Peace proponent Susie Gelman warns Israel against Trump plan

Gelman is working to shape the discourse around Israel and mobilize support among American policymakers for the realization of a viable two-state solution.

May 31, 2019 09:03
Peace proponent Susie Gelman warns Israel against Trump plan

Israel Policy Forum Chair Susie Gelman works to mobilize support among American policymakers for a viable two-state solution. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Susie Gelman says her love affair with Israel began in the summer of 1970, when as a teenager she visited the country with her confirmation class.

Some 40 years and dozens of international flights later, as the chair of the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), Gelman is working to shape the discourse around Israel and mobilize support among American policymakers for the realization of a viable two-state solution.

When Gelman, a former three-term president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, took on the role of IPF chair in 2016, it is unlikely she could have envisioned the Trump administration’s soon to be fully revealed “deal of the century,” which according to one of its masterminds, Jared Kushner, will pull back from long-standing mentions of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Speaking at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in early May, Kushner explained, “If you say ‘two-state,’ it means one thing to the Israelis, it means one thing to the Palestinians. We said, ‘you know, let’s just not say it. Let’s just say, let’s work on the details of what this means.’”

Gelman, a graduate of Harvard University and the Georgetown University Law Center, believes that Kushner is wrong.

“I would say there have been some significant attempts to negotiate a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, and for various reasons none of them resulted in the desired outcome,” Gelman said. “That does not mean the framework for a two-state solution should be replaced by something else. A binational state would challenge Israel to maintain its Jewish and democratic character – it could not continue to be both.”

 For Gelman and the IPF, two states for two people is a dream they have been striving to achieve since 1993. Gelman was on the lawn during the signing of the Oslo Accords and she said she remembers it like it was yesterday.
“The hope and the dream were so apparent on that brilliant sunshiny afternoon on the White House lawn,” she recalled in her interview with The Jerusalem Report.

IPF was founded when then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin came to the United States seeking an American Jewish organization that would support his efforts toward peace through the Oslo Accords. Gelman said that Rabin could not find this support in any of the groups that existed back then, so IPF was formed to answer this call.

 The framework of the Oslo Accords was supposed to be a five-year framework, and at the end of the five years, there was supposed to be a final agreement. But on November 4, 1995, at the end of a rally in Tel Aviv, Rabin was shot and killed.
It is possible that Rabin’s successor, Shimon Peres, would have continued with Oslo, but he was defeated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996.

US President Bill Clinton and his successor, George W. Bush, both articulated a commitment to the two-state solution, but then there was the Iraq War, which began in 2003, and the first and second intifadas in Israel.
 “Clearly, a lot has happened since then,” Gelman said, “but we don’t give up because there is no alternative to having Israelis and Palestinians living side by side, each with their own state.”

One of IPF’s aims is to strengthen ties between Israelis and Palestinians.

“Israelis don’t generally interact with Palestinians unless they are visiting friends or relatives in the West Bank or are in the army,” said Gelman. “The average Israeli does not see the ‘other’ anymore. If we are going to build confidence and trust, which is necessary if they are going to have to make tough choices, then they must start seeing each other as human beings and not as terrorists or the enemy.

“There are things that can be done now to pave the way for the resumption of negotiations in the future, when conditions might be more optimal,” Gelman continued. “I know that no one is getting back to the negotiating table right now.”
But there is one move, she said, that could preclude moving forward: annexation by Israel of Area C of the West Bank.

The IPF has been highlighting this issue for more than a year, including partnering on a report with the group “Commanders for Israel’s Security” that provides an in-depth look at the potential ramifications of a West Bank annexation on everything from Israel’s security to its international standing.

“Annexation would put a nail in the coffin of the two-state solution,” Gelman told The Report. “It could lead to all kinds of consequences that could be disastrous for Israel.”
She said that many Israelis don’t think it can happen, but she thinks annexation is a “clear and present danger.”

“It appears that … annexation has become a mainstream idea among Israeli politicians,” Gelman said, noting how 28 out of 30 Likud members who held seats in the last Knesset had made statements or signed a declaration in support of the application of sovereignty over Jewish areas in Judea and Samaria.

Days before the April 9 election, Netanyahu went on public television and said in an interview that if reelected he would start extending Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank.
Speaking on Israel Television Channel 12’s Meet the Press, the premier said, “Will we move ahead to the next stage? Yes. I will extend sovereignty, but I don’t distinguish between the settlement blocs and the isolated ones, because each settlement is Israeli, and I will not hand it over to Palestinian sovereignty.”

“It seems Netanyahu has a very sophisticated view of what annexation would look like,” Gelman said, which is one reason why she fears such a move may be coming soon.
And currently, the Union of Right-wing Parties is demanding Netanyahu commit to annexing all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, home to between 300,000 and 400,000 Israelis, in exchange for their joining his coalition and supporting legislation that would grant the premier de-facto immunity from prosecution.

While Gelman said American members of the IPF are not interested in influencing Israeli democracy, they do hope to help make American politicians more aware of the negative ramifications of annexation and steer them back toward support of a two-state agenda.

If Israel annexed Area C, this would mean constructing around 1,700 kilometers of new security barriers, for example, and placing road blocks at the entrance to every Palestinian town and village – around 170.
“The Israeli government could turn to the US, as part of its foreign aid package, to help fund the incredible, enormous security costs of annexation,” Gelman said. “It is very much in the interest of American citizens to express views on this, in terms of what our government does and what it funds.”

She added that the most recent Pew Research Center report, which showed a striking decline in support for the Israeli government by Democrats and Republicans – especially younger people – should serve as a warning sign to the Jewish government against making such a move.

“I absolutely think Israelis want peace,” said Gelman. “I think Palestinians want peace, too. Peace is a natural yearning.”

Looking ahead, Gelman said she is waiting to see the Trump administration’s plan, which it has committed to rolling out shortly after Ramadan ends on June 4.

“I will never give up hope,” Gelman told The Report. “Israel is an amazing place that I continue to value and feel so deeply about.”

“I don’t have a crystal ball,” she continued. “I do think that there are some things that are going to need to happen to secure Israel’s strong future, things that are not happening right now…. In this day and age, talking about a two-state solution is a challenge, because many people have given up, but it will eventually be realized, and I hope to be around for it.”

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