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

April 22, 2014, 11:58 p.m.

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”

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