Palestinian protesters wave Palestinian flags as Israelis carrying Israeli flags walk past in front of the Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem's Old City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Earlier this month we listened with profound concern for Israel’s future as US President Donald Trump backed away from longstanding US support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And we are deeply troubled that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu likewise appears to be retreating from that long-expressed goal.
While the president opined that a “one-state solution” might bring peace – “whatever works,” he said – thoughtful people know that a single state would not “work.”
A two-state solution has not failed – it hasn’t been attempted. For religious Zionists like us, it remains the only moral resolution to the conflict on the table. The Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) – the Zionist arm of the North American Reform Judaism, the world’s largest Jewish religious movement – is committed to two states not out of obstinacy, but out of pragmatism. Any other approach seems to condemn our people to another century at least (God forbid) of violence and trauma.
The demographics of a single democratic state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River would bring an end to Israel’s rightful identity as a Jewish state. The alternative, annexing a people who do not want to live by Israeli rule and thereby rejecting democracy and equality for all, should be unthinkable.
Israel must remain Jewish and democratic.
But there is also a crucial third issue at stake: Israel must also remain moral.
The sad history of two-states-for-two-peoples is pockmarked with frustration. How well we are aware that time and again the Palestinian leadership has rejected proposed agreements.
Even the partition plan of November 1947, which proposed two separate states, was endorsed by the Zionist leadership and rejected by the Arab world. That set the pattern for failed peace proposals for nearly 70 years.
We are very much aware of the challenges and obstacles. We recognize that Palestinian leadership throughout the decades perpetually has failed its own people. We know that among its leaders are sowers of terrorism, and we appreciate the grave risks of having a militarized enemy so close to Israel’s population centers. We have no illusions about the murderers of Hamas and Hezbollah. We know that agreement is only possible if future Palestinian leadership demonstrates the ability and willingness to suppress terrorism and maintain security.
And yet we also understand that we, too, have failed to achieve peace. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, we wrestle with the war’s complicated legacy. The unification of Jewish holy sites in the Old City with West Jerusalem was one of the most astonishing moments in Jewish history, yet the occupation of indigenous Arab communities who reject Israeli rule remains the crux of an unresolved conflict. In the months following the 1967 war, David Ben-Gurion urged Israel to “Return [the captured territory] immediately, even if no one wants it back; return it.”
He warned that retaining this territory would threaten Israel’s long-term security, hobble its democratic institutions and coarsen its Jewish character.
From his perspective half a century earlier, Ben-Gurion’s fears are prescient.
Reform religious Zionism stems from Ahavat Yisrael (the love of Israel) that is at our core religious identity as Jews. We share a dynamic interaction of Am Yisrael (the People of Israel), Torat Yisrael (our Torah traditions throughout the ages), Elohei Yisrael (the Jewish People’s unfolding experience with the God of Israel), and Eretz Yisrael (the land which is the eternal Homeland of the Jewish People).
That religious interaction brings us to several conclusions. We are committed to the Zionist project of a safe and secure home for the Jewish people. And home must be rooted in the highest values of Jewish tradition and universal rights, as the framers of the Declaration of Independence declared: “[Israel] will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants....” Truly, every strand of our tradition demands: the Jewish state must act morally.
The Zionist enterprise can only be considered half-fulfilled until an equitable peace with the Palestinians is realized. We maintain that a two-state solution – with no illusions or romanticization – remains the only viable path forward.
Today, a solid majority of US and Israeli Jews still support a two-state solution. The status quo is untenable, for all the demographic and political reasons that have been laid out by responsible military and intelligence officials for decades. If we surrender the hope and vision for peace today, we fear they will not be able to be reclaimed for generations to come.
The Reform Movement has taken issue with many aspects of President’s Trump’s monthold agenda. But if he is serious about forging an equitable and enduring deal – two peaceful states side by side – between Israel and the Palestinians, then we commit today to helping bring to fruition this goal, which thus far has eluded every generation of Zionist and Palestinian leadership.Rabbi John Rosove and Rabbi Joshua Weinberg are the chairman and president, respectively, of the Association of Reform Zionists of America.