NEW YORK – Jewish American organizations that have been advocating for the two-state solution are confident the idea will live on despite the installation of Donald Trump as US president.
“The two-state solution wasn’t achieved in the last administration or the one before that, and it may not be achieved in this one either, but it doesn’t mean that the idea dies, because it remains the only actual functioning, viable solution that anyone has put forward,” Alan Elsner, special adviser to the president of J Street, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.
Elsner said out that while the Trump administration’s policy regarding the Israeli- Palestinian conflict has not yet been clearly formulated, some of the new president’s moves, such as nominating David Friedman, a supporter of settlements, as ambassador to Israel, are worrying.
“I think everyone thinks in a kind of short-term way, especially now when a tweet has kind of a half-life of a few seconds,” he explained.
“But there are ideas that are powerful and true and just. They happen when the time comes and when the leaders are there who are willing to have the courage to implement them.”
Over the last eight years, Elsner said, the Obama administration worked hard for a two-state solution and didn’t achieve much progress because of Israeli and Palestinian leaders who were unwilling to tackle some of the core issues.
However, because public opinion polls show that a majority of Israelis and Palestinians and American Jews support a two-state solution, Elsner said the idea is bigger than any political phase.
“We are advocating for an idea which is a powerful one,” he told the Post. “It’s based on justice and it’s based on the values that we were brought up to believe in, and we are not about to abandon it and neither are the millions of Israelis, Palestinians and others around the world who believe in it, just because one individual has been elected for a term of four years or because another individual might sit in the embassy wherever it is that he chooses to sit.
“If the policy of the administration were to come out and say blatantly ‘We are forsaking the two-state solution,’ I think we would then have to grapple with what comes in its place,” he added. David Halperin of the Israel Policy Forum agreed that it is premature to respond to any potential Trump policy on the Middle East before a statement has been made or action taken, though he said the absence of the two-state solution from Trump’s statements so far and from the Republican Party’s platform is worrisome.
“It is, in general, concerning that Israel has become such an increasingly blatantly partisan issue,” Halperin said. “The concept of a two-state solution, I think, has been caught up in that partisanship, but I think it’s really too early to tell. We have to see how policy will be advanced under Trump.”
Halpern and his colleagues at the Israel Policy Forum were in Israel this week to develop and advance their new strategy, adapted to the new dynamics in Washington.
“As an organization, we’ve come to a conclusion that a resumption or a call for a resumption of negotiations at this time simply is not wise, given the deep distrust of the leadership on both sides,” he explained. “Instead, we should be looking at what sort of things Israel can do in the near term to improve its security and preserve the opportunity for a negotiated two-state solution in the near future.”
Halpern said he is confident two states will remain on the agenda, because he does not believe there is “a viable alternative that either people is not only willing to accept but is interested in genuinely entertaining or that is workable.”
Regarding Friedman, both J Street and the Israel Policy Forum pointed out that the ambassador will not be creating policy, but rather carrying out Washington’s vision, which is still undetermined.
Although it may not be achieved anytime soon, Halperin said the two-state concept can be preserved until the climate becomes favorable again for negotiations.
“The focus is less on creating a two-state solution and more on creating a two-state reality, a two-state dynamic that ensures that Israel’s security can be maintained,” Halperin explained. “We all recognize that it’s not in the cards in the near term, it’s really about preservation.”
To achieve this, Halperin believes the Israel Policy Forum will need to “project ideas that have strong and credible Israeli support.”
“We think that it’s really important that if we want to keep the two-state goal on the agenda in the [US] Jewish community and in Washington, we demonstrate that there are credible and serious security- minded Israelis who are with us and who are fighting for that in Israel,” he said.
The Israel Policy Forum, along with its partner Commanders for Israel’s Security, is expected to reveal its new set of proposals for the region, titled “Advancing Two- State Security in the Age of Trump,” at an event in New York City on February 13.
Meanwhile, Elsner said the new climate in Washington, seemingly unfavorable to the organization’s core goals, may actually present a great opportunity.
“Sometimes being in the opposition is what energizes people, because they now see what is at stake and what is liable to be lost,” he said.
“The response of our members to the election of Trump and other people who are not our members who are joining J Street has been electrifying,” he continued. “The election was not a good election in terms of Hillary Clinton, but it wasn’t a bad election for J Street.”
Since November 8, he explained, its endorsements in the US Senate rose to 19 from 13, while December was a record- breaking month for J Street’s general growth.
“We no longer need to defend the actions of any particular administration or individual, and we are liberated to speak our minds, to organize and to grow our influence and our movement, and that’s what we are going to do,” he said.
“It’s already started and it’s already happening.”
Not everyone believes the twostate solution should be put on hold and preserved for the next four years, however.
Jerome Segal, president of the Jewish Peace Lobby, told the Post that, on the contrary, he sees a necessity to take bold initiatives, which should come from the Palestinians.
“The one thing that we do know is true about Trump himself is that while he doesn’t have deep commitments, deep views about the conflict, he has a very strong self-identification as the greatest deal maker and he would love to be the person to bring about Israeli- Palestinian peace,” said Segal.
He added, however, that the “basic message that [Trump] is going to be getting from many advisers and from Prime Minister Netanyahu when he meets him is that conflict is not ripe for resolution, meaning, basically, that the Palestinians are not ready to make peace.”
When Trump and Netanyahu meet in February, Segal believes the prime minister will “accuse the Palestinians of all the different ways the negotiations failed over the last 25 years.
“When he is dealing face-to-face with someone like Donald Trump, he’s not gonna get push-back on the facts,” Segal said. “It’s a very unequal conversation between someone who is super sharp and knows the history of the conflict versus this guy who happens to be president.”
According to Segal, Trump lacks the knowledge and historical depth to counter Netanyahu’s arguments and is likely to succumb to the prime minister’s view that “there is no way to go in terms of real negotiations and in order to bring about stability, Israel and the Trump administration should work out a deal between them.”
This echo chamber, Segal said, can only be broken by a Palestinian initiative that asks the Trump administration to draft a peace accord.
“What I’m putting forward to the Palestinians is ‘Look, that truck is coming down the highway 100 miles an hour at you, and if you don’t want that to roll you over, you’ve gotta come up with some big alternative that cracks that image and shows, in fact, that you are serious,’” he explained.
Contrary to what was done under the Obama administration, which aimed to put together a framework agreement for the two-state solution, Segal believes the next text drafted should be a full-fledged, final-status agreement that then can be negotiated over and shaped into one that could win a referendum among Israelis and Palestinians.
Segal has recently been giving talks in east Jerusalem on Palestinian opportunities in the age of Trump and written op-eds in Palestinian media on the subject.
“The loss of Clinton in the election is probably a setback to the two-state solution, but it doesn’t really change for us the basic way in which we function,” he said.
“What we want to do is to affect the Trump administration by getting them to move into a commitment to two-state solution, but even more than that, an active role in trying to bring about an end to the conflict.”
Like J Street and the Israel Policy Forum, Segal is convinced that the two-state solution is not going to die under Trump.
“If there is a one-state solution, it’s going to drive things back toward the two-state solution, because it’s going to fail abysmally,” he said.