Last week, a right-of-center friend from the U.S. tweeted a link at me to an article, from Commentary’s website, written by Jonathan Tobin, entitled: “Requiem for a Two State Solution” . I briefly considered responding to Tobin’s piece in my regular Newsweek column (a.k.a.Tel Aviv Diary), but I still find it inappropriate – even these days when everything is available to everyone, all the time – to engage in a “War between Jews” in the general press. Therefore, I will attempt to respond and address my concerns here.
First, a general comment. Throughout my life I remain conflicted about attempts of Jews living in America to influence Israeli Defense and Foreign Policy. In the early 70’s, before I first moved to Israel, I felt that American Jews (who did not risk their lives, or the lives of their children) had no right to impose their world views on Israelis. However, with years having gone by, and my family and I having moved back and forth between the two communities, although my older children and I have served in the I.D.F., my ideological opposition to American Jewish pressure regarding Israel’s actions has lessoned dramatically. In its place, has come my concern that many activists in the American Jewish community believe they understand Israel, while in fact, they remain clueless about it.
Before I get to the core misconception in Tobin’s article, I want to address the well-meaning, albeit miscalculated view of the other side of the spectrum – i.e. both the left-leaning supporters of Israel in the US, and left-wing opinion makers here in Israel. In the Untied States nothing epitomizes left-wing “supporters of Israel” as does JStreet and its proponents. Many involved in JStreet believe they are trying to save Israel from itself. I applaud their sentiments. However, what they do not understand is that the actions they have chosen to date, have the exact inverse of their desired effect. Every attempt JStreet tries to impose their worldview on Israel, it strengthens those on the opposite side of the spectrum; those who get great pleasure in shouting that the whole world hates us, and therefore, we can only rely on ourselves. Here in Israel, JStreet’s actions consistently strengthen the right-wing. Moreover, they irrefutably do not help the Israeli left, something the Israeli left-wing itself often fails to recognize.
The pathetic state of the Israeli left-wing was underscored this weekend by an editorial written by Amos Schocken the owner and publisher of Haaretz, titled “Only International Pressure will end Israeli Apartheid” . While I object to Schocken employing the term “Apartheid” relating to Israel, that is not the main problem with his assertions.
The primary issue is three fold: 1) By calling for international pressure on Israel, Schocken delegitimizes all of the political left-wing. His is contention effectively states that the Israeli left-wing is incapable of winning the political battle, so the world must step in to get the job done. That logic merely plays into the hands of the right-wing and undermines the efforts of the left.
2) Answering Schoken’s plea will not work. Economically speaking, Israel is not South Africa of the 80s. Israel’s ties with too much of the world are too strong. The U.S. and Germany will never agree to economic sanctions against Israel. In the end, neither would Russia, China or India. So, realistically, sanctions would have little impact.
3) Lastly, calling on the world to do something because the Israeli electorate will not is unadulterated chutzpah – particularly for Schocken, (the publisher of Haaretz, who has spent the last two decades running a newspaper, whose speciality is commiserating with those already convinced of its views.) Rather than reaching out to impact overall Israeli public opinion, Schocken chose to make money printing Yisrael Hayom, the right-wing daily paper owned by Sheldon Adelson. Did Schocken create his own free left-leaning publication to compete? No. Did he try to find other ways to influence the Israeli Center? Not to the best of my knowledge. Instead, Schocken is calling for the International community to do what he failed to accomplish, (and in fact, never really undertook.) All of this only sabotages the left, making them easy targets for the Israeli right-wing.
Now to Tobin’s post itself. Tobin implies that he opposes a two-state solution. In his aforementioned piece, Tobin quotes a statement by opposition leader MK Yitzhak Herzog in order to attack all those who have been working towards a two-state solution. Herzog, in his interview referring to a two state solution, remarked that “he does not see a chance of achieving that now”. Based on Herzog’s statement, Tobin makes an incorrect assumption and draws the wrong conclusion.
Herzog does not state that a two-state solution is not be the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather, Herzog merely asserts that a two-state solution is a goal that cannot be achieved right now, (a view shared by most Israelis.) Certainly, looking around at convulsive nature of the Middle East at the moment, no one but the greatest pollyanna could believe this would be the right time to reach a permanent and lasting peace – or even that this moment would be the right time to take any strategic risks. Herzog, without question, did not say, or mean to imply that the concept itself of the a two-state solution is dead, just that this is not the right time.
No one has ever put forth a viable alternative solution to our conflict with the Palestinians, other than a two-state solution – with the possible exception of a suggested confederation of the West Bank with Jordan (i.e. a return to pre-67 status). The right-wing, by and large, takes comfort in the age old Israeli adage, that “no matter what, ‘Y’hiyeh B’seder’” (“it will be ok”.) However, 42 years ago when I was doing my I.D.F. basic training, and spent a few days in Nablus guarding Josephs tomb, I surely did not expect that my youngest (who will be drafted into the army in two years) might be called upon to do the same thing. I certainly do not think that is “b’seder”. It is utterly not “b’seder” that we are still occupying a people who do not want to be occupied, after all these years.
However, the most significant problem with Tobin and any fellow travelers, whose views are admittedly and largely determined by security concerns, is that they do not understand, that Israeli policy in the West Bank for the last two decades has not been driven by fear of taking security risks. Rather, it has been determined by fear of taking political risks. Political/military rulings relating to the West Bank have largely been determined by the Israeli religious right-wing, (most of whom do not believe in any compromise, not because a given action or policy may endanger Israeli security, but because God gave us this land and all of it is ours for eternity.)
For the past decade, (yes, it has been a decade since Ariel Sharon suffered his debilitating stroke), the tail has been wagging the Israeli dog. The distinct minority, whose religious beliefs demand we settle and hold on to all of the West Bank have been able to set policy, (either directly or indirectly), with only limited push-back from the courts, or the military establishment. Those Jews on the American political right do not seem to understand this, and see every action by the government to expand a settlements, confiscate land, or do other things that drive the world crazy, as acts of great courage by the Israeli government. What they fail to see is that these decisions are usually the result of a failure to have the political courage to take actions that will ensure the fact that some day, when it is possible to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians, a two-state solution will still be viable.
So to Jonathan Tobin, I say, as someone who has always considered himself a centrist; who has always and still questions the willingness of the Palestinians to ever compromise, do not celebrate Herzog’s statement as proof that you and your fellow travelers are right. Instead, lament the fact that today there is no solution. Help us make sure that if the time is ever right, we might still be able to solve this conflict and create the brighter future that all of our children deserve. To those on the left, like Shocken and JStreet, stop trying to figure out how bring external pressure to bare … figure out how to convince the majority of Israelis that you are right.