The View from J Street: A Challenge to AIPAC
by Alan Elsner
Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace initiative is at a critical moment. Within the next five or six weeks, the leaders of Israel and the Palestinian Authority will be asked to accept a U.S.-drafted framework setting out in considerable details the principles on which a final peace treaty will be negotiated.
The parties will be able to register “reservations” about some of the clauses — but they will be asked to accept the framework document as a basis for negotiations. And they will likely be asked to commit themselves to completing by the end of this year the peace treaty that will establish secure and recognized borders for both Israel and the new Palestinian state, end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and settle all outstanding claims. In short, it will formally end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has been raging for almost a century.
Kerry has worked hard to answer Israel’s concerns in his framework, to the extent that he is coming under fire for leaning too far to one side. The framework agreement is likely to lay out unprecedented measures to bolster Israeli security, meeting Israel’s most important requirement. Its proposal on borders based on the 1967 lines with small territorial swaps would leave 75 to 80 percent of Israelis settlers in their homes — a pragmatic and realistic solution that most Israelis should be able to support.
Neither Israel nor the Palestinians can afford to miss this opportunity. For Israel, it finally offers acceptance and an end to the conflict, and for Palestinians, a chance to finally take control of their own destiny in their own state. Despite the powerful reasons for moving forward, we still don’t know whether either Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will accept the framework. Both face significant opposition and will be required to take political risks — and both have the reputation of being extremely risk-averse.
The next significant event will come around the AIPAC Policy Conference March 2-4. Netanyahu is coming to Washington DC to address the gathering and will meet with President Obama at the White House. No doubt, the two will delve into considerable detail about the Kerry framework.
That conference, which brings more than 12,000 pro-Israel activists to Washington to lobby their representatives, is a major opportunity. After all, AIPAC officially supports a two-state solution. But it’s easy to state support for a principle without lifting a finger to make it happen. And it’s easy to be in favor of an overarching idea without supporting the very real compromises both sides will have to make to turn that idea into reality. For AIPAC, as well as for all American Jews who love Israel and say they support a two-state solution, now is the time to turn words into deeds. We should all be eager to seize this golden opportunity to enlist in Kerry’s “great constituency of peace.”
That’s why we’re inviting AIPAC Conference delegates to put support for Kerry’s initiative at the top of their advocacy agenda and to ask their representatives to express their support publicly for Kerry.
Support for a two-state solution now receives 80-plus percent support in the American Jewish community. The relevant question for pro-Israel activists now is no longer whether we support a two-state solution, but what it will really take to reach an agreement.
It would be incredibly powerful if thousands of pro-Israel activists fanned out on Capitol Hill, carrying a message of peace to their elected representatives, Democrats and Republicans alike. It would send a loud message to Israelis and Palestinians about where our community really stands. It would strengthen Kerry and weaken the vocal minorities, both here and in Israel, who oppose a two-state solution and would rather continue building news settlements and occupying 2.5 million Palestinians in perpetuity. It would bolster both Netanyahu and Abbas as they move ahead. It would be a tremendous service to the United States, Israel and the world.
This is the time for our community to lift its voice, assuring Israeli, Palestinian, and American leaders that we support them and will have their backs as they move forward toward peace. We’re looking to our communal leaders to set an example and take the lead.
Alan Elsner is vice president for communications at J Street.