I had the privilege today of introducing two programs at the CCAR Conference in Jerusalem that convened 330 Reform Rabbis from Israel, the United States and Canada, Europe, Australia, and South Africa. Both sessions addressed the issue of the viability of the two-state solution.
The first was moderated by Dr. Reuven Hazan, the head of the Political Science Department at the Hebrew University, and included MK Hilik Bar, the Secretary General of the Labor Party and Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, and Elias Zananiri, the Vice Chairman of the PLO Committee for Interaction with Israel Society.
The second featured MK Benny Begin, a geologist and member of the Knesset (Likud) and the son of the late Prime Minister Menachem Begin.
I framed the program with these words:
No issue divides the Jewish people as much as the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. As tensions flare in this infantifada (as it is called with knife wielding Palestinian children attacking innocent Israelis) and hope seems dim for any kind of progress or negotiations, the Labor Party lead by Isaac Herzog decided in the last couple of weeks that it was officially parting with the two-state solution in the near term. Instead, MK Herzog recommended that Israel build a security fence that separates Palestinians from Israelis in Jerusalem and elsewhere.
This decision is a challenge to Labor MK Hilik Bar’s outline ,once supported by Herzog, for a final status, ‘end of all claims’ agreement between Israel and the Palestinians resulting in a two states for two peoples resolution of the conflict.
This proposal resulted from MK Bar’s two years as the Chair of the Knesset Caucus to Resolve the Arab-Israeli Conflict (otherwise known as “Two States Caucus”). Bar denied that Herzog had given up on a two-state solution and that his proposal to build the fence was purely a security measure to stop young Palestinians from attacking Israelis.
Though the Zionist Union still supports a two-state solution, the Palestinian Authority says it is too late and that it would refuse to sit down with any Israeli leaders without pre-conditions and without an outside mediator. However, serious Israeli and American Jewish critics of the Palestinians argue that on at least two occasions in the past fifteen years, the Clinton-Barak-Arafat Camp David negotiations in 2000 and the secret 36 meetings between former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas in 2007. Yassir Arafat backed out of the Camp David talks and Abbas backed out of his negotiations with Olmert saying that the gaps between Israel and the Palestinians were still too wide.
These critics claim that the Palestinians were never serious about an end of conflict agreement. All the while settlements continue to expand and new settlements dot the entirety of the West Bank. Jewish neighborhoods now surround the city. Taken together the establishment of a contiguous Palestinian state is increasingly more difficult to effect.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin rejects a two state solution and instead has suggested a confederation of two states, Israel and Palestine, with two governments, two constitutions, and all security overseen by the IDF extending from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
The questions before our speakers are these:
Is it too late for a two-state solution? Is a two-state solution still viable and the preferable option? Is there an alternative to a two-state solution? What happens to Israel’s democracy and Jewish character if the two-state solution does not come about in the near future or down the road?
The first panel of speakers all agreed that there is no solution other than a two-state solution because Israel will either cease t be a democracy or it will cease to be a Jewish state.
The Palestinian representative claimed to want a state of Palestine living securely alongside Israel.
MK Begin argued that the Palestinian leadership can never and will never accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel in Eretz Yisrael, and that a two-state solution would be an existential threat.
The speakers represented the variety of opinion in Israel itself and among the 330 rabbis present. The CCAR affirms that a two state solution is the only way for Israel to preserve its democracy and its Jewish character.