These are challenging times for proponents of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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Bilateral talks are frozen, leadership on both sides lacks political courage, and ongoing violence has made despair reign over trust.
Nevertheless, with challenge comes opportunity, and this is the moment for those who care about the Israeli-Palestinian future to take advantage of the current vacuum by demonstrating that separating into two states is the only viable solution to the conflict. Such a solution can actually be achieved.
While elements of the political environment, such as a new and more right-wing coalition in Israel, and Mahmoud Abbas’s reluctance to condemn extremist Palestinian incitement, do not point to a break in the impasse, there are reasons for optimism.
Arab leaders, including most recently Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, continue to offer their support and encouragement for renewed negotiations, proffering the carrot of genuinely warmer relations with Israel should talks succeed. The forthcoming Quartet report, while likely to be disproportionately critical of Israel, is also expected to highlight productive steps that both sides can take to preserve a two-state vision.
Even the highly problematic French peace initiative will draw attention to the reality that the only viable way forward is through a plan that creates a demilitarized Palestinian state on the majority of land in the West Bank.
While neither Israel nor the Palestinians appear ready to seize the opportunity, there is no question that such opportunities exist. Most encouragingly, the framework that both parties to the conflict and the international community still uniformly agree upon is the two-state vision, recognizing that there is no realistic alternative.
In order for this vision to be realized, Israelis must be reassured not only that withdrawing from the West Bank is ultimately the key to their long-term security, but that there are tangible plans that grapple with how that security can be guaranteed.
The terrorist attack in the heart of Tel Aviv at the beginning of the month is only the most recent tragic reminder of what Israelis face every day in going to work and school, strolling on the street, or sitting in a café.
With rockets from Gaza a constant threat to Israeli population centers and the ongoing wave of terrorist violence directed at Israeli civilians, Israel’s reluctance to risk upending the status quo in the West Bank is understandable.
The only way to assuage the concerns of Israel’s leaders and ordinary citizens is to outline a detailed and comprehensive strategy that addresses every element of security, both in the absence of negotiations now and in a future permanent status agreement.
As the recent senseless killing of Israelis demonstrates, basic daily security is not an abstract concept but an immediate imperative.
The Israel Policy Forum’s Two-State Security Project, based upon security initiatives developed by experts at the Center for a New American Security and the Commanders for Israel’s Security, demonstrates that there is a way forward that addresses Israel’s legitimate security concerns at present, while outlining a detailed path to realizing a two-state solution that protects Israel’s security in the future. In order for two states to be taken seriously, security must be taken seriously first.
It is essential, particularly with the transition in the fall to a new presidential administration, that the issue of two states becomes an important part of the next president’s agenda.
For that to happen, it is imperative that policymakers and thought leaders grapple with the details of these security initiatives that have been developed in order to overcome the various obstacles that have prevented successful negotiations between the two sides for decades.
American Jewish leaders also need to lead by changing the discourse and mobilizing support for two states – the only solution that guarantees Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic, and secure state.
The majority of American Jews and Israeli Jews, who still believe in a two-state vision, must work together to leverage the community’s resources to imagine and advance pragmatic solutions. The American Jewish establishment is not monolithic, and it is time to marry significant support for two states with a recognition of what is actually feasible and how best to achieve it.
Moreover, the overwhelming majority of prominent American Jewish leaders support the two-state solution – which is also the publicly stated position of the Israeli government – and it is time to translate that support into tangible action.
American Jews need to keep this issue on the front burner and influence the next administration’s policy decisions by continuously working to educate and inform both policymakers and the American Jewish community of its importance. We must provide resources and call attention to knowledgeable and experienced Israeli voices who can help advance the two-state agenda.
Most of all, we must make clear that we understand what is at stake and that a two-state solution is the only way forward. Kicking the can down the road does Israel no favors; the status quo is not really the status quo, as the situation continues to deteriorate; and thus, we must take full advantage of the moment to ensure Israel’s Jewish, democratic, and secure future.
Susie Gelman is chair of the Israel Policy Forum, a non-partisan American organization that advocates for a viable two-state solution.