Hawks scramble to get on board with two-state solution

By Daniel Luban

Reviewing this week’s AIPAC conference, The Weekly Standard‘s Michael Goldfarb writes:

As President Obama’s meeting with new Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu approaches, there will be tremendous pressure on both leaders to demonstrate that they can work together effectively. It was in that context that Joe Biden both assured the crowd at AIPAC this week of the administration’s commitment to Israeli security while also demanding that Israel “work for a two-state solution … not build more settlements, dismantle existing outposts and allow Palestinians freedom of movement.” Likewise, Netanyahu, in a video address to the conference, assured his American audience that he was committed to the two-state solution and the peace process.

As a cursory look at Netanyahu’s remarks will reveal, Bibi said no such thing. While maintaining that he was willing to resume peace negotiations with the Palestinians, the Israeli prime minister pointedly made no mention of an eventual Palestinian state. In fact, the only mention of the word “state” in his speech came when he demanded Palestinian recognition of Israel as “the Jewish state” and “the nation-state of the Jewish people”. (He did not specify whether the Jewish state would include the West Bank, or, in Likudnik parlance, “Judea and Samaria”.)

That Goldfarb would distort Netanyahu’s remarks is not particularly notable; Goldfarb has not, after all, earned much of a reputation for intellectual integrity.* However, the distortion is indicative of how nervous he and other pro-Israel hardliners seem to be about the apparently widening rift between the U.S. and Israeli governments. Their nervousness was evident at this week’s AIPAC conference, where virtually everyone was eager to paper over differences between the two governments. Thoughts on this below.

The hardliners have clearly decided that directly criticizing Obama when he is so popular is a losing battle, so the conference was full of perfunctory expressions of support for the president’s diplomatic outreach to Iran (quickly followed by warnings that this outreach must have a short and hard end date) and similarly perfunctory calls for a two-state solution. AIPAC itself now officially supports a two-state solution — although this support tends to be so muted and buried so deep in organizational documents that is it unlikely that the average conference-goer was aware of the group’s position — which would seem to put them at odds with Netanyahu. However, AIPAC officials were eager to assure me that Netanyahu is also a two-state supporter, and is simply waiting for the right moment to go public with his position.

The AIPAC rank-and-file, on the other hand, appeared considerably less enthusiastic about ending the occupation than the group’s leadership professes to be. Joe Biden’s and John Kerry’s calls for a two-state solution and for halting settlement expansion were met primarily with stony silence from the crowd; the smattering of applause for these remarks sounded like it came almost entirely from the student sections.

Of course, it is quite possible that Netanyahu will accept the idea of a two-state solution in the near future, and there are good reasons not to attach too much significance to these verbal formulations. Whether Netanyahu claims to want to end the occupation is less important than whether he is willing to take any concrete steps toward this goal. Similarly, AIPAC’s nominal support for two states is, to my mind, less important than the fact that its concrete proposals and priorities look very much like Netanyahu’s.

Nevertheless, the fact that the hardliners feel the need to go through these contortions is revealing of the current political mood. It suggests, as Dan Fleshler wrote today, that the Israel lobby is feeling very nervous about being out of step with the Obama administration.

* It is worth noting that the same post also mischaracterizes the recent remarks made by Robert Gates in Egypt. Gates did not say, as Goldfarb claims, that U.S. diplomacy with Iran had a very remote chance of producing a “favorable outcome”. Rather, he said that diplomacy had a very remote chance of producing a “grand bargain” that would reshape the entire strategic landscape of the region — a very different claim.

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Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. I remember Menachem Begin’s farewell speech as the Israeli prime minister, which went something like – you go on negotiating as well as building settlements, what else there is to do? This has been Israel’s policy since Begin and only James Baker tried to put a stop to it. Plus ca change…

  2. Richard Vajs comes close to the best solution for the Settlements as well as the Palestinian right of return. Here it is. The Settlers can remain Citizens of Israel and be Residents in Palestine. The returning Palestinian refugees can be Citizens of Palestine and Residents in Israel. They will vote in their own elections, as an American who resides in Canada or Mexico can still vote in the US elections. This preserves the Jewish nature of Israel, and does not require a single settler to move. Security can be done jointly by Israeli and Palestinian police and military for a 10 or 20 year transition period. Jerusalem is a international city and jointly Capital of both States. Jews can buy land and settle anywhere in Palestine/Judea-Samaria they want, and Palestinians can return to Haifa and wherever else they choose. The US and International community will help enforce this and pay for new homes and construction. There. Done. Got the will to make it happen?

  3. It is easy to look at the past and predict a future will not present any change. What is taking place is distinctly different from anything that has happened since Jimmy Carter. Obama is saying, “Enough is enough.” The USA simply cannot and should not put up with any more Israeli intransigence. The threats to both American and Israeli national security are now infinite. Since his speech to AIPAC last year when he was criticized by the left for being too obsequious — he supported the two state solution, the elimination of travel barriers for Palestinians and the economic development of Palestine. In his inaugural address, Obama announced a new era of US relations with the Muslim World, and at the State Department only a few days later — he spoke in favor of human right for Palestinians. That much we know — what we do not know is what has been said by George Mitchell and Hillary Clinton to their counterparts in Israel — that dialogue is what is driving the obvious changes in Israeli policy. Avigdor Lieberman touted war with Iran until two weeks ago, when he inexplicably changed his tune to stating that Afghanistan was the primary threat to Israel. The Israeli press is filled with stories about Obama’s changes in foreign policy vis a vis Israel and the approach to the Palestinians. Rahm Emanuel has been quoted in print in Jerusalem that there will be a two state peace settlement within four years — just in time for Obama’s re-election campaign. The demands of power are falling on the nascent government of Israel — and while the outward appearances to the public may seem like nothing is changing — peace negotiations based on Obama’s forthcoming plan will probably start in the very near future — say later this summer or in the fall. Then there are the secret operations involving many cases of Israeli espionage and financial chicanery that are being swept under the carpet for public consumption but are painful for the Israelis — US financial collapses that involved substantial transfers to Israeli bank accounts; the Madoff scandal and the exodus of many Israeli assets from official positions that are being quietly closed over in preparation for a calm meeting in the Oval Office between Obama and Netanyahu — during which Bibi will be well prepared to do a lot of boot-licking.

  4. The creation of the Sate of Israel in 1948 constitued a betrayal of the Palestinian people. Those who doubt this statement are referred to the provisions of the 1925 Treaty of Versailles which specifically set up a protectorate for the Palestionain people. It is time for the world to recognize this betyrayal and to insist Israel pursue the only reasonable soluition to the existing dilemna before Israel’s hard line ambitions lead us into an impossible conflagration.

  5. The Palestinians will never reconcile themselves to two states. They may accept a two-state solution as a tactical maneuver, but they will always want to return to a unitary Palestine. Perhaps future generations on both sides will come to accept one state in which Muslims, Jews and Christians can live together with equal rights. A Jewish-dominated state amounts to a foreign body in the modern Middle East. It will eventually disappear — peacefully, one hopes.

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