March 28, 2013
Path to peace: J Street
Opponents of J Street consistently argue that our positions are somehow radical, strange and way out of the Israeli or American-Jewish mainstream.
The opposite is true: When it comes to Israeli-Palestinian peace, the two-state solution and the inexorable demographic threat to Israel’s future as a democratic state that remains the homeland for the Jewish people, our position is the same as that of the Israeli government, the Obama administration and the vast bulk of the American Jewish community.
It is right-wing critics like StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein who are out of step.
[Read a counterargument to this column here: Path to peace: StandWithUs]
Take for example the two-state solution. Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, in a March 15 NPR interview, said he agreed with our view that the current situation is unsustainable.
“I think it’s preferable to replace it with a two-state solution based on recognition of the Palestinian people and their unassailable right to self-determination to live in their own state and their own homeland and the recognition of the Jewish people and its unassailable right to self-determination and our right to live in an independent state in our ancestral homeland. That is the only way to end the conflict and bring about a permanent and legitimate peace,” Oren said.
Rothstein argues that Israel has no Palestinian partner with whom to negotiate. Ambassador Oren, citing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, disagreed: “He says we have someone to negotiate with. It’s President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.”
On the demographic threat to Israel’s Jewish character, this is how Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak framed it in his speech to AIPAC: “We need a daring peace initiative vis-à-vis the Palestinians. A two-state solution is the only viable long-term solution. It is a compelling imperative for us, in order to secure our identity and our future as a Jewish and democratic state; it’s not a favor for the Palestinians.”
Rothstein contends that if we take the Palestinian population of Gaza out of the equation, there is no demographic threat to Israel’s Jewish majority. But Sergio DellaPergola of the Hebrew University, who is the foremost expert on the subject, disagrees.
Right now, the total number of Jews and Arabs living under Israeli rule in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza is just under 12 million people. Already, under 50 percent of the population is Jewish. Those figures will continue to worsen over time because Palestinian birthrates outstrip Jewish birthrates.
Contrary to Rothstein’s view, DellaPergola’s figures show that taking Gaza out of the equation does not buy Israel much time. If Israel continues to occupy the West Bank alone (without Gaza), Jews will constitute only 54 percent of the population by 2030 and 45 percent by 2048 when it celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Rothstein makes much out of my contention that for negotiations to succeed, an active and leading U.S. role will be required. My view is based on common sense and informed by the views of experts in conflict resolution like Allen S. Weiner of Stanford University.
In a Feb. 28 op-ed in the International Herald Tribune, Weiner argues that, “direct talks between implacable foes, without active mediation, may be the worst possible way to try to settle the conflict. Facing one’s adversary directly across the table heightens psychological barriers even to a mutually beneficial deal.”
Weiner continues: “The parties to the conflict are prisoners to beliefs based on their history, which color the way they see both themselves and their adversaries. As a result, it is hard for them to interpret information, evaluate risk and set priorities in a purely rational way. Even when an advantageous deal is on the table, they are psychologically disposed to reject it.”
At the end of the day, J Street exists to help Israel reach the deal it needs and wants so much and which is so central to its future as a Jewish state and as a democracy. It’s also a crucial U.S. national strategic interest. As citizens of this democracy, we have an obligation to state our views and the right to be active in the political arena.
We work for a strong America and all that it represents in the world. And we work for a safe, secure, democratic Israel living at peace with its neighbors.
Jeremy Ben-Ami is the executive director of J Street.
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