Despite the dire warnings, it seems that civilisation as we know it did not collapse after last weekend’s student conference at the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, on Israel/Palestine and the One-State Solution. Who’d have guessed?
US Senator Scott Brown called on Harvard to cancel the conference. It promotes the ‘elimination of the Jewish state’, Abe Foxman, Executive Director of the US Anti-Defamation League, wrote to the President of Harvard. ‘[T]here can never be any legitimate discussion of a concept which, by its very nature, will result in the end of the Jewish character of Israel’, Foxman continued, calling on him to ‘forcefully denounce’ the conference. ‘The one-state idea is a recipe for Israel’s destruction,’ said American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris. ‘The Harvard One-State Conference, promot[es] the denial of the Jewish right to self-determination, . . . a so-called one-state solution is a non-starter, except for those who seek a world without Israel.’
After the event, The Crimson, Harvard’s daily newspaper, reported: ‘Though critics of the conference anticipated the panelists would only present arguments for a one-state solution, attendees emphasized that the conference facilitated discussion and dialogue on varied possibilities.’ One of the conference’s student organisers, Lena K Awaad, said: ‘Many people expected the conference to have one specific idea, but [the panelists] brought forth very different perspectives on a one state solution’. And during some of the events, panelists responded directly to critics accusing them of promoting a one-sided dialogue.
Those who turned their fire on the Harvard Students should have had a different conference in their sights: the annual Washington jamboree of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), where the real one-state action was taking place. On the evening of 5 March, Bibi addressed the 13,000 delegates and within the first minute proclaimed ‘Jerusalem – the eternal and united capital of Israel’. Nothing new in that, of course, but the two-state solution as commonly understood includes the designation of East Jerusalem as the capital of the Palestinian state. If Jerusalem is the ‘united capital of Israel’, that leaves no room for it also to be Palestine’s capital. For that to come into being Jerusalem would have to be divided. A Palestinian state without Jerusalem as its capital would not be acceptable to the Palestinians and therefore, at the very least, the de facto one-state regime that already exists would be perpetuated. Such a scenario would by no means be looked upon with disfavour by AIPAC. As Peter Beinart pointed out
the organization’s 2012 ‘action principles’ . . . which will guide AIPAC’s legislative agenda for 2012 [and] were approved in private session by the body’s National Council the morning that the conference began . . . consist of 12 bullet points, none of which mentions the words ‘Palestinian state’ or ‘two-state solution.’ To the contrary, some are actively hostile to the idea. In point six, for instance, AIPAC pledges to ‘work for the recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.’ But every serious model for a two-state solution—be it the parameters outlined by Bill Clinton in December 2000 or the Geneva Accord struck by former Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in 2003—envisions the opposite: a capital divided between a Jewish and Palestinian state.
Moreover, when Ameinu, a progressive Jewish group on AIPAC’s National Council, introduced an amendment ‘gesturing modestly’ towards a two-state solution, the proposal was defeated by a voice vote of roughly 300-5.
The hasbaristas, graduates of the Bibi school of Israel advocacy, will no doubt produce all manner of non-denial denials that neither Bibi nor AIPAC reject the two-state solution. But this smoke screen cannot conceal either the reality on the ground, where Israel’s infrastructural grip on the West Bank and East Jerusalem is tightening day-by-day, or the reality on the political level where one-state, repressive and fundamentally discriminatory, is openly advocated by the right-wing and proto-fascist politicians. Only last week, Noam Sheizaf reports, the well-known settler MK Uri Ariel, member of the radical right National Union party, called on Israel to annex the West Bank immediately giving all Palestinians living there the status of residents in Israel, similar to those living in East Jerusalem. In this single state:
Residents have access to social security, health insurance and they can vote in municipal elections. They don’t have the right to vote in national elections or be elected to the Knesset, and they cannot purchase homes on state land. All residents will be able to become Israeli citizens after five years, subject to a test in Hebrew and a loyalty oath.
Ariel’s ideas are in line with similar thoughts expressed by rightwing hawks recently, among them Moshe Arens, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, former chief of staff for PM Netanyahu Uri Elizur and Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely. All of them spoke on record in favor of a one-state solution in a feature piece I did for Haaretz a couple of years ago.
In light of the above, the fuss made about the Harvard conference looks even more absurd, especially in the context of America’s free speech principles. Even if objectors to the gathering argued that it promoted hate speech, the standard response would be ‘the best way to combat hate speech is more speech’. Be as opposed to one-state ideas as you like, but discuss them into the ground, don’t try to bury them in the ground by overtly or covertly preventing people from discussing them.
AIPAC is a very powerful right-wing, pro-Israel lobby group, but on Israel-related issues it doesn’t always represent the views of the majority of American Jews, who remain determinedly liberal and vote Democrat over Republican by between 3 or 4 to 1. Neither does it represent the attitudes of Israelis on the key issue of the moment: Iran. A recent poll showed that only 19 per cent of Israelis supported an attack on Iran without the support of Washington and 42 per cent said it should attack only if the United States backed the decision. So what, I wonder, did American Jews and most Israelis make of the candidate for the Republican nomination for POTUS, Rick Santorum, when he openly called for war against Iran this a.m. (6 March) in his speech to AIPAC, and the audience went wild with excitement. And then called on his God to bless AIPAC.
Although this is happening across the pond, it should worry us deeply here. Most commentators seem to believe that Obama effectively neutralised Bibi and made it difficult for him to pursue a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities unilaterally in the coming months, but I’m not so sure. The tenor of Bibi’s speech suggested that he will do all in his power to recover ground and keep the military option in the very centre of the table. He’s probably banking on the fact that Obama will become increasingly preoccupied with his re-election campaign as the weeks pass and may have his hand forced if Israel strikes Iran, for fear of handing a propaganda victory to the Republicans, who will paint him as anti-Israel and weak if he doesn’t back the Israelis with military support.
This is also bad news from the point of view of the fortunes of the British Jewish community. If an Israeli strike becomes more likely it will do nothing for the Jewish population’s sense of security, given the political fallout and the possible increase in risk of terrorist incidents. But what we should be doubly worried and indeed angered about is the support being lent to AIPAC positions by the major establishment organizations of the community. Representing the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC) and the Board of Deputies of British Jews at the AIPAC conference is the JLC’s Executive Director, Jeremy Newmark, who seems to be fully backing the AIPAC ethos if his enthusiastic Tweets are anything to go by. That the two bodies which claim to represent the wider interests of British Jews should be aligning themselves with such a hawkish, anti-Obama administration, pro-settlement, anti-two-state solution Israel lobby group is quite disgraceful. For Brirtish Jewish leaders who at one moment are demonising and lambasting people willing to discuss the merits or otherwise of a one-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and at another moment are tacitly supporting the repressive, discriminatory one-state idea (now virtually a reality) favoured by AIPAC is thoroughly detrimental to the interests of the British Jewish population.