16 December 2013
Last week Jadaliyya published an article of mine criticising the American pro-Israel lobby group J Street. J Street presents itself as “pro-Israel, pro-Peace” and claims to support a two-state settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict. In fact, by promoting a peace process based on American and Israel power rather than international law and opposing efforts to raise the cost of occupation for Israel, J Street enables Israeli rejectionism.
If J Street is part of the problem, however, a distinction should nonetheless be made between the organization’s leadership and its activist base. There is reason to believe that a significant portion of the latter would be open to more serious efforts to confront Israel’s occupation and achieve a genuine two-state settlement. A task for the Palestine solidarity movement is to highlight the flaws in and cynicism of J Street’s approach, and offer the more principled of its members something better.
Regrettably, instead of contrasting fraudulent US-led peace negotiations with the two-state solution, prominent figures in the solidarity movement join with J Street in falsely conflating them. Ian Lustick’s much-publicised column in the New York Times, entitled “The Two-State Illusion,” is a case in point. Noting the cynicism of current “diplomacy under the two-state banner,” Lustick urged those seeking an end to the conflict to abandon hope for a two-state solution. But this follows only if one imagines that US-led negotiations are the sole means by which a two-state settlement might be achieved.
Lustick’s column labelled a two-state solution, inter alia, “an idea whose time is now past,” a “fantasy,” an “illusion,” a “chimera” and an “outdated idea,” but also conceded that “some comas miraculously end” and that it “remains possible that someday two real states may arise.” In a subsequent debate with Jeremy Ben-Ami and Yousef Munayyer Lustick clarified: “The most important message in my article was not that two states are absolutely impossible—indeed I did not say that and do not believe it.” He then, however, proceeded to declare that prospects for a two-state settlement have “effectively vanished.” On other points, Lustick has been more consistent. Thus, his NYT column speculated on an alternative to a two-state settlement: “secular Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank could ally with Tel Aviv’s post-Zionists… Anti-nationalist ultra-Orthodox Jews might find common cause with Muslim traditionalists… Peacemaking and democratic state building require blood and magic.” And in his debate with Ben-Ami and Munayyer, he reiterated: “I am not claiming, and did not claim, that I have discovered a realistic path forward.”
Following the publication of his column, Lustick emerged from academic obscurity, celebrated by certain commentators for daring to brand the two-state solution dead. This is a dangerous moment to play into Israeli rejectionists’ hands in this way. Former AIPAC official and current US special envoy to the peace process Martin Indyk, whose appointment J Street welcomed as a “sign of the [Obama administration's] seriousness,” used his address to J Street’s annual conference in September to outline the context to the current negotiations. “Turmoil” in the Arab world has “weakened” the “enemies of peace,” Indyk explained, with the result that these talks might achieve something where countless previous rounds have failed. He cited, as an example of this changed “regional environment,” the Arab League’s modification of its 2002 Peace Initiative to refer to “mutually agreed” land swaps. This “updating,” Indyk continued, signals a willingness to “endorse changes in the 1967 lines that could accommodate Israel’s interests.” In other words: “the Palestinians and the Arab world are at their feeblest, and if we are ever to impose our will, now’s the time.”
Barring Lustick’s “blood and magic,” the alternatives are clear: either an illegal and unjust settlement of the conflict favoured by Israel, the United States and J Street, or a real two-state settlement based on international law.