J Street’s Policy Agenda ahead of 2016

October 11, 2015


J Street’s Policy Agenda
Fall 2015

With the Iran nuclear agreement proceeding to implementation, it is essential that the US-Israel special relationship refocus on the countries’ shared interests and threats in other areas. Increased aid, security cooperation and initiatives to thwart terrorism are critical components of enhancing our alliance. At the same time, the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – what Mossad chief Tamir Pardo has called a larger threat to Israel than Iran – cannot be ignored.

Events in the Middle East and the US election cycle are converging to make this a key moment of choice for our country and our community in dealing with the conflict. The United States, those now running for its highest offices and American Jews must choose between embracing a proactive, conflict-ending agenda, or passively allowing a downward spiral of violence and despair to endanger Israel’s Jewish and democratic character – as well as the human security and rights of Palestinians – through failure to reach a two-state solution.

US officials, candidates for federal office in the 2016 election and pro-Israel Americans have a responsibility to challenge the odd alignment of far left and far right forces that oppose the two-state solution. The mainstream of US politics and the Jewish community must serve as a counterweight, not just to right-wing lawmakers here and in Israel seeking to equate US support for Israel with support for policies that deepen and prolong the occupation, but also to the growing appeal of the Global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and one-state movements within the American left and globally.

American Jews and other friends of Israel recognize the urgency of promoting a proactive, pro-two-state solution agenda. Eighty-four percent of US Jews support the United States playing an active role in helping the parties resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Seventy percent of American Jews support the United States playing an active role even if it means publicly disagreeing with both Israel and the Palestinians. Sixty-five percent of US Jews would support a two-state solution that declares an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, resulting in all Arab countries establishing full diplomatic ties with Israel and creating an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with its capital in East Jerusalem.

J Street will therefore press for the following initiatives to be added to the traditional elements of the US-Israel special relationship promoted by our government and our community – as well as those who seek leadership roles in them – in the coming months:

1. Setting Forth a Vision for Ending the Conflict

Rather than simply push for more unguided, direct bilateral talks between leaders who have proven unable to conclude an agreement, the time has come for the United States and its international partners to put forward a plan articulating the broad consensus parameters for a negotiated two-state solution.

Such parameters are not an immutable formula to be imposed, but should serve as a benchmark against which the Israeli and Palestinian publics – as well as the international community – could judge the seriousness of both parties. It would also provide much needed cover to pro-two-state leaders on both sides to push for changes that would be needed to realize a two-state solution.

J street encourages the US Government to consider setting out this vision in a United Nations Security Council resolution. Yet, the precise venue for putting forward this plan is ultimately not of paramount importance, so long as it has the backing of key international players from the moment it is put forward. Whether the parameters are articulated by a President in a major policy speech, or issued as a statement by a multilateral group such as the P5+1, they will have the desired impact if they are then clearly and publicly backed by the broader global community, including the European Union and the Arab League.

2. Meaningfully Discouraging Settlement Expansion

One of the starkest threats to the two-state solution – and therefore to Israel’s Jewish and democratic character – is the relentless expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.

Continued settlement growth undermines the prospects for peace by making Palestinians doubt Israeli motives and commitment, and by complicating the territorial compromises that will be necessary in final status talks. The arrangements that have been made for the benefit of settlers and their security – checkpoints, settler-only roads, the route of the security barrier – have all made daily life more difficult for Palestinians, deepening hostility and increasing the odds of violence and conflict. Settlements have strained Israel’s economy, military, and democracy and eroded its ability to uphold the rule of law.

For nearly 50 years, US policy under administrations of both parties has been consistently opposed to settlement expansion. Yet the footprint and number of settlers have continued to expand despite US objections. Accordingly, the United States should take concrete steps to more meaningfully implement its longstanding policy of opposition to settlement expansion, such as returning to publicly referring to West Bank settlements as “illegal,” which remains the official, if not recently articulated, US position.

3. Enhancing Human Security and Related Programs on the Ground

The United States should aim to give the people trapped by this conflict a stake in their future and to ensure that their basic needs are met. A strategy of investment aimed at advancing human security for all peoples in Israel and the Palestinian Territory is the best answer to those who promote divestment from Israel. Such measures could include:

  • joint Israeli-Palestinian initiatives to promote investment and economic development;
  • establishing an international fund modeled on that created for Northern Ireland to to promote and support contact, cooperation, dialogue, shared community building, peaceful coexistence, joint economic development, and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians;
  • easing the Gaza humanitarian crisis and rebuilding civilian infrastructure while limiting arms; and
  • addressing the lack of access to potable water both on the West Bank and in Gaza and resolving related regional water use and quality issues.