Crews prepare for the speakers at the AIPAC policy conference in Washington, DC, U.S., March 6, 2018..
(photo credit: REUTERS/BRIAN SNYDER)
AIPAC CEO Howard Kohr came under attack after he spoke out in favor of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the organization’s annual conference in Washington last week. A number of right-wing leaders and columnists, including several who write regularly for this paper, have criticized Kohr.
Frankly, the backlash is surprising. Reading the criticism, one could easily reach the mistaken conclusion that Kohr, who has served as executive director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee since 1996, is steering the most successful Jewish lobbying group in the US in a decidedly left-wing direction.
In reality, Kohr was simply fulfilling AIPAC’s mission, which is to foster ties between Israel and the US by emphasizing the two countries’ shared values and policy positions. And support for a two-state solution happens to be the stated policy objective of both the US under the Trump administration and of Israel’s government under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Most famously, Netanyahu supported a two-state solution in his 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech. In that speech, Netanyahu stated unequivocally that he supported creating a “demilitarized Palestinian state that would recognize the Jewish state.”
US President Donald Trump has also stated on several occasions that he supports a two-state solution, provided both Israel and the Palestinians agree to it. He did so during Netanyahu’s first visit to the White House last year. He reiterated his position during his December 6 speech in which he announced the US recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Trump said, “The US remains deeply committed to facilitating a peace agreement... the US would support a twostate solution if agreed to by both sides.”
Since AIPAC’s mission is to foster cooperation between the US and Israel on shared policy decisions, and since the stated objective of both the US and Israeli governments is to arrive at a two-state arrangement by direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, it is only natural that AIPAC’s leader would voice support for a two-state solution, as he has repeatedly done over the years.
Of course, the exact contour of a Palestinian state under a two-state arrangement remains sketchy. The Palestinians have a maximalist view which sees a future Palestinian state on all the territory in Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem that came under Israeli control after the 1967 Six Day War. They also demand full military autonomy with control over borders.
In contrast, Netanyahu and most Israelis envision a demilitarized Palestinian state without full control of its borders, particularly the border with Jordan. Most Israelis – including those on the Left – also support maintaining the largest settlement blocs in Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and Gush Etzion.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, seems willing to support any compromise the sides can reach that strikes a middle ground between those two opposing interpretations. Regardless of what a “two-state solution” means precisely, there is a consensus both in Jerusalem and Washington that such a solution is the best way to achieve peace in the region.
There is nothing that Kohr said which contradicts the Israeli vision of a two-state solution. He talked of a Jewish state with “secure and defensible borders” and a Palestinian state “with its own flag and its own future.” He also took the Palestinian leadership to task for avoiding talks and for trying to find shortcuts to statehood.
We would also add that support for a two-state solution is not only a reflection of both US and Israel policy objectives, it is also the best way of resolving the conflict while maintaining Israel’s Jewish and democratic character. Israel has for the last five decades avoided annexation of Judea and Samaria. This is a testament to the realization that doing so would undermine the central Zionist goal of a sovereign state for the Jews in their historic homeland, ruled by a clear Jewish majority, in accordance with democratic principles.
Of course we, like Kohr, are skeptical about the chances of reaching a negotiated two-state solution with the Palestinians as long as their leadership is corrupt, split between the West Bank and Gaza, engaged in incessant incitement against Israel and doing everything possible to avoid direct negotiations.
But like Kohr, we view this state of affairs as a tragedy, because as long as Israel is not at peace with its neighbors, Israel will not be fully secure.