As the malaise sinks in following another failed Israeli-Palestinian peace effort, liberal Zionist groups are left with the difficult task of rethinking their stated mission and reshaping their message to American Jews.
Board members and supporters of groups such as J Street, Americans for Peace Now and the Israel Policy Forum are questioning whether putting all their energy into Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative was wise. The declared central strategy of the groups — pushing for stronger and more active American engagement in the peace process — now appears to address a situation that no longer exists.
In the wake of the peace talks’ collapse, activists are searching for new ways to reach the goal of a two-state solution to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the conflict with its Palestinian residents at a time when skepticism is running high.
“You cannot sugarcoat the frustrations organizations like ours share,” said David Halperin, executive director of IPF, a group set up following the 1993 Oslo Accords with support from so-called “security doves” in Israel’s security establishment. “It is a time of reassessment for everyone, and we need to reassess where we put out assets.”
Still, while American Jews who support the two-state solution may diverge on the tactics they propose for going forward, all agree on a common enemy: voices calling for giving up on the two-state solution.
The idea of a negotiated peace accord, though — once an obvious path for all involved in the peace process — is becoming increasingly harder to sell. And the various threads of what is known as the peace camp are beginning to fray.
Liberal Israeli columnist Larry Derfner, writing in the online +972 Magazine, voiced this shift dramatically in May, calling on his fellow liberal Zionists to give up the hopes they invest in diplomacy. “Forget it. It’s a waste of time,” Derfner wrote, explaining that electoral politics in Israel and in America will not allow the kind of pressure and sacrifice needed to forge a two-state solution.
“What’s the point of lobbying Congress or trying to move the American Jewish establishment away from the Republicans and toward the Democrats?” he asked.
Instead, Derfner is now calling on fellow liberal Zionists to support boycott, divestment and sanctions actions — or BDS, as they are known — against Israel. For Derfner, the express goal of the pressure tactic would be to achieve a two-state solution. That would mark a new twist for the BDS movement, whose organized supporters today by and large either support a one-state solution incorporating Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, which would have a Palestinian majority, or are silent about the end that they envision.
Derfner, an American immigrant to Israel, believes BDS applied toward a two-state solution will have a “jarring psychological impact” on the Jewish state. “What I know for sure is that a continuation of the genial, toothless, J Street-style approach will continue to change nothing, at least not over here,” he wrote from Israel.
This type of warning is ringing in the ears of leaders of dovish Zionist groups these days as they hold board meetings and special consultations to discuss their next steps. The specter of despair is forcing activists to come up with new ideas to justify their belief that a two-state solution is still feasible.
J Street is in the spotlight more than others, not only because it is the biggest among the dovish advocacy groups, but also because the lobby had pledged, upon its launch six years ago, to create “political space” for President Obama and to serve as his “blocking back” when he takes on the risky effort of brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord. The lobby later took on a more active role in pushing the Obama administration to launch a peace plan.