The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), purportedly the most powerful lobbying group in Washington, held their annual policy conference earlier this week with over 18,000 supporters of Israel—Jews and non-Jews—assembling in the nation’s capital to, more than anything else, celebrate the U.S.–Israel relationship.
AIPAC is not just an influential organization that promotes and protects the working and effective connection between the U.S. and Israel. Most importantly, they do it in a bipartisan fashion, and Israel might be the only issue about which so many on both sides of the aisle can agree.
On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of AIPAC members are liberal Jews who value the state of Israel but might see the future differently than the current Likud government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the current Trump administration.
And that is where some of the news and confusion emanated from on Monday as AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr announced AIPAC’s support for the two-state solution. On Monday, Senator Chuck Schumer also clearly said that the U.S. objective is two states—Israel and Palestine—living side by side in peace.
This almost nonchalant pronouncement attracted the attention and incurred the ire of Shomron Regional Council head Yossi Dagan. “With all due respect to the leaders of AIPAC,” Dagan said on the phone from Israel on Tuesday, “where did AIPAC come up with this idea that it is acceptable to advocate for a terrorist state to be planted in the heartland of Israel?” he asked.
An odd thing happened at the AIPAC policy conference. The record-setting crowd cheered wildly when officials like Vice President Pence, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and even Senator Schumer reiterated the policy announced by President Trump recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.
There was also cheering when the words “two states for two people” were articulated by Mr. Schumer, Mr. Kohr, as well as others who addressed the gathering. It is fairly well-known that the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is also a nail in the coffin of the Israeli–Palestinian peace process, and Palestinian leaders have said as much loudly and clearly.
So how do supporters of Israel rationalize cheering the call for two states as well as for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? That position seems a little puzzling, contradictory, as well as disingenuous unless you just enjoy cheering along with 18,000 other people regardless of the reason.
On Tuesday, Avi Gabbay, Labor party leader and former CEO of Bezeq, said very much the same thing to wild cheers and applause at the Washington Convention Center. He talked about Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal capital” and also about creating a two-state formula.
Gabbay added something that the others had not said to that point. He said that in the interest of peace, it was vital that the Jews and Palestinians in Israel be separated. That formulation has been a longstanding plan of the peace camp, but that characterization is the creation of a situation that can be described as a lot of things, but peace should certainly not be one of them.
Yes, if the populations are somehow separated, there will be a situation that might be more peaceful than what we have now, but that is definitely not peace. If these two peoples in Israel—Jews and Arabs—have to be pulled apart, and without doing that there is only incitement and violence, then that cannot be considered a peace agreement.
The one word that was conspicuously absent from all the speeches and phrases about Jerusalem was the word “unified.” Even Prime Minister Netanyahu refrained from saying the words “unified Jerusalem,” because that would absolutely slam the door on even the longstanding rhetorical and conceptual peace that people from all camps have been talking about for decades.
Even Barack Obama in 2008, before he was elected president, described this city as the “undivided Jerusalem.” It was only later clarified to mean that Obama had hoped at the time to see Jerusalem united as one city and the capital of Palestine. That is a far cry from what we were witness to at this week’s AIPAC conference.
So at this juncture and late date it seems that the term “two states” has not only lost its allure and luster, but also seems to be absent of almost all meaning. And perhaps that is why it is so easy to proclaim, announce, and shout out at any audience. You see, “two states for two peoples” is an impossibility at this point, but is still a nice thing for some to say and it still placates a good many people.
On the matter of the once-popular term “unified” in reference to Jerusalem, just about everyone stayed away from it, holding out hope that somewhere down the road the Palestinian leadership would come to their senses and accept a demilitarized state and a small corner of the technical city of Jerusalem—perhaps in Abu Dis or Beit Hanina—to call their capital in Jerusalem.
On the other end of the equation, whoever talks about two states is really in a pretty good place because the terms for such a state is completely unacceptable to the Palestinian Authority.
Perhaps AIPAC leadership knows that but they also understand that there is a Pavlovian response to the term amongst the rank-and-file AIPAC membership, so they use it often and loosely.
There is a minor technical complication with the current peace process—that the PA leaders have decided to exclude the U.S. from the process because of the Jerusalem decision. How do you suppose that is going to work out?
For his part, Yossi Dagan wrote a letter to the AIPAC leaders asking how they could so coolly adapt a position that is a threat to Israel’s security and the future of Israel. The right answer is that technically two states is still in some fashion a working policy for both Israel and the U.S. No one has yet declared the idea dead or over, though from every practical vantage point it is.
The other day, when Prime Minister Netanyahu was sitting in the Oval Office with President Trump, the president was asked what would happen if the Palestinians continue to refuse to come to the negotiating table. Mr. Trump responded that if that is the case, “then there won’t be peace.”
It looks like everyone is OK with that. AIPAC should get on board and come to grips with this reality.
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