform’s language on Israel, introduced by GOP delegate Alan Clemmons, reads. “Support for Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.”

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The National Jewish Democratic Council derided the Republican platform as an effort to make Israel a wedge issue in the 2016 presidential election. ”When it comes to Republican rhetoric on Israel, they can’t even find themselves to be inline with the rhetoric of the prime minister of Israel when it comes to a two state solution,” the NJDC said in a statement. “But as the GOP platform over compensates to the right on Israel, the Republican nominee still has a less than impressive pro-Israel record. As they antagonize the Jewish left and the Jewish right at the same time, Trump and the GOP have quite an unproductive marriage — at least for our community.”

J Street called the language “dangerous and irresponsible,” which would “embolden the Israeli settler movement and those who wish to annex the West Bank” and “weaken Palestinian moderates and strengthen extremists advocating violence.”

The pro-peace and leftist group also objected to the language designating the BDS movement as anti-Semitic. “Though J Street opposes the BDS Movement and recognizes that some of its members and supporters have expressed anti-Semitic attitudes and policies, we also believe that this language is far too broad and would unfairly brand many people as anti-Semites, simply because they endorse economic pressure to end the occupation,” J Street said in a statement on Tuesday.

Read the full text of the approved Israel language below:

Our Unequivocal Support for Israel and Jerusalem

“Like the United States of America, the modern state of Israel is a country born from the aspiration for freedom, and standing out among the nations as a beacon of democracy and humanity. Beyond our mutual strategic interests, Israel is likewise an exceptional country that shares our most essential values. It is the only country in the Middle East where freedom of speech and freedom of religion are found. Therefore, support for Israel is an expression of Americanism, and it is the responsibility of our government to advance policies that reflect Americans’ strong desire for a relationship with no daylight between America and Israel.

“We recognize Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state, and call for the American embassy to be moved there in fulfillment of U.S. law. We reaffirm America’s commitment to Israel’s security and will ensure that Israel maintains a qualitative military edge over any and all adversaries. We support Israel’s right and obligation to defend itself against terror attacks upon its people, and against alternative forms of warfare being waged upon it legally, economically, culturally and otherwise.We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier, and specifically recognize that the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (“BDS”) is anti-Semitic in nature and seeks to destroy Israel.

“Therefore, we call for effective legislation to thwart actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel, or persons or entities doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories, in a discriminatory manner. The U.S. seeks to assist in the establishment of comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East, to be negotiated among those living in the region. We oppose any measures intended to impose an agreement or to dictate borders or otherterms, and call for the immediate termination of all U.S. funding of any entity that attempts to do so. Our party is proud to stand with Israel now and always.”

Trump adviser says GOP might be ready to reject two-state solution

A policy adviser to Donald Trump told CNN that the Republican party might be due to assert more support for Israeli settlements, and possibly reject all together the idea of a two-state solution, which has long been a pillar of both Democratic and Republican policy in the region.

David Friedman, a real estate lawyer and bankruptcy expert who Trump has described as one of his advisers on Israel, staked out a position further to the right of the current Republican Party platform ahead of its nominating convention later this month.

“It ought to be time to at least take a fresh look at this,” Friedman said in reference to the two-state solution, suggesting some Arabs might prefer Israel’s complete control. “The two-state solution might be one answer, but I don’t think it’s the only answer anymore.”

Last month, Friedman told Haaretz that Trump would support Israel’s annexing parts of the West Bank.

Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has articulated his strong support of Israel in recent days, after raising concern among some in the pro-Israel community early in his campaign by staking out a “neutral” stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Friedman suggested Trump would consider support of an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and would not openly oppose Israel’s policy decisions. He also echoed comments by Trump in support of a policy of not “imposing” U.S. policies on Israel.

In the same article, several veteran policy advisers to Republican presidents, warned against a departure from support for the two-state solution.

“I think it would be a great mistake for anything in the Republican platform to attack or criticize the two-state solution in any way. But I think it’s reasonable to say the real goal is a comprehensive and lasting peace, and there may be several ways to get there,” Elliott Abrams, the deputy national security advisor in the administration of President George W. Bush, told CNN.

Mideast Quartet blames Palestinians for incitement, Israel for settlement expansion

Israel welcomed a highly anticipated report from the Middle East Quartet for citing Palestinian incitement as an obstacle to peace, but regretted what it calls the report’s failure to address the “real core” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people in any boundaries.”

Released on Friday after a two-day delay, the report by the so-called Quartet — comprising representatives from the United Nations, Russia, the United States and the European Union — expresses grave concern over the future of the two-state solution, blaming Israel for a policy that “is steadily eroding” its viability.

But in a diplomatic coup for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it also chided the Palestinians for incitement and doing too little to combat terrorism.

“The Palestinian Authority should act decisively and take all steps within its capacity to cease incitement to violence and strengthen ongoing efforts to combat terrorism, including by clearly condemning all acts of terrorism,” the Quartet said.

The report is signed by the foreign ministers of the four entities, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. It is expected to guide diplomatic discussions in the months ahead, and offer guidelines for breaking the diplomatic impasse in the region.

The report criticized both sides in accounting for the stalemate. It condemned the “continuing violence, terrorist attacks against civilians, and incitement to violence” on the Palestinian side, and the “continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development” on the Israeli side.

The Palestinians also came in for criticism when the report said that “the illicit arms build-up and militant activity, continuing absence of Palestinian unity, and dire humanitarian situation in Gaza feed instability and ultimately impede efforts to achieve a negotiated solution.”

Among its recommendations, the Quartet called on Israel to cease settlement construction and expansion, endorsed “direct, bilateral negotiations between the two sides” and urged each side “to independently demonstrate, through policies and actions, a genuine commitment to the two-state solution.”

The report was issued amid a flare-up of deadly attacks against Israelis by Palestinian attackers, including a shooting on a highway in the West Bank in which a father was killed and his wife and children injured and the stabbing death of 13-year-old Israeli girl in Kiryat Arba by a 17-year-old attacker.

“Israel therefore welcomes the Quartet’s recognition of the centrality of Palestinian incitement and violence to the perpetuation of the conflict,” the Prime Minister’s Office wrote in its response. “This culture of hatred poisons minds and destroys lives and stands as the single greatest obstacle to progress towards peace.”

The Israeli response also scored the Quartet for its criticism of the settlements: “The report also perpetuates the myth that Israeli construction in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace. When Israel froze settlements, it did not get peace. When Israel uprooted every settlement in Gaza, it did not get peace. It got war.”

Over the years, after deadly attacks on settlers, Israeli politicians have called for expanding settlement activity in response. But during a condolence call Friday on the slain girl’s family in Kiryat Arba, a settlement near Hebron, Netanyahu promised to strengthen the community but did not call for new housing starts.

A dovish Israeli group welcomed the Quartet’s emphasis on ceasing settlement building.

“This is the time to advance towards a reality of two states, to create a clear border between us and the Palestinians, to enable the return of settlers back home from east of the security fence in the framework of an evacuation (voluntary), compensation and absorption plan, and to cease construction and investment east of the fence – all that without abandoning Israel’s security and the security of those settlers who choose to stay,” according to Blue White Future, a non-partisan group that supports the two-state solution.

Presbyterians vote to “re-evaluate” two-state solution

The Anti-Defamation League expressed “disappointment” after the Presbyterian Church USA passed several resolutions aimed at pressuring Israel and re-evaluating church support for the two-state solution.

The church’s General Assembly, held in Portland, ended on Sunday.

Among the resolutions passed was approval of the report of a committee charged with studying the two-state solution and possible alternatives, “including but not limited to that of two sovereign states — Israel and Palestine.” The report, approved 429 to 129, said that the church “stands with the people of Israel, affirming their right to exist as a sovereign nation” just as they affirm such rights for Palestinians.

However, the report also suggest that facts on the ground, mostly but not solely the fault of Israel, have made the possibility of a two-state solution dim if not impossible.

Another resolution called for the “prayerful study” of the church’s use of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and opposition to BDS.

A third resolution urged the realty company RE/MAX to stop sales of property within Jewish settlements. Supporters of the overture reportedly said they received prior to the General Assembly a letter from RE/MAX CEO Dave Liniger stating that the company “will no longer receive any income from the sale of Jewish settlement properties in the West Bank.”

In its statement the ADL lamented that the church opened discussions over a single state or “bi-national” solution to the conflict, and that it supported economic pressure on Israel or its settlements.

“We are deeply disappointed with the Presbyterian Church’s decision to embrace motions which forward arguments in favor of a bi-national state and of the anti-Israel BDS campaign,” Rabbi David Sandmel, ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs, said in a statement. “Any alternative to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would mean the demise of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a view that is offensive to millions of Israelis and Jews around the world.”

The report by the church’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy acknowledges that alternatives to the two-state solution are  “less attractive political possibilities,” including a “Jewish dominated state that further oppresses the Palestinians, or a potential Arab/Muslim majority state that could conceivably subject Jewish Israelis to expulsion or subjugation.”

The plenary also approved a report submitted by the Advisory Committee supporting measures that revoke tax deductions and 501(c) 3 status to organizations that promote and finance Israeli settlements. It encouraged Congress to investigate the use of U.S.-made equipment in so-called Israeli human rights violations, and supporting the enforcement of laws requiring the labeling of settlement products as such.

The church itself acknowledged that delegates to the Assembly were divided over the Advisory Committee’s paper, with some saying that its “tone and rhetoric … did not promote  reconciliation.” Those critics “urged more balance in speaking about  violence and injustices committed by both Palestinians and Israelis,”according to the church’s own Presbyterian News Service.

On Saturday, the Unitarian Universalists at their General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio voted on a resolution to divest from Israel.

The measure garnered the votes of 54 percent of the delegates, a vote of 774 to 646, but did not muster the two-thirds majority necessary for passage.

Letters to the editor: Baca, BDS, Women in the Torah and more

Gratitude for Baca 

I want to respond to Michael Rubinstein’s letter regarding political cronyism (June 10). I suppose Mr. Rubinstein did not learn the Jewish concept of hakaras hatov. The Jewish community will eternally be grateful to former Sheriff Lee Baca for all that he has done for us. I am personally aware of his involvement in saving a kollel member when lost in the mountains, and without Baca’s help he would not have survived. Likewise, under his administration, the sheriff’s department guaranteed every Jewish inmate the right to practice his/her religion. Lastly, Baca and numerous Israeli police chiefs fully cooperated in fighting terrorism to save Jewish lives.

More than 250 Jews, Christians and Muslims gave Baca a standing ovation as he accepted the well-deserved honor at Congregation Bais Naftoli. Former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz, L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Congresswoman Diane Watson and many more federal, state, county and local officials should be commended for their participation. By the way, the sheriff never pleaded to any corruption whatsoever.

Andrew Friedman, Congregation Bais Naftoli president 

No Palestine, No Peace

David Suissa’s argument that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is best fought by exposing the lack of concern of Palestinian leaders for their people is fatally flawed (“Fight BDS with a Pro-Palestinian Narrative,” June 10). The argument has validity only on the assumption that an independent Palestinian state exists. It does not exist, and in fact Suissa’s underlying assumption seems to be that it should not be allowed to exist. Until it does, responsibility for the Palestinian people is shared by the Israeli government and Palestinian leaders.

Suissa also says that exposing BDS harmfulness to Palestinians may “if we get lucky … even be good for peace.” I have no idea what peace he is talking about, but I am convinced that peace can and should never depend on luck.

Barry H. Steiner, CSU Long Beach professor of political science

David Suissa responds: Mr. Steiner ignored my key point: Palestinian leaders have repeatedly refused Israeli offers of a Palestinian state because they put their own interests above that of their people. The day that changes, we will all be lucky, indeed.

A Lot to Like in the Journal

Seems every time I go for some good barbecue, there you and your people are, transforming what I had intended to be a simple mindless hour off into a mind-opening, perspective-stretching afternoon. Great Jewish Journal issue today (June 10)! 

Danielle Berrin’s piece captured a powerful message about the next steps in female power (“The Torah of Female Power”). Eitan Arom’s article helped me comprehend the echo chamber in ways that escaped me when reading other articles (“(((The Emboldening)))”). David Suissa’s words (“Fight BDS with a Pro-Palestinian Narrative”) pushed me to reconsider how I want to relate to the anti-BDS movements and, like a good wine, paired nicely with the other BDS pieces 

Shmuel Rosner, Michelle K. Wolf, Jeffrey Salkin and Daniel Sokatch each enlightened and informed. Loved loved Rabbi Adam Greenwald’s dvar Torah, as it addressed a problem that I saw and couldn’t reconcile. 

Your articles, as you often do, put into words what I was struggling to grasp. You leave me all bothered. Now I gotta figure out how to deal with this unease. Thanks (said both in truth and with sarcasm simultaneously). 

Wait long enough and I’ll find something to kvetch about. That’s what we do. But not today. Because I loved, loved, loved this week’s issue. Bravo to your team. 

Rabbi Paul Kipnes, Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas

Thank you for continuing to explore topics and authors with diverse, even controversial opinions. For example, this week’s Journal has an article by Dennis Prager on the nature of atheism (“Two Questions for Atheists,” June 10).  Normally, I find Mr. Prager a bit right wing in his opinions, but this article was touching and really got to the core of his seemingly rigid opinions — the meaning of DEATH. I feel I had the opportunity to look underneath the Pedantic Prager and see a little of the humanity inside. Thank you for the opportunity.

Then, lo and behold, I flipped the page and saw the article by Danielle Berrin. “The Torah of Female Power” lifts us higher in our desire to make the world a better place, by reminding us that “freedom from and freedom to” is what the Torah is all about. If we become free and don’t ensure that others who are enslaved become free, then we have ignored our inner “shared responsibility for the well-being of the world.”

Two pages, two great articles about faith — kudos to the Jewish Journal again.

Denise Neumark-Reimer via email

CORRECTION: A column about The Miracle Project (“Anti-Bullying: The Musical,” June 10) misidentified the award won by a documentary on HBO about the project. It was an Emmy Award. 

Cornel West: Democratic party beholden to AIPAC

Addressing the issue of settlements in the Democratic Party’s platform or calling Israel’s presence in the West Bank as “occupation” would only undermine the “common objective” of reaching a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Hillary Clinton’s representatives on the platform drafting committee said on Thursday.

“I would not support and would, in fact, oppose, the use of the word ‘occupation’ for the very reason that it undermines our common objective – your objective, my objective, and more importantly the objective of Secretary Clinton, of President Obama, of the Democratic Party – to achieve a negotiated two-state outcome,” Robert Wexler, a former Congressman and president of the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace, told Dr. Cornel West during a hearing of the Democratic platform drafting committee. “A negotiated two-state outcome will result in an agreement on borders. And one you have borders, the issue that propels your concern regarding what you refer to as ‘occupation’ will be resolved. We have to consistently keep with behavior that promotes and encourages a two-state outcome. That should be the focus of the Democratic platform.”

Wexler also clashed with James Zogby, a pro-Palestinian activist and a Democratic Party insider, over the issue of settlements. “It has been recognized by every U.S. administration that there is an occupation,” Zogby stressed. “Would you not feel that it is more important to include the word ‘occupation’ which our president, this current president has mentioned and every previous president has mentioned, as a way simply of clarifying that to get to two states an occupation has to end.”

Wexler admitted that the Democratic platform’s position on settlements shouldn’t be more or less than the position held by all presidents going back to Johnson. However, by focusing just on settlements, “you undermine the whole equation that supports a negotiated two-state outcome.”

According to Wexler, just like nobody has suggested that the platform should include a solution to the issues of Jerusalem, refugees and security, the party should not litigate the issue of settlement. Instead, he suggested, the platform should outline a blueprint “to bring the two sides to a conclusion where our shared objectives are met – the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with a Jewish and democratic state of Israel.”

Former Congressman Howard Berman, appointed by Hillary Clinton as a member of the drafting committee, echoed the same sentiments. “I could come up with a list – if we want this platform to get into it – of issues like incitement, the failure of the Palestinian Authority leadership to say yes, or yes but, to rewarding the families of [terrorists]. I could go through all of this,” he said. “I don’t want that to be what this platform does.”

“Our differences are really with the Republican Party in how we prosecute peace, not war, in the Middle East,” added Wendy Sherman, former Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. “We are all in agreement that there needs to be a two-state solution… And getting there is really something that should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.”

During the hearing, Dr. West said, “For too long the Democratic Party has been beholden to AIPAC” and “for so long the U.S. has been so biased toward Israeli security.” He also questioned whether the Democratic Party would respond in the same way if there was “a Palestinian occupation of our precious Jewish brothers and sisters.”

“I support the BDS, not because I think it’s anti-Semitic,” he added. “We have got to fight anti-Semitism, anti-Jewish hatred – it goes hand in hand with every Christian civilization and many Islamic civilizations. It’s wrong, it’s unjust – but that cannot be the excuse of in any way downplaying the unbelievable misery that we see in Gaza, in the West Bank and other places.”

Pro-Israel heavyweights push hard for two states

In a rare and sharp split with Israeli government policy, a group of Jewish community leaders want to get a proposal for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the next president’s desk.

Two complementary U.S. and Israeli working papers to be launched next week propose immediate actions Israel can take to prepare the ground for two states and a longer-term security structure that aims to satisfy Palestinian ambitions for sovereignty and Israeli security needs.

Elements of the proposals, including dismantling some settlements now and preparing for Palestinian sovereignty in Jerusalem, are radical departures from the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current government, perhaps the most right wing in Israeli history. Tactically, getting the next president to kick-start new talks is also anathema to Netanyahu, who regards outside pressure as counterproductive.

The organization behind the push, the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), is not new to such initiatives. It was established in the early 1990s at the behest of then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who went over the head of what was then a hawkish pro-Israel establishment to seek U.S.-Jewish backing for his peace talks with the Palestinians.

This time, however, the party doing the reaching over is not the Israeli prime minister but Jewish community heavyweights who have helmed major Jewish organizations, from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

In the last 18 months or so, the Israel Policy Forum has signed to its board Alan Solow and Robert Sugarman, past chairmen of the Presidents Conference, the Jewish community’s foreign policy umbrella group. Sugarman also is a past president of the ADL.

On board, too, are Robert Elman and Robert Goodkind, past presidents of the American Jewish Committee; and Susie Gelman, a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and an early major funder of The Israel Project. Solow, Sugarman and Gelman, with Israel Policy Forum staff, met last week with JTA.

The Israel Policy Forum has never disbanded, but the new heavyweights represent a kind of clout it hasn’t seen in years.

The initiative will formally launch May 31 at a conference in Washington, D.C., showcasing proposals for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from veterans of the Israeli and American diplomatic establishments — represented by Commanders for Israel’s Security and the Center for a New American Security, respectively.

Mainstream Jewish groups have long been resistant to openly challenging Israel on security issues. Solow said that was less of a consideration in Israel’s volatile political climate.

“One doesn’t know what Israel’s government is going to look like in a week,” he said.

Solow also noted the stasis after the collapse of the last round of Israeli-Palestinian talks in 2014 that has driven Democrats to criticize Israel more freely as they see the prospects of two states diminish.

“Taking on the perspective from those in the pro-Israel community, the only reasonable Zionist solution is to have two states for two people,” Solow said.

Both likely presidential nominees, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, have said they would like to address Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“Every time a new administration comes into office, these issues get a fresh look, that’s a historical fact,” said Solow, probably the Jewish leader who has been closest to President Barack Obama.

The board members lend the initiative political clout in an election year in which much media attention on pro-Israel voices is focused on Republican mega-donors such as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and hedge funder Paul Singer, who have sharply hawkish outlooks. Adelson, who endorsed Trump this month — reportedly to the tune of $100 million-plus — is often depicted in the media as the bellwether of the “pro-Israel” donor class.

Adelson is close to Netanyahu and has called a Palestinian state a “steppingstone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people.” He broke with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 2007 when he discovered it was tacitly backing then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s peace initiative.

While Trump says he is eager to see if he can bring about a two-state solution, most of the Republicans he defeated had all but abandoned the idea in the near term — a skepticism that still prevails among congressional Republicans.

David Halperin, the Israel Policy Forum’s director, said he had secured meetings with Republicans to discuss the project, but with more difficulty than he had with Democrats.

“In the current political climate, we would like to make this more bipartisan,” he said.

So is this initiative, at least in part, about making clear that the pro-Israel buck does not start and stop in Adelson’s suite at his Las Vegas Venetian?

“You’re not going to get disagreement from us,” Sugarman said.

Solow said the polling demonstrates that the “overwhelming number of American Jews support the position we’re taking.” The fact that members of the IPF board have held significant leadership roles in American Jewry “will provide additional credibility” to the initiative, he said.

The Israel Policy Forum is planning private and public presentations for Jewish community leaders and members of Congress. The board members will be a key presence.

“We are the connector to the American-Jewish community on all of this,” Gelman said.

Sugarman said the plan for two states would couple with a robust and detailed effort to keep Israel secure, a commonplace posture in Israel — at least on the center and left — he said was missing from the American Jewish conversation. Much of Israel’s right now rejects the two-state solution.

“It’s never been pushed here the way IPF is pushing it,” he said.

AIPAC in principle is in favor of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, but the prominent pro-Israel lobbying group would never consider getting ahead of the Israeli government in advancing how to define two states as these plans do. For J Street, the organizing principle is two states, and since its 2008 founding, the more liberal lobbying group has made inroads among Democrats. But its tough criticisms of Israel have alienated the same Jewish institutions that the IPF board members have on their resumes.

The emphasis of the proposals is on preparing Israel psychologically, politically and militarily for two states while countering what the authors of the Israeli plan describe as “fearmongering” from those who oppose Palestinian statehood.

Israel “must seize the initiative to determine its destiny and shape a better future for our and our neighbor’s children,” the 67-page Commanders for Israel’s Security plan says. “There is no exclusively military solution to the conflict or to waves of terror.”

The Israeli team’s proposals include, among other recommendations for immediate action, a settlement freeze, encouraging settlers who live outside the West Bank security fence to move back inside its perimeter, and setting up a precursor for Palestinian sovereignty in predominantly Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem.

The Center for a New American Security proposals to be unveiled May 31 will focus on the long-range security underpinnings of a peace plan.

 “We want to make sure that there are real tangible plans out there, that there are options to deal with security,” said Michael Koplow, policy director for the Israel Policy Forum.

Netanyahu tells Knesset he’s prepared to take ‘brave steps’ for peace

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he supports the establishment of a Palestinian state as long as it is demilitarized and recognizes Israel as a Jewish state.

In a speech to the Knesset Monday, Netanyahu said he is prepared to take “brave steps” to achieve peace with the Palestinians, despite his skepticism about France’s upcoming summit aimed at restarting peace talks, The Associated Press reported.

Earlier in the day, Netanyhau told French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who is visiting Israel and the West Bank to drum up support for his peace initiative, that direct negotiations are the only way to achieve peace. The Palestinians, unlike Israel, have voiced support for France’s conference.

“Peace just does not get achieved through international conferences,” Netanyahu told Valls. “It doesn’t get to fruition through international dictates, committees from countries around the world who are sitting, seeking to decide our fate and our security when they have no direct stake.”

According to the AP, Netanyahu said he would accept a French initiative that brought him and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas together in a room alone to discuss the conflict’s most difficult issues.

During his Knesset speech, Netanyahu did not specify what brave steps he is prepared to take. At the same Knesset session, opposition leader and Zionist Union chief Isaac Herzog accused Netanyahu of “slamming the door” to peace and becoming a “hostage” to political extremists.

Last week, following weeks of reports that Netanyahu was negotiating with the Zionist Union to create a national unity government, the prime minister surprised many when he invited the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party into his governing coalition, appointing former Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman as defense minister. Last week the right-wing Jewish Home party approvingly described the new coalition as Israel’s “most right-wing government ever.”

Netanyahu supports 2-state solution, even with Lieberman in coalition, Israeli official says

Responding to Palestinian condemnations of Avigdor Lieberman’s appointment as Israel’s defense minister, an unnamed Israeli official said the government will continue to support the two-state solution.

“If a coalition is formed, it’s important to note that both [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and Lieberman support a solution based on two states for two peoples,” the official told The Times of Israel on Thursday. “In fact, it has historically been right-wing governments, like that of Menachem Begin, which achieved peace with our Arab neighbors like Egypt.”

The announcement on Wednesday that the hawkish Lieberman and his right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party were joining the governing coalition prompted Palestinian outrage, with the Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry saying it “confirms the lack of a peace partner in Israel.”

“The inclusion of Lieberman, known for his extreme right-wing stance toward the Palestinians, is new evidence that Netanyahu, as usual, has preferred to promote extremism in his government, which has become, as described by the Hebrew media, the most extreme government in Israel’s history,” the ministry said in a statement.

An unnamed Palestinian official told the Times of Israel that Lieberman as defense minister will be a “disaster” for the Palestinians.

Lieberman, who served as foreign minister from 2009 to 2015, is known for his extreme views on Israel’s Arab citizens, such as suggesting they be required to take a loyalty oath and proposing transferring some of them to a future Palestinian state. He also has called for imposing the death penalty on Palestinian terrorists, something the Times of Israel reported is believed to be one of his demands in joining Netanyahu’s coalition.