Opinion: AIPAC’s moment to step back from two-state solution

Last week’s AIPAC conference registered a first. It invited an official representative from across the Green Line to speak. Will it signal a more open position by the pro-Israel lobbying giant toward the Arab-Israel conflict?

By Daniel Krygier, World Israel News

Last week’s AIPAC conference registered a first. It invited an official representative from across the Green Line, those areas captured in the 1967 Six Day War, to speak. Efrat Mayor Oded Revivi took part in a panel on Judea and Samaria at the conference. 

Until recently, the roughly half million Israelis living beyond the Green Line have largely been shunned by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC officially endorses the two-state solution and so is reluctant to appear to back the settler movement. For this reason, the Efrat mayor’s invitation notwithstanding, pro-settler supporters still felt obliged to hold an ‘off-campus’ event. 

Ironically, this year’s AIPAC conference was overshadowed by an uninvited guest – the Islamist terrorist organization Hamas – it once again fired rockets from Gaza against Israeli civilians. While the two-state solution may be the most attractive solution in theory, such incidents lend credence to those who oppose further territorial withdrawals. At the very least, they should be given a seat at AIPAC’s table.

The message from Hamas may not be lost on AIPAC. Could the invitation extended to the Efrat mayor be just the beginning? Will harsh Middle Eastern realities induce AIPAC to be more open to other approaches to the struggle between Jews and Palestinians? 

AIPAC should not be blamed for holding perhaps too firmly to what may be an ossified way of thinking about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Since its founding in 1963, it has been the most successful pro-Israel lobbying organization in America with over 100,000 members and many donors.

That support is firmly rooted in a broad bipartisan support of the State of Israel – a support derived at least in part from a sincere desire to achieve peace between Israel and her Arab neighbors: two states for two peoples.

However, a quarter of a century after the Oslo Accords, which no one considers a success including its originators, peace remains more elusive than ever. Liberals in America tend to blame Israeli right-wing governments for the lack of peace, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu portrayed as the chief obstacle.

However, this narrative requires a suspension of disbelief that ignores decades of ongoing anti-Semitic incitement and anti-Israel terrorism promoted by both Hamas and the PA-regime in Ramallah. It also requires a short memory that ignores the numerous U.S.-supported two-state peace offers that Ramallah rejected from both left-wing and right-wing Israeli governments.

The late PLO Chieftain Yasser Arafat’s decision to reject peace at Camp David in 2000 and unleash the Second Intifada against Israel, sent shock waves among mainstream Israelis who supported a peaceful two-state solution. It was undoubtedly a watershed moment in the history of the Jewish state. Many liberal Israelis became disillusioned about peace prospects and increasingly supported stronger Israeli measures against terrorism.

A second watershed moment was Israel’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip in 2005. It was an attempt by Israel to show the international community that it seeks peace even when her neighbors do not. More importantly, it expressed Israel’s desire to disengage from her hostile surroundings.

While Israel left Gaza, Gaza did not leave Israel. After the violent takeover by Hamas in 2007, Gaza terrorism against Israel exploded dramatically. Thousands of rockets have been fired from Gaza against Israeli civilians. The recent Gaza rockets fired at the Tel Aviv metropolitan area 14 years after Israel left Gaza make Israelis today even more disillusioned about peace prospects. Hamas has prioritized terrorism against Israel at the expense of its own population’s well-being and future.

Average Israelis overwhelmingly reject the narrative that blames specific Israeli policies as the obstacle to peace. Moderate Israelis, once open to offering land for peace, are increasingly of the mind that Palestinians don’t want peace, but rather Israel’s destruction.

As a result of Israel’s painful rounds of fighting in Gaza, polls show that a significant number of Israelis currently oppose further Israeli military withdrawals from Judea and Samaria. Mainstream Israelis fear that withdrawing from Judea and Samaria, would expose Israel’s main population centers and Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport to insufferable rocket fire.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, frequently portrayed as a “hawk” by liberals abroad, faces domestic Israeli criticism for being too soft in his handling of ongoing anti-Israel terrorism – notably, these attacks are being leveled at him from the left-side of the political aisle. 

Given these harsh Middle Eastern realities, which push a two-state solution into a distant and uncertain future, AIPAC is presented with the opportunity to open the door to more voices on the issue. Instead of sticking to solutions that have been rejected as unrealistic by the vast majority of Israelis, the time is ripe for AIPAC to adopt an agnostic position on solutions to the conflict. To open the marketplace of ideas as it were. 

The gulf between some American Jewish organizations and Israel is ultimately rooted in their vastly different experiences. From a safe distance, Jewish American organizations tend to focus on how things should be in the Middle East. By contrast, Israelis facing daily threats, tend to focus on the realities.

Throughout time, Jews overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges, even as they were scattered across the earth. By focusing on a common Jewish past, shared values and a commitment to a desired peaceful future, U.S. Jews and Israelis can deepen their relationship to the benefit of both. But that starts with mutual respect and a willingness to hear new ideas. The Arab-Israel conflict is a great place to start.