Israel/Palestine: The Politics of a Two-State Solution

  • Israel/Palestine and the Politics of a Two-State Solution
  • When Peace Fails: Lessons from Belfast for the Middle East

Saturday, March 24, 2012

J Street, Post-Zionism and the Two-State Solution

This weekend J Street, the liberal Zionist pro-peace lobby, will be holding its third conference since its founding in 2008. In 2009 it attracted 1500 people to its first conference, this expanded to over 2,000 at its second conference last year, and it is expected to have over 2500 attendees for its third conference. This has worried the Zionist Right in America, aligned behind the dominant Likud Party and the other parties of the ruling coalition. They have been very inventive in the ways they attack it, which mainly amounts to guilt by association and obfuscation.  But J Street may not be much of a threat to their Greater Israel project.

David Frum, a former Bush administration official and a columnist at The Daily Beast, had a column in which he claimed that Post-Zionists were Anti-Zionists. Post-Zionism was a term coined in the 1990s to cover the Zionist members of the Israeli New Historians school of historiography.  The New Historians are/were a group of Israeli historians that wrote about Israeli history outside of the prevailing Zionist narrative. They range from Benny Morris and Tom Segev who are definitely Zionists, to Ilan Pappe who is definitely anti-Zionist and pro-Palestinian to Avi Shlaim who is in exile in London and is highly critical of Israel and Zionism but supports the existence of Israel. The term was then applied to the Meretz Party and to the left wing of the Labor Party to mean those who were critical of Israel as well as of the Palestinians. Frum has reapplied it to refer to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement that wants to start an economic campaign against Israel proper. His justification is that some liberal Zionists like Peter Beinart, a featured speaker at this J Street conference, are advocating a boycott of products produced by Jews living in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Daily Commentary Magazine, one of the original platforms of the neo-Conservative movement, sends out an email, which often attacks J Street. It does this by attacking progressive or radical organizations that J Street refuses to condemn, such as the Occupy movement, because J Street's pool of supporters share many positions in common with them. 

The Zionist Right in both Israel and America see J Street as a threat because it genuinely supports a two-state solution with the Palestinians, instead of paying lip service to it while building settlements meant to make it impossible. But this may soon be irrelevant because of developments in both Israeli and Palestinian politics.

On Tuesday the Kadima Party holds its leadership primary to determine who will lead the party into elections late this year or early next year (Netanyahu has not yet set a date for the general election). The two main contenders are former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who is also the opposition leader. Polls put the party in the 10-13 seat range in the next election or less than half of what it won in 2009. It will be about the same size as Labor and Israel Beitenu, the latter being the party of Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman. With Kadima at this size the Center-Left will be too small to form a governing coalition without participation by the Likud or other parties of the Right. 

Meanwhile a similar situation prevails among Palestinians between the former ruling Fatah and Hamas. Many Palestinians see the two-state solution as having passed its sell-by date (the date printed on perishable food items) and now serving only as a cover for further settlement.

J Street is ostensibly dedicated to facilitating a two-state solution by lobbying for such a solution in Washington. But in reality it may really be aimed at extracting more contributions for liberal Democratic candidates from liberal Jews and to keep American Jewish youth involved in Zionist issues. But its alarmist rhetoric of now or never for a two-state solution may well backfire. Politics weren't right for a two-state solution in Obama's first term. They appear highly unlikely to be ripe--for the reasons listed above--during his second term. The Republicans aren't interested in mediating a two-state solution as they are beholden to the Evangelical base that supports the Israeli Right. If J Street continues with its rhetoric it may well neutralize the college students that it is presently bringing into the liberal Zionist fold as the next generation. They might actually come to believe in that rhetoric and so drop out of the struggle once the two-state solution is deferred again.

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