Turning "No" Into "Yes" on a Two-State Solution

July 9, 2010

Coauthored by Lara Friedman, Director of Policy and Government Relations for Americans for Peace Now, and Isaac Luria, Vice President for Communications and New Media at J Street.

We hear far too many “Nos!” in the American Jewish and pro-Israel communities about why we can’t ever achieve any reasonable compromise to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We’re turning these “Nos!” into “Yeses!” with the following short, rational responses.

1. No, there is no partner for peace.

Yes, there is a partner. The current Palestinian Authority leadership — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayaad — are actually the most moderate and pro-peace Palestinian leaders the Palestinian Authority has ever had. Given the growing pull of extremism among some sectors of Palestinian society, they may just be the most moderate leaders we will ever have. Abbas has indicated that he acknowledges the tough compromises the Palestinians will have to make (including on the Right of Return) and the Jewish right to a homeland in the land of Palestine. And under their leadership, the Palestinian Authority has made enormous strides in improving security in the West Bank, building Palestinian government institutions in the past few years, and cracking down on hateful speech and incitement.

We must take advantage of this opportunity and pursue a negotiated two-state solution now with the current leadership of the Palestinian Authority – before it’s too late.

2. No, land for peace is not the right way forward. We gave back Gaza and all we got was rockets.

Yes, land for peace remains the best – and only – formula for achieving Israeli security, and preserving Israel’s Jewish character and democratic values.

The Gaza disengagement, however, was not an example of negotiating land for peace. The way that Israel withdrew from Gaza — unilaterally and without negotiating security arrangements with the Palestinian Authority — created a power vacuum that Hamas acted to fill. Had there been a negotiated withdrawal, it could have empowered moderate Palestinian leadership that would support negotiating with Israel for a two-state solution. Instead, the withdrawal empowered those would wage war against Israel.

3. No, we can’t trust President Obama’s commitment to Israeli security.

Yes we can. President Obama has consistently demonstrated, both through words and actions, a strong commitment to Israel’s security. In fact, the Wall Street Journal recently reported that security cooperation between the US and Israel is significantly more extensive under President Obama than it was under President Bush. For example, the President recently requested an additional $205 million in funds for Israel’s new missile defense system – something that was never funded by the US in the past.

President Obama’s pursuit of a viable, lasting two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is further evidence of his commitment to Israel’s security — because achieving such a deal is the only way that Israel achieves real peace and security, and the only thing that can preserve Israel’s Jewish character and democratic values.

4. No, we cannot want peace more than the Israelis and Palestinians.

Yes we can, and we should want it, regardless of the political moods among Israelis and Palestinians. This conflict is not merely a local issue for Israelis and Palestinians. It affects US national security interests in the region and around the world. Resolving the Israeli-Palestinian peace is in the vital national security interests of the United States.

Of course any viable peace deal will have to be accepted by both the Israelis and Palestinians. Thankfully, surveys consistently show large majorities of Israelis and Palestinians support a two-state solution.

The key is how to get there, especially when both sides’ political systems make progress difficult. That is why a strong American role is so necessary — to help the parties make the hard compromises necessary for peace, provide political cover to deal with anti-peace domestic political constituencies, employ important incentives and disincentives at the right moments, and suggest bridging proposals that will move the process forward.

5. No, there will never be peace as long as Hamas is in power in Gaza.

Yes, progress is possible even with Hamas in the picture.

Ultimately, a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will be advanced by Palestinian political reconciliation. This is why third party efforts to achieve reconciliation and a unity government, in which Hamas renounces violence and engages in the political process, are so important. Officials in such a unity government would work within a diplomatic process to achieve an acceptable two-state solution. Israel already does negotiate indirectly with Hamas over Gilad Shalit and has negotiated largely successful ceasefires in the past — so it is not fantasy that Israel would be able to negotiate with such a unity government.

And importantly: the single most effective way to curb Hamas’ power and popularity would be if President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad succeeded in delivering statehood to the Palestinians – jumpstarting a vibrant and growing democracy and economy in the West Bank. At that point, Palestinians will be faced with a clear choice between a growing, vibrant, safe, and secure state, and a fundamentalist regime. Given the choice, it is likely that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians would choose the pro-peace, pro-negotiation approach to achieving their political aspirations.

6. No, peace is not possible until the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish State.

Yes it is. Israel’s Jewish character is a matter of self-identification and it does not matter whether the Palestinians – or anyone else for that matter – recognize it as such. What does matter is that the Palestinians recognize Israel’s right to exist – something President Abbas has done both in accepting the two-state solution and indicating he acknowledges the Jewish right to a homeland in the historic land of Israel and something the Palestinian Liberation Organization did during the Oslo Process. And what matters, too, is that Israel’s leaders take the appropriate steps to ensure Israel’s Jewish majority and character by urgently pursuing a two-state solution.

7. No, there can be no compromise on Jerusalem, because it belongs exclusively to Israel and the Jewish people.

Yes, there must be a compromise regarding Jerusalem. Jerusalem will ultimately be shared in some manner, and it will be a good thing for Israel. Jerusalem holds a unique place in the hearts of the Jewish people, and is also of great importance to Christians and Muslims. It is because of that significance that it is among the most difficult issues to address in resolving the conflict – and why we must do all that we can to ensure a peaceful, accessible future for the city.

The only way that Israel will remain secure, Jewish, and democratic is through the two-state solution. And the two-state solution is only possible if both Israeli and Palestinian claims to Jerusalem are reconciled. This must mean finding a way for Israeli Jerusalem –Yerushalayim – to be recognized as Israel’s capital, and Palestinian Jerusalem – al Quds, with its 200,000 Palestinian residents – to be recognized as the capital of Palestine.

This is the only way forward, and it requires addressing the realities on the ground and developing a reasonable plan for sharing the city. Previous peace plans have included basic parameters – the Jewish areas of Jerusalem falling under Israeli sovereignty, Palestinian areas falling under Palestinian sovereignty, and special care taken to ensure accessibility and meet the needs of all when it comes to holy sites.

8. No, the ongoing conflict is not an impediment to US goals in the Middle East.

Yes it is. The ongoing conflict in the Middle East effects Americans goals and interests in the region, and resolving it is of particular importance to US foreign policy goals. Actors like Iran continue to use the conflict in their proxy wars against American and Israeli interests. Terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda continue to use the conflict as a recruiting tool. Relationships with allied countries in the Middle East – like Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, and others – are undermined by the ongoing conflict.

Achieving two states and a comprehensive regional peace agreement will help stabilize the region, while building American credibility and supporting strategic interests. Additionally, ensuring Israel’s own security and future is in America’s interest. Therefore, it serves American interests to boldly and actively pursue two states.

9. No, a two-state solution is too little, too late. The only answer is a one-state solution.

We disagree. Israelis and Palestinians still consistently demonstrate their support for a two-state solution. On the ground, the two-state solution is still possible (but it won’t be possible forever), and it is the only solution that will preserve Israel’s security and Israelis Jewish and democratic values. And the one-state scenario is no solution, but only a recipe for perpetual violence and strife. Pessimism about whether viability of the two-state solution is a real concern — and will continue to grow unless we can urgently achieve the only viable deal, a two-state solution.

10. No, Israel bears no responsibility for the situation today. Israel has always wanted peace, but the Arabs have refused. The conflict and everything associated with it is 100% the fault of the Arabs.

Yes, Israel bears responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And yes, so do the Palestinians and other Arab states. Anyone who asserts that one side is entirely to blame – or entirely blameless – is ignoring present and historical realities.

But this is beside the point. The blame game needs to end. Too much time is spent by both sides trying to lay blame for how we got where we are today and why peace today remains so hard to achieve.

What matters now are the realities on the ground and the urgency of the situation. If we don’t act immediately to achieve a two-state solution, we risk Israel’s very future and the viability of a future, independent State of Palestine.