AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr created a stir Sunday when he called for “two states for two peoples: one Jewish with secure and defensible borders and one Palestinian with its own flag and its own future.”
Kohr deliberately echoed the words of Benjamin Netanyahu at Bar-Ilan University in 2009. Netanyahu said then,
In my vision of peace, in this small land of ours, two peoples live freely, side-by-side, in amity and mutual respect. Each will have its own flag, its own national anthem, its own government. Neither will threaten the security or survival of the other. …
I have already stressed the first principle – recognition. Palestinians must clearly and unambiguously recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
The second principle is: demilitarization. The territory under Palestinian control must be demilitarized with ironclad security provisions for Israel. …
Regarding the remaining important issues that will be discussed as part of the final settlement, my positions are known: Israel needs defensible borders, and Jerusalem must remain the united capital of Israel with continued religious freedom for all faiths.
Bibi’s statement was a mistake. His enemies on the right pounced on him for giving up his historical opposition to a Palestinian state, while the Arabs and the Left derided him as insincere. He got nothing in return from Obama and lost whatever reputation he still had for principled opposition to concessions for the PLO. Most damaging to Israel was the fact that the Americans and the PLO “pocketed” his statement, making it almost impossible for him or any subsequent Israeli Prime Minister to walk it back. From then on, anyone could say “Israel officially supports a Palestinian state.”
The root of the problem is that the concept of “two states” is poisonously ambiguous. Everyone can understand it to mean something different, up to embracing diametrically opposite ideas.
Bibi’s Palestine would be a less-than sovereign autonomous entity, demilitarized, without control of airspace, borders, electronic communications or the Jordan Valley. It would not be allowed to import weapons or make military pacts with other nations. The PLO would be required to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people (which of course they would never, ever, do).
The Israeli center-left calls for “two states for two peoples,” a formula which, like Bibi’s, implies recognition. In this view, after an Israeli withdrawal from all or part of Judea and Samaria and the creation of an Arab state, “Palestine” would accept the Jewish people’s ownership of the remaining part of Israel as legitimate. There would be no further claims against Israel, and any solution for the descendants of Arab refugees would take place outside of the borders of Israel. This would not fly with the PLO either.
Finally, there is what Mahmoud Abbas means by “two-state solution:” a “Palestine” in which there will be no Jews, which will encompass all of Judea and Samaria (and theoretically, Gaza) with the exception of small land swaps, fully sovereign in every respect. Next to it will be an Israel that will be a “state of its citizens.” It cannot belong to the Jewish people, because in the view of the PLO there is no Jewish people, only a Jewish religion. This “Israel” will accept as many of the millions of Arab “refugees” who wish to “return” to it and grant them full rights. One can only speculate how long and in what condition of civil war this state would exist until it would be absorbed into “Palestine.”
Needless to say, these visions are incompatible. The dishonest J Street organization claims that Abbas accepted the idea of “two states for two peoples,” but in fact he has never added anything about two peoples to the phrase “two states.” Indeed, Abbas’ recent speech (incidentally, one of the most nonsensical orations ever) that J Street refers to as a “Palestinian peace plan” implicitly but clearly calls for a right of return for the Arab “refugees” to Israel.
The best thing that could happen would be for everyone to stop talking about the “two-state solution,” a phrase which has devolved into meaninglessness.
In 2009, Bibi may have been forced to utter the formula by the Obama Administration. But what about AIPAC today? Apparently panicked by a recent poll showing diminishing support for Israel among Democrats, AIPAC is struggling to get them back. The same day that Kohr made his remarks, AIPAC’s president Mort Fridman made it explict:
To my friends in the Progressive community, I want you to know that we are partners in this project. The Progressive narrative for Israel is just as compelling and critical as the conservative one. [Yes, he said that! – vr]
But there are very real forces trying to pull you out of this hall and out of this movement and we cannot let that happen. We will not let that happen.
AIPAC hoped to fend off attacks from J Street and similar groups without weakening its support from pro-Israel elements, by employing the time honored method of political triangulation. By adopting some of the ideas of its opponents on the Left, it hopes to bring them into the fold, while its supporters on the Right will have nowhere else to go.
But this is a poor strategy because the progressives among the Democrats no longer accept AIPAC’s primary objective, which is support for Israel. It’s not that they think, as the Israeli Left does, that “ending the occupation” will be likely to lead to peace, or that their vision of Israel will be more democratic, or that another partition of the Land of Israel will prevent a demographic crisis. They have absorbed the narratives of the international Left and are simply anti-Israel. They are not coming back to AIPAC.
This is especially true of the Jews among them. At some point, the Jewish progressives replaced their connection to am yisrael with one to the oppressed peoples and gender-groups of the world, including of course the Palestinians.
The best thing for AIPAC to do now, in my opinion, is to become unapologetically pro-Israel. The progressives are gone anyway, and it might make the organization more effective.