Heeding Hillary’s Words

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published March 31, 2010, issue of April 09, 2010.
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For a wisp of a moment, it seemed as if the two-state solution had been taken off life-support. Still bedridden, to be sure, but no longer leaning at death’s unlocked door. The ideological one-staters had been emboldened by the rising numbers of tired two-staters who had abandoned the cause not out of conviction but out of hopelessness. Endorsement of and commitment to a two-state solution had come to seem more like a mantra than a program.

And then, Hillary Clinton entered the hospital room and without flinching proceeded to provide mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the patient. The secretary of state was not alone in her effort, but she was uniquely on target. Press reports of Clinton’s speech at AIPAC’s annual conference emphasized her caution to Israel regarding new housing and new settlement construction, the importance she attaches to “confidence-building” measures. But underlying that line of argument, providing the rationale for it, were her prepared references, throughout her text, to Israel as a democratic and Jewish state.

That is the heart of the two-state matter, whether viewed from a security perspective or an ethical perspective. And this is just one of the ways in which she showed that she truly gets it: “As Defense Minister Barak and others have observed, the inexorable mathematics of demography are hastening the hour at which Israelis may have to choose between preserving their democracy and staying true to the dream of a Jewish homeland. Given this reality, a two-state solution is the only viable path for Israel to remain both a democracy and a Jewish state.”

The Clinton remarks were embedded in repeated reassurances of America’s commitment to Israel and, given the tensions in the relationship that have lately emerged, these were more than mere window dressing.

The reasonable expectation was that when, later the same day, it came time for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the 7,000-plus AIPAC attendees, he would offer at least some conciliatory remarks, make an effort to smooth over the ruffled feathers, help get the proximity talks back on track.

No such luck. There wasn’t an ounce of give in the prime minister’s remarks, which were followed by two days of uncommonly intense negotiations — both directly between President Obama and Netanyahu and also with their staffs — at the end of which there were more questions than answers.

Both Netanyahu and American Jews now have some homework to do. Friends of peace, which necessarily means friends of a two-state solution — as improbable as a two-state solution seems these days, no other solution is even plausible — were quick to celebrate Netanyahu’s Bar-Ilan speech last June, in which the prime minister for the first time acknowledged the prospect of a Palestinian state: “In my vision of peace, there are two free peoples living side by side in this small land, with good neighborly relations and mutual respect, each with its flag, anthem and government, with neither one threatening its neighbor’s security and existence.”

But there is no reason at all to conclude that Netanyahu actually advocates two states. Very little in his rhetoric and nothing at all in his behavior indicates such advocacy. At AIPAC, he could not bring himself to utter even a tepid endorsement of a Palestinian state. That is, alas, who he is. There is nothing to celebrate.

Obviously, Netanyahu is entitled to his views. Israel is a sovereign state, and he is the head of its raucous government. So be it.

But let the prime minister not interpret the applause and the standing ovations bestowed on him at AIPAC as an accurate reflection of the disposition of America’s Jews. The AIPAC audience is obviously not representative of American Jewry — nor is there compelling reason to believe that it is representative even of the many American Jews who want and even need Israel to be a vibrant democracy and a cordial home to Judaism in all its parts.

A poll of American Jews and their views on the Middle East conflict, including America’s role in resolving the conflict, was commissioned by J Street in the aftermath of the dustup during Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel. From the results, we learn that American Jews, by a 4-1 margin (82%-18%), support the United States playing an active role in helping the parties to resolve the conflict, and by a 63%-37% margin, those who support American activism say they would continue their support even “if it meant the United States exerting pressure on Israel to make the compromises necessary to achieve peace.”

We may rest assured that Obama’s people have studied the J Street poll. And we may fervently hope that the Netanyahu people have, as well.


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