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Israel’s Lawyers at Work

Americans For Peace Now’s Lara Friedman gets to the nub of the two states for Israelis and Palestinians issue, taking some measurements on the fast-closing window for a viable peace deal.

The truth is, the two-state solution — in terms of facts on the ground — is still alive, but it is neither immortal nor infinitely malleable. This is not merely a subjective statement. A clear lesson of decades of Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts is that three concrete conditions must exist for the two-state solution to be possible. First, it must be possible to delineate a border based on the 1967 lines that leaves two politically and economically viable, maximally contiguous states. Second, this border must allow for a politically and economically viable Israeli capital in Israeli Jerusalem and a politically and economically viable Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. Third, it must be possible to compensate for changes in the 1967 lines through land swaps carried out on a one-to-one ratio.

Of course there are Americans, such as Dennis Ross and Elliott Abrams, who apparently believe the Palestinians can be forced to accept something less than a contiguous viable state. Ross recently published a piece calling for Israel to freeze new settlements east of its separation barrier, ignoring the fact the wall cuts in substantially on Palestinian land and water resources. Friedman rightly notes that the Ross proposal would “[gut] the very concept of the two state solution.” It would eliminate the concept that the ’67 borders were the basis for compromise, and cut the Palestinians off from access to Jerusalem. It flouts the speeches on the issue made by every past American president (including Obama, whom Ross was supposedly working for until recently) and the long-standing and deeply rooted consensus of the international community. For the Palestinians the proposal for a sort of balkanized, non-contiguous bantustan state is a non-starter; even if a Palestinian leader could be bullied into accepting it, it would have no legitimacy, or staying power.

This land question will lurk behind every statement made during President Obama’s forthcoming trip to Israel: will the president seek to lay a foundation for a return to meaningful negotiations, or will he conclude simply that US has no real influence over what Israel does and quietly resign himself to a long and wrenching process of American disengagement from what will be soon be viewed a simply an apartheid state? Obama could never phrase it that way, but it’s hard to imagine him thinking otherwise.

Of course, not everyone in America will want to disengage from an apartheid Israel. Congress, many of whose members hew closely to the wishes of their AIPAC minders, is seeking ways to bind the United States more closely to Israel, regardless of the Palestinian issue.

In its weekly legislative round-up, Americans for Peace Now parses some of the bills  written to AIPAC specifications in time for the AIPAC lobbying effort last week. I have noted previously the “backdoor to war” resolution, designed to ensure automatic support for an Israeli strike on Iran.

But also of interest is what APN calls the “Best Ally with Benefits” resolutions, defining  Israel as a “major strategic partner” of the United States. (Remember all the help Israel provided during the two Iraq wars. You don’t? What’s the matter with you?) These bills extend Israeli access to US weapons and provide funding for various forms of military assistance. One grants Israel a very particular kind of access into the Visa Waiver program. In the Senate version,  the Secretary of State is called to certify that “Israel has made every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that recipocal travel privileges are extended to all US citizens.” This wording is in fact designed to circumvent the key provision of more typical Visa waiver programs, which require that countries grant reciprocal privileges to citizens and nationals of the United States. Israel doesn’t want to do that, because it wants to be able to deny visas to American citizens of Palestinian descent and to US citizens it deems sympathetic to the Palestinians. One of the chief protections of Palestinians on the West Bank is the international presence, people who are able to act as witnesses to record the various brutalities of the occupation, as well as provide education and technical assistance. But Israel doesn’t want this “wrong kind of American” to see what it’s doing. There have been recent stories about Israel denying visas to American citizens: recently a woman who taught at the Quaker school in Ramallah was denied a re-entry visa. The Senate bill which AIPAC seeks is one which gives Israelis the right to enter the United States virtually automatically, without visas, while giving Israel the right to deny reciprocal rights to Americans.  Should be interesting to see if a single Senator decides to engage in public discussion of this.


about the author

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative and the author of Ex-Neocon: Dispatches From the Post-9/11 Ideological Wars. Follow him on Twitter at @ScottMcConnell9.

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