Suddenly, overnight, the now familiar American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference in Washington, D.C. caught fire. Did the pro-Palestinian protesters outside the convention center become incendiary? No. AIPAC itself lit the flame.
At a time when many, including speakers at AIPAC’s own conference, have declared the two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict to be dead (or at least on life support), AIPAC’S Executive Director Howard Kohr, in his keynote speech last night, doubled down on the two-state solution explicitly calling for “two states for two peoples.” Kohr took the occasion to “launch an impassioned plea for Palestinian statehood,” as this paper reported.
The response to Kohr’s plea was fast and furious. Samaria (Shomron) Regional Council Chairman Yossi Dagan, in a letter to AIPAC’s leadership, took issue with Kohr’s claim that both the United States and Israel support the two-state solution, stating that “this assumption has no basis in fact,” While the two-state solution was once the only game in town following the Oslo accords of 1993, after twenty-five years without any progress in the “peace process,” both the United States and Israel have significantly played down its centrality as a solution to the conflict. Many members of the current Israeli government joined Mr. Dagan’s outrage at AIPAC’s attempt to revive a solution that has been consistently rejected by the Palestinians.
A “two-state solution” with an independent Palestinian State has been repeatedly offered and rejected by Arabs and Palestinians over the past century. Following the Peel Commission’s recommendation to partition the area in 1923; after the United Nations General Assembly also called for partition in November, 1947; immediately after the 1967 war when the Arabs responded to Israeli peace overtures with their now famous “three nos” (“no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel”); at Camp David in 2000 where Yasser Arafat was offered approximately 95% of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip, plus Palestinian control over East Jerusalem, in exchange for peace; and most recently, in 2008 when Israel proposed a Palestinian State on the 1967 borders plus Gaza and East Jerusalem. On each and every occasion, the Arabs and Palestinians rejected the proposed state and turned to violence instead.
Based on the Arabs’ consistent rejectionism, the current Israeli and United States governments have lost their enthusiasm for the two-state solution. Since the Palestinians themselves have historically rejected the creation of an independent state of their own, who is left to support the two-stsate solution? It appears that AIPAC is the last man standing. Indeed, the irony is that, while AIPAC insists that Israel negotiate in direct talks with the Palestinians over the fate of the West Bank, AIPAC itself refuses to sit down and speak directly with the Israelis who actually live in the West Bank. Moreover, AIPAC refuses to allow any Israeli who lives in the West Bank or any organization that represents such communities (such as the Yesha Council or the Shomron Counsel) even to speak as a part of its official conference. Even though AIPAC’s slogan is “many voices, one mission,” the one voice it excludes from its mission is the voice of the “settlers” whose fate is at stake in the discussions. They are denied the opportunity to join the conversation or present alternative solutions. Perhaps that is why many members of AIPAC, ignorant of viable alternatives, mistakenly insist that the two-state solution is “the only solution” to the ongoing conflict.
As a result of AIPAC’s unwarranted hostility towards the “settlers,” residents of Judea and Samaria in attendance at this year’s policy conference were compelled to hold their own reception away from the main convention center where AIPAC was conducting its conference. At the historic Sixth and I synagogue in downtown Washington, the Yesha Council hosted a standing room only gathering this afternoon where speakers included Israeli ministers Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, and Yuval Steinitz in addition to Israel’s consul general in New York Dani Dayan and the mayor of Efrat, Oded Revivi. These officials underscored that the two-state solution was long past its sell-by date and they presented viable alternatives to solve the conflict.
One such solution endorsed by both Bennett and Shaked is to extend Israeli law to the residents of the West Bank – – equally to both Jews and Palestinians. This would end the 50 year old hodgepodge of Ottoman, British, and military law currently in effect. Another solution that has been offered is for Israel to annex Area C in the West Bank (an area assigned by the Oslo accords to Israeli control).
Former Secretary of State John Kerry used to fret that any such plans would force Israel to choose between being a Jewish State or a democracy because, under such schemes, Arabs would outnumber Jews. However any such concern is unfounded as there are only approximately 100,000 Palestinians in Area C so that annexing the area and offering Palestinian residents there full Israeli citizenship would not change the overall demographics of the county. Moreover, it is estimated that over 500,000 Israelis live in Area C (the vast majority of the entire Israeli settlement population in the West Bank). Thus, annexing that land would largely alleviate Palestinian concerns about “settlers” living among them. (Although why any proposed Palestinian state must be “judenrein” as the Palestinian leadership demands is particularly unsettling given that over 20 percent (1.5 million people) of Israel citizens are Arab).
In sum, there is no shortage of solutions to the conflict other than the now generally repudiated two-state solution. AIPAC and others may not necessarily approve of some of these alternatives but, at least, these choices and the people whose lives depend upon the ultimate solution to the conflict deserve a place at the table and a full airing of their views. As Rabbi Hillel said: “if not now, when?”
Steve Frank recently retired after a career as an attorney with the United States Department of Justice. He currently is the Representative of the Shomron Regional Council which is located in Judea and Samaria.