Israel’s future depends on two states

Palestinian rejectionists of a 2-state solution are pointing to the Levy Report as evidence of the futility of peace talks.

IDF soldiers at West Bank checkpoint 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
IDF soldiers at West Bank checkpoint 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
The Israel Policy Forum clearly struck a chord when it sent a letter signed by a politically diverse group of over 40 philanthropists and Jewish leaders to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urging him not to adopt the Levy Report. In the letter we argued that adopting the Levy Report, which stated that West Bank settlements should be legalized, would cause harm to Israel in the diplomatic arena and push the goal of a negotiated two-state solution further from reach.
Among the many varied responses our letter provoked, Alan Baker, a member of the three-person Levy Commission, sent us a letter claiming that “[t]here is nothing in the report that could in any way be interpreted as placing the ‘two-state solution’ in peril. The opposite is in fact the case.”
We respectfully disagree.
First, the report sends a message to the settlers that they now have a legal basis for establishing and expanding their presence in the entire West Bank. Consequently, it has been hailed by settler leaders like MK Danny Danon as “a gift for communities in Judea and Samaria,” and MK Tzipi Hotovely as “the key to creating a long-term change that will eventually lead to the complete application of Israeli law over Judea and Samaria.”
Second, Palestinian rejectionists of a two-state solution are pointing to the report as evidence that it would be futile to re-ignite peace talks with Israel, thereby providing cover for the Palestinian refusal to return to the negotiating table.
Third, because the report is at odds with international opinion regarding the status of the West Bank, adopting the it may provoke an adverse international reaction and bolster Israel’s critics who take every opportunity to question the state’s legitimacy, even within its existing borders.
How does that not jeopardize the two-state solution?
LET US be blunt: Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state depends upon continued efforts to promote the two-state solution. The Levy Report, if adopted, would undermine these efforts.
Critics of our letter counter that by explicitly establishing Israel’s legal claim to the West Bank, the report actually strengthens Israel’s negotiating position. For example, Dore Gold has posited that “there is a huge difference in how a compromise will look if Israel’s negotiating team comes to the peace table as ‘foreign occupiers,’ who took someone else’s land, or if they come as a party that also has just territorial claims.”
We are not international lawyers. However, many renowned jurists have taken issue with the report’s legal foundations. Noted scholars have described the report as widely out of step with prevailing legal opinion, as relying on outdated and even irrelevant legal analysis, and as running contrary to decades of the Israeli Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on the subject.
The Report also fails to take account of the broad legal consensus that recognizes the Palestinians as a people with a corresponding right to self-determination under international law. It would seem to be ill-advised for the Israeli government to endorse legal arguments that stand so far outside the mainstream and could so likely be interpreted as politically motivated.
This legal debate notwithstanding, we emphasize that our concerns about the Levy Report do not relate to the validity of its legal analysis.
Instead, as our letter indicated, our great fear is that the Levy Report will suggest to the world that Israel is no longer interested in pursuing a two-state solution.
Trust, hope and leadership are already in short supply in the Middle East today. All of these elements will be needed if the current momentum that is driving the parties away from a negotiated two-state solution is to be reversed and Israel’s Jewish and democratic character is to be sustained.
Adopting the Levy Report will only embolden those with a different vision for the future of the state.
Peter A. Joseph and David A. Halperin are chairman and executive director, respectively, of Israel Policy Forum, a non-partisan US organization that advocates for Israel’s long-term security and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.