Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered his policy address on Sunday and accepted the two state solution already embraced by a large majority of Israelis. OK, I am not really suggesting that the Ameinu public letter that many of you signed before Netanyahu\’s Washington visit was the deciding blow, but he definitely heard from the U.S. President, the Congress and the American Jewish community which way the wind was blowing. I am proud that we made our modest contribution.
Yes, he placed a variety of conditions around this statement and hardly sounded enthusiastic, but he acknowledged that he is now ready to sit with the Palestinians and to negotiate towards this objective. In fact, during a briefing with American Jewish leadership this week, he called for “two states for two peoples” and said that despite the positions he laid out in his speech, he acknowledged that the Palestinians have stated their desires ahead of time as well and he is prepared to negotiate with no preconditions.
So what does this mean?
First of all, it signals the end of the Greater Israel movement as a potent electoral force in Israel. I do not discount the potential of the radical elements of the settler movement to create difficulties and there remains a small Knesset presence for the movement, but the flag bearer has folded the banner.
Secondly, it provides an opening for President Barack Obama and his envoy, Senator George Mitchell, to take the next steps towards the U.S. vision of a regional peace plan. It even appears that some quiet diplomacy is taking place to reach agreement on a significant limitation, if not an absolute freeze, on the settlement issue. One thing is absolutely clear; there will be no progress without active and constant U.S. engagement. In fact, the requirement of American leadership has been the case since Oslo, and we are fortunate that we have a President who views a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an integral part of the overall U.S. strategy in the Middle East.
Finally, American Jews clearly support the two state solution. Polls regularly point to this fact and in the wake of Netanyahu\’s speech, Jewish groups across the political spectrum applauded, with a certain amount of relief, his commitment to this objective. This support included all of the major religious streams and both AIPAC and J Street. In an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations chair Alan Solow stated that, in general, American Jews are supportive of the president actively engaging in peace negotiations in the region, knowing his deep commitment to maintaining Israel\’s security.
The coming weeks and months will be critical and I have no doubt that this will be “two steps forward, one step back” process. Hopefully Obama and Mitchell will bring the sides to a point where past conflicts and mutual recriminations will be placed aside and the parties will seize the opportunity to make history for their respective peoples.
Ameinu will continue to support the effort.