Apply Positive Pressure for Two-State Solution

Monday, November 5, 2012
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Dear Mr. President:

You face many challenges in your upcoming term, from strengthening our economy at home to projecting American leadership abroad.

When the matter of Middle East peace comes up, some around you will say what George W. Bush heard from his team early on—leave it alone. Your team may tell you that the political cost of engaging is too high and the odds of success too low. They’ll spout what former U.S.Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer calls “the Washington consensus”: You can’t want peace more than the parties themselves.

Jeremy Ben-Ami
Click to enlarge photo

Jeremy Ben-Ami

That’s not the point though, Kurtzer argues: “[P]eace in the region is a U.S. national security interest, and we should pursue that interest vigorously.” Ultimately, Bush realized this truth and brought the parties to Annapolis where they came closer than ever before to an agreement. National security advisor General James Jones also chose this conflict when asked if there was one he would have the president solve, “because of the echoes it has around the world.” Secretary of State Clinton too confirms that no issue comes up more during her travels than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But the clock is ticking. On both sides, the absence of a two-state solution continues to empower extremists and weaken moderates who would support peace. When, in the absence of a two-state solution, non-Jews soon outnumber Jews in the land under Israeli control, Israel will face an unfathomable choice between its democratic and Jewish character. Will it grant full and equal rights to all who live there or maintain political power exclusively in Jewish hands? This one-state nightmare would be a betrayal of Israel’s founding principles and defending that system would damage Israel’s standing in the world and our own.

I understand why some believe that if we only give the conflict time, maybe the parties will become ready to make a deal. But history waits for no one, and, as we know too well, there is no such thing as a stable status quo in the Middle East.

The good news is that you don’t have to start from scratch. The contours of a deal are widely known and accepted. What has been lacking is the political will on both sides to achieve it. Building on the proposals put forth by your predecessors, you can bridge the gap with bold U.S. leadership. Rather than addressing one or two issues, you should place the complete package in front of the parties to determine whether they are finally ready to make the difficult compromises necessary to achieve the two-state solution.

To lead on this issue, the United States must re-establish its role as honest broker, helping both sides resolve the conflict from a position of trust. You must be clear that we are not imposing a solution, that it will be up to the Israelis and Palestinians to vote on the agreement. But the U.S. can use “positive pressure” to force both sides to confront lingering ambivalence over the details.

You should travel to Israel and the Palestinian territory, delivering the same, clear message to both peoples. You should build a broad coalition of regional and global players to emphasize the international consensus on the two-state solution. You should draw on the bipartisan roots of the issue, and draft senior statesmen like Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton onto your team.

It is possible that one or both of the parties may not come to the table, but it is better to expose this now than to allow each to hide behind the other’s intransigence. There will be serious political arguments within both Palestinian and Israeli societies as they confront, once and for all, the question of exactly where they are willing to compromise their national dreams to bring an end to generations of fighting and bloodshed.

And at home, despite all the ink spilled and dollars spent trying to convince you otherwise, the vast majority of American Jews supports a two-state solution and believes the United States is critical to achieving it.

There will certainly be obstacles ahead, but we must not back down. It will take the full effort of the world’s superpower to reach a deal. And there is tremendous potential for U.S. credibility and prestige in making a serious effort to solve the conflict.

While there is no guarantee of success, Israel simply cannot afford delay on this endeavor. And neither can we. The world is waiting for the United States.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is a former domestic policy adviser to President Bill Clinton, author of A Voice for Israel, and president of the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group J Street. He will host a free public forum at the Lobero Theatre on Tuesday, November 13, 8 p.m.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Bill Clinton almost pulled it off. I have to admire him for that. Arafat nixed the deal at the last minute.

Botany (anonymous profile)
November 5, 2012 at 8:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

We need the 2-state solution; Israel needs the 2-state solution; the Palestinians need the 2-state solution. Mr Ben-Ami is correct that neither Obama nor Romney talked that up much. Having worked in Israel, visited the West Bank territories, with deep respect for Israelis they need to pull back to the 1967 line in order to negotiate sincerely. Split Jerusalem? Better to make it an "international city" open to all faiths (up on Temple Mount) and without being the capital of either of the 2-states...
If Israel is to be a democracy how can they do it with more non-Jewish Arab citizens than Jewish citizens??

DrDan (anonymous profile)
November 5, 2012 at 9:18 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Everyone is conveniently forgetting the need of the rest of the Arab world for a two state solution. How about the non Israeli neighbors help stop the acrimony, instead of using the Palestinians as their own convenient pawns? Clinton did a hell of a job but history now demonstrates that Arafat essentially lied about everything and had no fundamental desire to end the mess.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
November 5, 2012 at 9:48 a.m. (Suggest removal)

you're right italiansurg about the Palestinians being used as pawns by their Arab brothers nearby... we've bought off the Egyptians, but what about Iran sponsoring Hamas, etc.?
Still, if the Israelis could sort out their own extreme rightwing, get rid of their "accidental empire", realize that colonialism ended with WW II, be willing to dicker on the illegal settlements in the West Bank AND get the Palestinians to give up some points... if this isn't settled it hurts all concerned incl. USA. Yes, the intransigence of the neighboring Arabs is a big problem, but equal is Israel's refusal to stop expanding their illegal West Bank settlements...

DrDan (anonymous profile)
November 5, 2012 at 10:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I have trouble with two assertions in this piece. First, the assertion that "...non-Jews [will] soon outnumber Jews in the land under Israeli control..." is suspect. Note he does not say Israel but "under Israeli control". What does that mean? Especially in light of the fact that non-Jews in Israel are just 20% of the population of that state. I have to conclude that something is fishy with his statistics.

Second, he cites Bush 43 as a "senior statesman". I barfed. The author says the prestige of the USA is important to solving the Israel-Palestinian problem. He's right on that but W did more damage to US prestige than any president in my lifetime. Leave the oaf in Texas where he can do little harm.

Taking a meta-level view, I question the existence of a state in the Middle East that embodies the "promised land" of the Jews. That notion - and all the associated nonsense - is based on a whole passel of Bronze age myths including the idea that god gave this area to the Jews. Bull flop. The same condemnation applies to the Muslims who think Mohammed left Earth on a white horse from the Dome. Finally, Christians don't get a pass either in light of their mindless support of Jews so they can hasten the second coming.

Such utter idiocy.

That said, I realize that clear thinking plays second fiddle to the Abrahamic religions in the Middle East ... well, and elsewhere too, but nowhere is it more important than in that region. Too bad Mr. Ben-Ami won't address this, the real problem.

SezMe (anonymous profile)
November 7, 2012 at 2:50 a.m. (Suggest removal)

so Ben-Ami is supposed to change the ancient Abrahamic religions of the world and in that region?? SezMe? He may be influential, but..come on!
I also retched with you at ref to the war criminal Bush 43.
About non-Jewish Israelis and the 20% number, I'd guess he meant if they incorporate all of the (mostly Palestinian) West Bank into the regular State of Israel (one-state so-called solution) Netanyahu and Co. obviously plan to do. Unless they keep it as an apartheid state, Israeli Arabs could democratically begin to take over the Knesset.
I also wish the State of Israel could separate "Church" [Synagogue] from "State"...but that won't happen.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
November 8, 2012 at 6:10 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I don't know how many times I've heard Netanyahu say with solemn fervor that he will not give up Jerusalem. Assuming Bebe's not posturing, I don't see how a two-state solution will ever get started so long as he and his coalition control the government. The same goes for a "retreat" back to 1967.

And what leverage do we in the US have? Perhaps the key is not US Foreign Aid but the sizable Jewish American contributions that flow to Israel each year. But that seems to be dominated by right-wing elements like AIPAC (with due respect for the good efforts of J Street).

At times like this, I'm reminded of a Jewish American co-worker who seems like a very likable and reasonable person. And yet she hates "Arabs" with a passion. I have no idea how to talk with people like that.

EastBeach (anonymous profile)
November 8, 2012 at 2:02 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I sure hope EB that you also freely acknowledge the hatred from the Arab side and that the Arab states have NEVER made an attempt to accommodate "their own"; the Palestinians.
I'm perfectly happy with the U.S. having chosen a side in the middle east mess because there is no solution or path to peace. Bush destabilized the region with a war against someone that kept things in check and Obama treats Israel as though he prefers the Muslim Brotherhood. We're screwed...

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
November 9, 2012 at 6:36 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Now that the US election is over, I think the risk that Israel will take unilateral action against Iran's nuclear facilities is higher than ever. That will make a total mess of the middle east and all dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians will be off.

Botany (anonymous profile)
November 9, 2012 at 7:22 a.m. (Suggest removal)

IS - You are right about that. Things were never better for the USA in the middle east when Iran and Iraq were at each other's throats. It must have been a great relief to Iran when we took out Saddam Hussein. Not that he was leader worth keeping, but he kept Iran occupied and their mind off of the great Satan.

Botany (anonymous profile)
November 9, 2012 at 7:27 a.m. (Suggest removal)

noted Israeli historian Benny Morris agrees with urg that the Palestinians themselves have been very intransigent as well, and that they still officially seek to have ALL of Israel "back"...we're supposed to sponsor talks with this position plus Netanyahu & Israeli Right insisting on extending the illegal Israeli "settlements" (call 'em "colonies") of the West Bank? Netanyahu really does have a "Moses" complex as David Remnick pointed out in detail in a recent New Yorker article. Thus, he will lead a strike before 2013. One issue is: have we given the Israelis the bunker-buster bombs they would need if they did it?? Controversy on that one...
urg I disagree that Obama treats Israel "as though" he prefers the Muslim Brotherhood... he's given Israel extraordinary support, but he has also "dared" to mention they need to withdraw to the 1967 6-Day War line and quit expanding into the West Bank and stealing those people's ancestral (yes) lands. Netanyahu hates him.
Bring back the "land for peace" solution, split or truly internationalize Jerusalem, do this for the children and descendents on BOTH sides. Two-state solution, but have vote Netanyahu out first.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
November 9, 2012 at 7:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

The claim that Obama prefers "the Muslim brotherhood," or anything similar to that is delusional or uninformed. A balanced perspective summary of US presidential policies and actions with Israel is given in The conclusion there is that "Obama has been an exceptional supporter of Israel."

The middle East is a mess and distracts US from issues that, fundamentalist baloney aside, are more important to our future. Both "sides" include good (those working for an equitable peace, evidenced by the subject letter) and bad (those who consider their opponents sub-human) people. The future should evolve along diplomatic, humanist lines; but unfortunately may in the end boil down to who has the better propagandists, military and backers.

hodgmo (anonymous profile)
November 9, 2012 at 9:56 a.m. (Suggest removal)

So while we disagree about Obama and his view of Israel vs his view of true terrorist organizations, and this is a discussion without a wrong or right answer, we agree that the middle east is such a mess that there is no easy solution. And while we would all hope for a diplomatic solution, the history of the middle east also demonstrates that even when left to their own, the region tends to be a mess.
I'm still laughing over the Bush administrations surprise that when Palestine had a free and democratic election they voted for Hamas. Our current administration is no less naive.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
November 9, 2012 at 11:33 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I think the available evidence clearly shows that the Middle East is 'a mess,' and that the Obama administration has done nothing to indicate less support for our so-called ally Israel than other presidents. If anyone has meaningful reasons for claiming otherwise, i am interested. Short of that, claims that Obama (or his administration) prefers Muslims, and other similar inflammatories, are, at best, bunk.

It's interesting to read what contemporaries to very early modern Israel, such as T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell, thought about the then British plan to create the state. In a nutshell, they foreaw the disaster (conflict with no apparent resolution) it has become.

hodgmo (anonymous profile)
November 9, 2012 at 6:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

yes, and interesting also to see how well-meant UK/American redrawing of national boundary lines have led to messes like these stalemates [thinking of India/Pakistan 1948, Kashmir, E/West Germanies (unavoidable I guess)...] Such lines are drawn with black pens on maps by diplomats, often ignoring the facts on the ground.
Many Israelis, esp those with which J Street is aligned, also feel their country went over the top when they chose to KEEP the West Bank and other lands they took in the 1967 6-Day War (yes, they were attacked first). It is very clear that Ben-Gurion and those after him did not foresee or "want" Arab territories next to their new 1947/48 land given them by USA/UK/UN. Gershom Gorenberg in a fine analysis calls it the title of his book, ACCIDENTAL EMPIRE.
Bargain land (the illegal settlements i.e. colonies) for permanent peace...isn't this what Ehud Barak tried?? Bring on the 2-State Solution... avoid Israel become even more of a "siege state", a military pseudo-democracy (theocracy, really)...
Somehow, it seems like if Netanyahu attacks Iran he makes HIS own Moses/liberator mythology AND the ayatollahs' insane "anti-Semitic destroy-the-Jews" weirdly valid. Meanwhile, the civil society and the children suffer this.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
November 10, 2012 at 11:05 a.m. (Suggest removal)

I listened to Ben-Ami when he spoke at the Lobero and was impressed with his approach, and that of J-Street. Although I truly hope his and like-minded efforts will break the viscous cycle in the Middle East, at least enough to defuse the destructive catalytic effect of the region, the persistent and violent passions on both sides leave me skeptical.

hodgmo (anonymous profile)
November 15, 2012 at 3:45 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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