A Two-State Solution: Israel Should Take the Lead

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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participates in a forum hosted by the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., on November 10, 2015. Netanyahu assured U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday that he remained committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as they sought to mend ties strained by acrimony over Middle East diplomacy and Iran. Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

The Israeli government has been confronted by a recent spate of speeches and statements by American officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Ambassador Dan Shapiro, urging it to acknowledge that the two-state solution is on life support.

The response has largely been to label these calls as untrue and irresponsible, to demand apologies and criticize the messengers.

Yet these incidents are only likely to increase as long as the West Bank remains in a state of limbo. Only by advancing a viable and responsible path forward for two states that guarantees its basic security and maintains itself as a Jewish and democratic state will Israel secure its future and quiet its critics.

American Jewish leaders and organizations are being asked to support and defend Israel's policies, despite the ongoing ambiguity on the West Bank's status. Israel is currently neither willing to formally annex the West Bank and own what seems to be the preferred policy of a majority of the members of the Israeli government, nor take the necessary steps to relinquish the majority of the West Bank to the Palestinians for a future state.

Yet maintaining the status quo has proven to be a failed policy—one that does Israel no favors and puts its American Jewish supporters in an impossible position. Paying lip service to two states while enacting policies that are creating a de facto single state in all of the territory under Israel's control has left Israel with little credibility in the international community and continues to imperil the security of its citizens.

Secretary Kerry was correct in his assessment that continued settlement growth raises honest questions about Israel's intentions. Ambassador Shapiro was correct in his assessment that the existing double standard in the West Bank for Jews and Palestinians is untenable. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was correct in his assessment that Israeli settlement policy creates more problems for Israel than any purported benefits that it may bring.

To be sure, Shapiro's timing was unfortunate, to say the least, given the despicable murder of Dafna Meir, a mother of six, the day before. Meanwhile, Ban's credibility is diminished by the fact that he leads an organization with a long history of blatant and unfair singling out of Israel, from the infamous "Zionism is racism" resolution to the Human Rights Council's current shameful obsession with Israel.

Nevertheless, it should be apparent that these warnings are valid: So long as Israel maintains policies that only deepen Palestinian frustration and despair—policies that even the current upper echelons of Israel's security establishment have deemed counterproductive—it will never be able to establish a normal existence. Rather than rage against critics, the Israeli government and its supporters should be doing all that they can to establish a legitimate process to create a Palestinian state. Israel's security will not be achievable as long as the situation in the West Bank festers.

Israel has overcome tremendous obstacles, and is a strong and vibrant nation. The arguments that creating a Palestinian state is too dangerous, that relinquishing any part of the West Bank will lead to Israel's destruction and that only when Palestinian attitudes change in two or three decades can Israel afford to take any steps toward a two-state solution, are bankrupt ones.

Let us be clear: The blame in no way rests solely on Israel. The Palestinians need to be held accountable for decades of rejectionist policies, attempts to delegitimize Israel and continuing incitement and terrorism against Israeli civilians.

But the fact that the Palestinians are unable to relinquish unreasonable maximalist demands does not mean that Israel cannot take some steps to lay the groundwork for two states on its own terms, outside of the confines of negotiations. While this is a suboptimal solution, it is better than remaining idle and waiting interminably for the winds to shift.

Taking an initiative that demonstrates Israel's seriousness to preserve the goal of two states could calm tensions, undermine Israel's critics and serve to focus much-needed attention back onto the Palestinians to take responsible steps of their own.

Israel would be wise to take steps in the right direction with strong encouragement and backing from its friends, rather than risk the support of its friends while dismissing their legitimate warnings.

Peter A. Joseph is chairman and Susie Gelman is a member of the board of Israel Policy Forum (IPF), a non-partisan U.S. organization that supports and advocates for a path toward a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A Two-State Solution: Israel Should Take the Lead | Opinion