Word on the Street: Reason to take heart

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on March 26, 2017

In the wake of President Trump’s election and his nomination of David Friedman as US ambassador, the Israeli settlement movement and their American allies were ecstatic.

Extreme forces on the right saw an historic opportunity to entrench the occupation and destroy the idea of a two-state solution.

But the new administration surprised the hard right, first pressing for limits on settlement expansion and then sending a presidential envoy, Jason Greenblatt, who has taken to his task with seriousness and balance.

Here at home, political support for moderate pro-two-state policies and politics seems only to be growing.

True, David Friedman may have been narrowly confirmed by the Senate this week. But to be confirmed, the new ambassador needed to — as Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) put it — recant virtually every one of his lifelong beliefs.

Tens of thousands of American Jews, hundreds of rabbis and major groups like the Reform Movement joined with J Street and all but two Democratic senators in making clear that Friedman’s right-wing views are dangerous and totally out of step with our community’s values and decades of US foreign policy.

And as senator after senator lined up against Friedman, members of the House of Representatives sent their own strong message in support of the two-state solution.

After President Trump’s alarming statement that he’s “looking at two states and one state,” pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy movement champions Reps. David Price (NC-4) and Gerry Connolly (VA-11) authored a letter urging the Trump administration to “reaffirm the United States’ long-standing, bipartisan commitment to supporting a just and lasting two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The letter asks that the US “oppose unilateral actions by either of the two parties that would push the prospects for peace further out of reach.”

Just a few years ago, some elected officials might have hesitated to take such a firm stand, but thanks in part to our work, there is more political space than ever to speak out for what is necessary and right.

That this bipartisan letter gathered an astonishing 191 signatures, including 97 percent of the House Democratic Caucus, makes clear that J Street’s message about the importance of two states is resonating with more and more members of Congress.

Now the most important question is what the Trump administration will do. Pragmatists in the administration will have it out with the ideologues like Friedman.

But one thing is clear already: The settlers don’t have the green light they were hoping for.

And while the President has not expressed the necessary, clear support for the two-state solution, he remains intrigued by the “ultimate deal” — a comprehensive, regional agreement that engages Israelis, Palestinians, regional partners and international powers.

At some point, he will realize there can be no such “deal” without the creation of a Palestinian state and an end to the occupation.

Pragmatic Israelis at the center of Israeli society know that “one state” isn’t a solution — it’s the problem. Former Mossad director Tamir Pardo said this past week, “Israel has only one existential threat” — the occupation and the underlying conflict with the Palestinian people.

Pragmatic Americans who care deeply about Israel should be putting pursuit of separation into two states between Israelis and Palestinians at the top of their agenda. Silence on the issue, as we’re seeing from AIPAC as it gathers in Washington, is not acceptable (an issue I address in this Haaretz op-ed).

So, even at this troubling moment in American politics, J Street supporters should take heart. There has been no green light from the new administration for unlimited settlement expansion or annexation. The embassy has yet to move to Jerusalem, and celebrations on the far right have come to an abrupt end.

And here at home, our vision is clearly established at the center of the debate. J Street has an enormous opportunity to grow, providing a political home for those who care about Israel while opposing both the extreme right and its one-state agenda and the extreme left and its failure to recognize the right of Israel to exist.

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