In a piece (“J Street Opposes Palestine’s UN Bid; US Increasingly Isolated”) running on TheNation.com, Tom Hayden dramatically misstates both the policies of J Street and some basic facts around the Palestinian effort to upgrade its status at the United Nations.
First, let’s be clear: J Street supports statehood for the Palestinians. An independent Palestine is overdue and just—more so now than ever, as the winds of change in the Arab world continue to accelerate.
As supporters of Israel, we at J Street view the creation of a Palestinian state as an existential necessity for Israel. Israel can be the democratic national homeland for the Jewish people for the long-term only if it is living side-by-side with a state of Palestine in peace and security.
To reach that goal, J Street supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We believe an effective and long-lasting solution has to be agreed upon by both sides and must ultimately resolve all outstanding issues. We support starting the process of ending the conflict by reaching a deal on borders and security arrangements first.
Hayden claims that the vote at the United Nations is over “statehood.” Actually, it is not. The Palestinians declared statehood in 1988 and more than 100 countries have bilaterally recognized the existence of an independent state of Palestine in the last two decades. This has not, however, solved the conflict.
The Palestinians are rather—as confirmed Friday by President Mahmoud Abbas—requesting full membership for Palestine in the United Nations. Neither statehood itself nor recognition can be conferred by the United Nations—something readily acknowledged by the Palestinians themselves.
Similarly, Hayden wrongly states that, with passage of a UN resolution, “a two-state solution would be achieved.” Would that it were so simple. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has himself said that immediately after any vote at the United Nations, the two states would still have to return immediately to negotiations if they hope to resolve the conflict.
So, just as a matter of fact and law, the move to the United Nations is not about statehood or recognition. And in our judgment, it doesn’t produce a two-state solution and will have little to no real-world impact on the ground after its passage. There is even a chance that raised expectations over the meaning of a UN vote could lead to massive discontent at the lack of real effect from the vote.
Many—including J Street and me personally—are frustrated at the utter failure to date of the diplomatic process to end the conflict.
Too many years and lives have been wasted in failed efforts to bridge the gaps, as Israeli settlements have continued to slowly but surely take over the very land on which a Palestinian state must be built.
The failure of diplomacy to date does not mean, however, that there is any way to avoid the need for the two sides ultimately to agree to a formula for ending the conflict. But just as you don’t ask an angry couple locked in an ugly and contentious divorce to simply work out their differences among themselves, it’s a false hope to think that the Israelis and the Palestinians can sit across the table from each other in “direct talks” and simply work out their differences.
That’s why J Street’s policy paper on the UN vote recognizes the importance of international action—possibly even a balanced resolution at the General Assembly—in advancing the prospects of ending the conflict.
If the Palestinians do change course from a membership application to the Security Council and instead pursue a General Assembly resolution that affirms the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps as the basis for renewed, serious talks—J Street’s position on that resolution will be based on whether the text accords with our basic principles.
We all know—from the New York Times editorial board to Tom Hayden to the Obama White House—that time is running out on the chance of achieving a two-state solution.
If ultimately that window closes, Israel will most likely cease to be either the democracy promised by its founders or the national homeland that the Jewish people have sought for nearly 2,000 years.
Since the risk from confrontation at the United Nations seems far greater than the benefits to efforts to resolve the conflict, sensible voices like J Street and the New York Times editorial board have not embraced the move. Instead, we are urging all parties to find a way off the ledge and to get the diplomatic process unstuck.
Serious, substantive negotiations with clear parameters, a timeline and outside facilitation and assistance are what’s needed now—not symbolic acts with the potential to deepen not ease the already high tensions in the region.