Widgets Magazine


Moving forward in the Middle East: a two-state solution

Over the last month, John Kerry’s efforts to mediate an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization stalled. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided not to release the prisoners he had said he would release. The chairman of the PLO, Mahmoud Abbas, had enough of the talks and sought membership in 15 international organizations. Netanyahu considered this a unilateral move and criticized the PLO for allegedly harming the peace process, while naturally, the PLO sees Israel’s refusal to release the prisoners as the real roadblock.

I have no personal connection to this conflict. I grew up in Brazil in a culturally Catholic family. Yet, as a political science major with progressive values, I long for the end of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and for much-needed peace in the region.

Unfortunately, I have found it extremely challenging to debate this topic on campus. In the left-wing circles I am a part of, I have seen justified protests against the occupation turn into an unlimited attack on Israel and Judaism. Meanwhile, for a significant part of the Jewish community, being pro-Israel means supporting whichever policies the Israeli government happens to support, to the point that it is taboo to bring up the occupation at all.

This polarized environment has led me to J Street U Stanford. J Street U is the student branch of J Street, a national organization that advocates for U.S. leadership for a two-state solution in the conflict. J Street U defines itself as Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine.

Earlier this quarter, I was at the J Street U Town Hall, a national conference at Johns Hopkins University, which was far and away one of the most amazing environments for political debate I have ever experienced. In a single afternoon, we heard from Ari Shavit, author of My Promised Land, a widely praised history of the State of Israel, and Maen Areikat, ambassador of the PLO to the United States. They were received with both enthusiasm and some challenging questions. The two of them have considerably distinct ideologies, and neither fully represents J Street U. Yet, we were united by one goal: the end of the occupation via a two-state solution.

Most importantly, the students in the conference were anything but homogeneous. Students new to the topic and without formed opinions were welcome, as were all sorts of basic questions. In addition, even well-informed students disagreed on many nuances, such as the consequences of the idea of a Jewish state for non-Jewish minorities in Israel.

But open debate is not the only reason I am in J Street U. I am tired of reading condemnations of Israel that offer no reasonable solution. After the conference at Johns Hopkins, J Street U went to Congress to show support for House Resolution 365, a resolution backing Kerry’s efforts for peace. We sought a concrete solution and took real action towards it.

A two-state solution is the only viable step forward in the conflict. Some people defend the one-state concept: a democratic home for both Israelis and Palestinians. This is an illusion for two reasons.

First, as Lara Friedman (who spoke at the conference) put it, “no Israeli government will dissolve the State of Israel.” Any realistic attempt at peace needs to be aware that both sides will need to make concessions.

Second, a one-state solution would deny the mutual recognition of both peoples, which is a first step for their reconciliation. If there is only one state, Jews will see it as Jewish, and Arabs will see it as Arab, and they will not coexist in peace.

Many are disillusioned with the peace talks. But something different is happening now, and we should have hope. Being a pro-Israel in Congress no longer means blindly supporting whatever the government of Israel does, which is only reasonable. Senator Ted Cruz recently declared that Obama is the most hostile president to Israel in modern times. The word “hostile” is of course exaggerated and misleading — Israel continues to be the main American ally in foreign policy. Cruz simply thinks that the U.S. should refrain from criticizing the Israeli government altogether, in spite of its unacceptable insistence on expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank. His discomfort actually means that something is changing for the better.

I wrote this column for two reasons. First, I hope to see more open dialogue about this conflict on campus. I hope that those who love Israel are able to talk about its problems, and that those that condemn the occupation are able to distinguish the government’s views from those of its citizens, including Jewish ones. Second, I want to call both parties — whether they be concerned primarily about Israeli security or about Palestinian human rights — to take action by changing the discourse on the issue and building support for a two-state solution. Even if you don’t know anything about the conflict, if you are interested in any of this, come talk to us at the Activities Fair this Friday, or shoot me an email.

Gustavo Empinotti 15 is a junior majoring in political science. Contact him at gustavoe “at” stanford.edu.

  • Guest
  • Gustavo
  • Susan

    If you liked Ari Shavit – Shavit recently wrote an excellent article in Haaretz, advocating for Israel to be recognized as the Jewish State. The Palestinian leadership refused this, as did the 21 other member states of the Arab League. This is the crux of the problem. (There are 56 Muslim states by the way – that nobody is contesting recognizing them as such – probably because they don’t tolerate their minorities very well).

  • Peifen

    Israel has offered a generous and viable state to the Palestinians previously, but they did not accept. It is the Palestinians, and regional Muslim and Arab states that have no interest in peace with a non-Muslim nation in their midst.

  • Kendra

    The fundamental problem is that most Israelis would want to live in peace with a new Arab state created next to them, but most Arabs would like nothing more than the destruction of Israel and its people. It is hard to come a compromise when that is the situation. It is hard to negotiate with a deep seated, irrational, hate and blood lust.

  • Kendra

    It is interesting that we see no Arab equivalent to J-street, advocating against terrorism, for peaceful coexistence with Israel.

  • Gustavo

    Hi Susan,

    Thank you for your respectful response. Although the Arab League has not recognized Israel *as the Jewish state*, it has recognized Israel as a state. This means that Israel can, after a two-state solution, self-identify as the homeland to the Jewish people. Countries do not recognize each other “as something.” It is not true that Israel officially recognizes other states “as Muslim.” They recognize those states as states, and the states either self-identify as Muslim or simply are majority Muslim.

    The crux of the problem is not that Arab states refuse this recognition; it is that Netanyahu requires it. Requiring other Arab states to recognize Israel *as a Jewish state* when there are non-Jewish, Arab minorities living in Israel is an international-relations absurdity and harms the talks.

    I would love to continue this conversation by e-mail so that I don’t have to keep checking this page (gustavoe@stanford.edu).



  • Gustavo

    You just have to look for it: http://www.freemuslims.org/

  • Gustavo

    This is simply not true. In the most recent events, it was Netanyahu who refused to release the prisoners he had previously agreed to. He repeatedly refuses to stop expanding the occupation. The Arab League, including the PLO, has recognized Israel as a state (see my response to Susan below if you think this is not the case) and wants a two-state solution. The Beirut declaration states that:

    “3. Consequently, the Arab countries affirm the following:

    a. Consider the Arab-Israeli conflict ended, and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, and provide security for all the states of the region.
    b. Establish normal relations with Israel in the context of this comprehensive peace.”

    What they want in exchange? Withdrawal from the occupied territories.

    I would love to continue this conversation over e-mail so that I don’t have to repeatedly check this page (gustavoe@stanford.edu).

    Source: http://middleeast.about.com/od/arabisraeliconflict/qt/beirut-declaration-text.htm

  • Gustavo

    You are just saying this based on your own skewed perception of Arabs. Yes, there is animosity between the parties, but it is reciprocal. Do you have any evidence to say that most Israelis want peace but most Arabs want the destruction of Israel? Take a look at this poll: http://media.huji.ac.il/new/docs/hu131231_JointPoll_Dec2013.pdf. In particular, item (6):

    “(6) End of Conflict

    In the Palestinian public 63% support and 36% oppose a compromise on ending the conflict that would state that when the permanent status agreement is fully implemented, it will mean the end of the conflict and no further claims will be made by either side. The parties will recognize Palestine and Israel as the homelands of their respective peoples. In December 2012 59% supported and 39% opposed this item.

    In the Israeli public 66% support and 28% oppose this component in the final status framework. In December 2012, similarly, 68% of the Israelis supported it while 28% opposed it.”

    There is no significant difference between the numbers. More importantly, it doesn’t matter. Even if I accept your premise for the sake of argument, a two-state solution is still best, even if you only care about Israel. The occupation causes more hatred and thus more attacks. It worsens the worldwide perception of Israel. It hurts the Israeli economy. And to reach this solution, Israel needs to talk to the other side.

    I would love to continue this conversation via e-mail so that I don’t have to keep checking this page (gustavoe@stanford.edu).


  • Adirondack Jack

    Gustavo, respectfully, I think it’s important to reflect on why Peifen (and others, like myself) place strong emphasis on history in discussing the conflict, and why arguments that begin with “In most recent events …” have no staying power.
    Functional democracy hinges on the ability of voters to judge whether specific policies, put into action, will achieve their stated goals. A demagogic politician might, for example, claim that if only Israelis danced to Lady Gaga for 5 minutes, Hamas would sign a peace treaty. However, without evidence to support this, he won’t be elected.
    Like him or hate him, Netanyahu is prime minister because the Israeli electorate saw comprehensive peace offers and large-scale territorial withdrawals used by the Palestinian side as either excuses to launch mind-warping murder campaigns targeting Israeli civilians or opportunities for indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli towns, respectively. The “let’s forget everything and return to square-one” mentality might be nice as an intellectual exercise, but don’t expect it to persuade people whose lives are at stake.

  • Gustavo

    Hi Adirondack,

    Your try to justify Netanyahu’s ideas and actions by saying that the Israeli public endorses them. As you said, Netanyahu is prime minister because he has support. That is obvious. When I question Netanyahu’s ideas, I am also questioning the ideas of all of those that support him. The fact that they are enough in Israel to elect him does not mean that they are right.

    You seem to ignore that, in my response to Peifen, what I did was precisely to give “evidence to support” my point — that Arab governments support peace and the current Israeli government does not and is preventing it from happening. Yes, there are groups that don’t want peace inside Arab countries. There will always be. They exist in Israel too. But the points is that the Palestinian leadership (the PLO) does want peace. The Israeli leadership (Netanyahu) does not. And an agreement between governments will decrease extremist attacks. The occupation stirs violence.

    Peifen does not place strong emphasis on history. Peifen made an unsupported claim and I responded. I, not Peifen, not you, offered historical events. There is this idea that the Arabs don’t want peace. I am telling you, and I gave you evidence, that it is false. You merely took Peifen’s words as the truth and ignored my challenge to them.

    Always respectfully,

  • Adirondack Jack

    Hi Gustavo, again respectfully, this may boil down to what makes for evidence to support a *point* (such as the Arab League and 1/2 the Palestinian leadership stating an intent), and evidence to support a *policy* on which depends your life and the life of your family. Quite simply, you have the former and not the latter.

    The former is the type you need to support parole for a suicide-bombing pointman after 50-years. The latter is the type you need to set him free after 10.

    Incidentally, the Palestinian Authority recently named the very street on which it built its Ramallah presidential compound after Yahya Ayyash, directly responsible for >8 suicide bombings targeting civilians in 1993-96. And so clearly, they wouldn’t agree with me on what I wrote above. But that’s ok. I can live with that.

  • Gustavo

    I understand your point. The thing is that in this case, setting the Palestinians free is actually best for Israel.