Don’t let one-staters divide the pro-Israel community

Unfortunately, a spate of recent legislation at the national and state level risks undermining this unity in the mainstream of the Jewish community.

By PAUL EGERMAN, ALAN SOLOMONT
February 15, 2016 20:19
4 minute read.
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BDS logo. (photo credit: BDS)

 
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In an American Jewish community noted for having vibrant debates between a range of viewpoints, one area of broad agreement stands out: overwhelming consensus around the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Approximately four of every five US Jews support a negotiated end to conflict resulting in two states for two peoples, living alongside one another in peace and security.

Unfortunately, a spate of recent legislation at the national and state level risks undermining this unity in the mainstream of the Jewish community, as well as longstanding US policy critical to one day achieving a two-state solution.

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Buried in legislation opposing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolutions now before statehouses and the US Congress are references to “Israel or Israeli- controlled territory” (authors’ italics) – or in other words, Israeli settlements in the West Bank. By conflating Israel and its West Bank settlements as a matter of US law and policy, these four little words stand to do massive damage to our ability as Americans who care deeply about Israel to secure its Jewish and democratic future.

Of course, nearly every American Jewish organization across the board – including J Street – opposes the global BDS movement. We see it as unfair to single Israel out in this way, as well as politically misguided. It is more likely to push Israelis further into intransigence than to force the difficult concessions that will be necessary to end the conflict.

Importantly, the global BDS movement does not distinguish between Israel proper and the settlements over the 1949 Armistice Line – also known as the Green Line – delineating Israel from the territories it captured in the 1967 Six Day War.

By deliberately blurring the Green Line, the BDS movement makes clear that its agenda isn’t simply ending occupation and resolving conflict, but ending Israel as a national home for the Jewish people and creating in its place a single, bi-national state.

That is one reason why it is so distressing to see otherwise pro-Israel legislation conflating Israel and the territories it controls. Those four little words play right into the hands of the BDS movement, reinforcing their claim that there is no difference between Israel and the occupied territory. As the Israeli commentator Gershom Gorenberg has said, such legislation “leave[s] no room for a political stance of supporting Israel while opposing settlement and occupation.”



Some legislation – like resolutions introduced in the US Senate and House of Representatives concerning recent guidance issued by the European Commission on the labeling of products made over the Green Line – risks further blurring this critical distinction by incorrectly referring to settlement goods as “Israeli products.” This language directly contravenes a 20-year-old US requirement that products grown or manufactured over the Green Line that bear an indication of origin be labeled as “Made in the West Bank” or “Made in Gaza” and not “Made in Israel.”

First put in place in 1995 under president Clinton following the Oslo Accords and reaffirmed last month, this rule is a critical component of long-standing, bipartisan US policy distinguishing between Israel and the territory it controls.

Maintaining this distinction is essential to the US objective of helping Israel and the Palestinians achieve a two-state solution, as the Green Line has long been understood to be the key starting point for negotiation of Israel’s final borders and will form the basis for the outlines of a future Palestinian state, with mutually agreed land swaps. Blurring the Green Line in US law and policy delegitimizes both the line as a reference point for negotiations and the United States as a credible broker in any future talks.

Diminishing the Green Line therefore diminishes the prospects for ever achieving the two-state solution that is the only way to secure Israel’s democracy and Jewish character.

Unfortunately, some American Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), which is the national body of the Jewish Federation network, and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) are now calling on lawmakers to support such legislation, as written. This does not square with JFNA’s and most mainstream American Jewish organizations’ record of support for a two-state solution. Blurring the Green Line, as this legislation does, actually undermines the prospects for successfully achieving the two-state outcome.

Our community should be clear that phrases like “Israeli-controlled territories” turn pro-Israel legislation into pro-settlement legislation. Organizations representing us in Washington should be encouraging members of Congress to remove these highly problematic words from pending bills and resolutions – and withhold their support until the language is removed.

Alan D. Solomont is the former US ambassador to Spain and Andorra and is a member of J Street’s national board.

Paul Egerman is a retired software entrepreneur and member of many non-profit boards.

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