A peaceful end to the decades-old dispute between Israel and Palestine—a two-state solution—has long been indicated in surveys of public opinion among both populations.
Recently at a conference of “Parliamentarians For Peace” in Tokyo, Hilik Bar, Deputy Speaker of the Israeli Knesset and secretary-general of its Labor Party, noted that the two-state solution also continues to enjoy widespread support among members of Israel’s parliament. Bar believes that the final status of the Palestinian territories and sovereignty over them should be settled in accordance with the “two states for two peoples” principle.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be overlooking voices of many of his Likud Party moderates on the issue. Efforts to obtain his commitment to the diplomatic process are being thwarted by Education Minister and leader of the pro-settlement Jewish Home party Naftali Bennett, who is dead set against a two-state solution.
Bennett recently encouraged advancing additional development plans in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, saying that the “dream is that (the West Bank) will be part of sovereign Israel.” Others responded that “his dream and the minority he represents is Israel’s nightmare,” but Bennett could still bring down the government.
Emboldened by Republican wins in the recent American elections, Bennett and other right-wing Knesset members have called anew for the abandonment of a two-state solution, claiming that the “combination of changes in the U.S., in Europe and in the region provide Israel with a unique opportunity to reset and rethink everything.”
President-elect Donald Trump has just nominated David Friedman as ambassador to Israel. Friedman’s opposition to the two-state solution foreshadows a major shift in Washington’s policy, which has been the basis for U.S. and international diplomacy for decades as the best route to sustainable peace.
“This nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk,” says Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the Washington-based J Street, a liberal Jewish Middle East policy group dedicated to the two-state outcome. “(U.S.) senators should know that the majority of Jewish Americans oppose the views and the values this nominee represents.”
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the large Union for Reform Judaism in the United States concurs, expressing concern about Friedman’s personal connection to a number of organizations committed to building additional settlements in the West Bank. “We continue to believe—as have both the American and Israeli governments for a generation—that only a two-state solution will allow Israel to remain both Jewish and democratic while also addressing the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians.”
Bar adds, “If Bennett and the extremists leave the government, we’ll step in… to promote a peace treaty. We will act responsibly.” Bar’s two-state lobby, with over 40 members, is the largest one in the Knesset. The pressure they will apply can be an important factor, particularly when the Arab Initiative is being put on the agenda once again.
Since 2002, when the Arab Initiative was first launched in the Knesset, successive Israeli governments have not taken it seriously, despite the reality that over 50 Arab and Muslim countries support it. Bar sees this as a major diplomatic mistake because it “shows contempt and disrespect for the entire Arab world, and more importantly, for the chance for peace.”
As chair of the two-state lobby, Bar has taken a number of steps to promote the concept, including writing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to promise that the lobby group would support his efforts in the Knesset, meeting with chief Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaath, and also meeting with Saeb Erekat, Senior Palestinian official to suggest that Palestinian Chairman Abu Mazen be requested to drop all preconditions for talks.
Shimon Peres, a founding father of Israel in 1948 and an eminent hopeful voice for a tw0-state solution, died in September with his dream unfulfilled.
Bar’s two-state lobby, although facing many challenges, could ultimately be successful in realizing the dream of Peres and his steadfast belief that Israel welcome “the historic struggle to forge democratic, peace-loving governments in (its) region.”
It is of course essential for achieving a two-state solution that the UN Security Council, including its five members with permanent vetoes, and major Middle East powers sign off with guarantees that no attacks on Israel will be launched from Palestine before this initiative can proceed safely.
David Kilgour, a lawyer by profession, served in Canada’s House of Commons for almost 27 years. In Jean Chretien’s Cabinet, he was secretary of state (Africa and Latin America) and secretary of state (Asia-Pacific). He is the author of several books and co-author with David Matas of “Bloody Harvest: The Killing of Falun Gong for Their Organs.”
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.