For the past two decades, the United States has enjoyed a bipartisan consensus that the way to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is through negotiations leading to a two-state solution.
Judging by recent statements by some 2016 Republican presidential candidates, that consensus is now in deep danger.
"Now is not the time for the United States to be pressuring Israel to make concessions toward a Palestinian leadership."'
Prompted by the influence of extreme right-wing mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson who opposes a two-state solution, Republican presidential hopefuls have been furiously back-peddling. Echoing the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, they appear to now regard the two-state solution as more of a vague aspiration that might be fulfilled at some indeterminate time in the far-off future than an actual policy to be actively pursued through US diplomatic leadership.
We should all be aware of what that policy means: it would be a blank check issued by the United States to Netanyahu and his extreme nationalist allies to press ahead with Israeli settlements and deepen the occupation with full U.S. acquiescence. That would be a recipe for endless conflict, profoundly damaging to U.S. interests and to Israel’s long-term security and viability as a democratic Jewish homeland.
Netanyahu told voters in the closing days of his reelection campaign in March that there would be no Palestinian state established on his watch. After the election, he made some weak attempts to distance himself from his own words, saying that he remained in favor of two-states in principle but the region was too unstable and the Palestinians themselves too divided right now.
“I don’t want a one-state solution, I want a sustainable peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change,” he said after the election.
It was notable that Netanyahu’s original statement was in Hebrew but the half-hearted retractions in English. For years, Israel has accused Palestinian leaders of saying one thing to their own people in Arabic and another when speaking to international audiences in English. Now, Netanyahu is doing the same.
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Republican presidential hopefuls have been swift to parrot the Netanyahu line. In a statement issued by his spokesman, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recently clarified that he “supports the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for a two-state solution. Both sides must be represented by leaders who have the ability to uphold the promise made at the negotiating table — something the Palestinian people do not have right now. Israel is right to be skeptical of the Palestinian leadership’s ability to deliver.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has much the same position. His spokeswoman told The New York Times: “Senator Rubio believes that a two-state solution should remain the ultimate goal and would be the best outcome for both Israelis and Palestinians … [But] given the deteriorating security situation that Israel faces in every direction, now is not the time for the United States to be pressuring Israel to make concessions toward a Palestinian leadership.”
Such reticence, if it continues, would likely not play well with Adelson, who has repeatedly made clear that he not only rejects the idea of a Palestinian state but also denies the existence of a Palestinian national identity. Last November, Adelson called the Palestinians “an invented people,” adding that “the purpose of the existence of Palestinians is to destroy Israel."
"Israel is right to be skeptical of the Palestinian leadership’s ability to deliver."'
We should recall that whatever his other foreign policy shortcomings, George W. Bush was absolutely solid in his advocacy for a two-state solution. He was the first U.S. president to clearly and unambiguously call for a Palestinian state and in January 2008, he became the first U.S. president to visit Ramallah, the West Bank city that is the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, where he delivered a forceful statement calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
“There should be an end to the occupation that began in 1967," Bush told reporters. “The agreement must establish Palestine as a homeland for the Palestinian people, just as Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people … These negotiations must ensure that Israel has secure, recognized and defensible borders. And they must ensure that the state of Palestine is viable, contiguous, sovereign and independent.”
Jeb Bush and the other Republican presidential candidates should heed those words, not abandon them.
Alan Elsner is Vice President for Communications for J Street.