Setting The Stage For Much-Needed Peace Talks


The future of Israeli-Palestinian peace based on a two-state solution and pro-Israel advocacy in support of that goal are at a crossroads.

A range of recent events has pushed the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian agreement farther into the distance. These include: Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election-eve repudiation — later walked back — of support for the two-state solution, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ application to the International Criminal Court, increasing turmoil in the region, and the collapse of Secretary of State Kerry’s initiative a year ago.

Moreover, as political, denominational and generational divides in the American Jewish community intensify, the two-state solution risks being perceived as a cause associated only with liberals and peace activists. Last month’s Bloomberg poll found that recent tensions between the United States and Israel have fueled a deepening “partisan split on Israel.”

American Jews must not let this happen. Achieving a two-state solution is a core national interest of the U.S. and Israel.

We recognize that current political and regional realities make a negotiated resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seem remote. That’s all the more reason for those of us who think deeply about Israel’s future to strengthen our efforts to support and advance the goal of two states for two peoples, consistent with Israel’s security needs. This is a necessary component of our commitment to the Zionist vision of a secure, Jewish and democratic state.

To that end, Israel Policy Forum proposes the following principles and actions to set the stage for a negotiated peace agreement when the timing is more propitious: Israeli and Palestinian leadership must foster progress on the ground, in the regional environment and at the political level; prepare their peoples for compromises essential for a future peace; oppose incitement, extremism and violence; and promote security and economic cooperation for their peoples’ benefit. 

Israel’s settlement policy must demonstrate a commitment to two states by halting activity beyond the major blocs and in provocative areas, including predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. 

The Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza should unify under one government that rejects violence, accepts prior agreements and is prepared to establish a viable, demilitarized Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside the State of Israel.

In the region, the Arab Peace Initiative, though imperfect and incomplete, should at long last be used to create a dialogue with Israel, advance Israel-Arab relations, promote shared strategic interests and make progress in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. Active engagement by Jordan and Egypt, as well as Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states is essential for achieving a two-state solution. 

An Israeli-Palestinian agreement should be based on negotiated adjustments to the 1967 lines that take into account demographic realities, Israel’s security needs and the contiguity of a Palestinian state. It must address all of the core final-status issues — borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem and mutual recognition — and constitute an end to the conflict and a finality of all claims by both sides.

The U.S. should engage with all the parties on these matters, lending assistance and encouragement. If the U.S. seeks to propose terms of reference, they must reflect the political realities and create an environment for future negotiations, but must not impose permanent arrangements or unrealistic timelines. Ultimately, attaining a final-status agreement will require direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, with active American support, constructive contributions from the Arab states and the international community, and international incentives for Israelis and Palestinians.

We urge our fellow American Jews to promote the principles and encourage actions presented in these eight points, in order to move us closer to Israeli-Palestinian peace and bridge the partisan divide in our community. At the same time, we must oppose actions that are detrimental to a future peace accord and push it farther away. These include: one-sided U.N. resolutions and European sanctions that single out Israel for censure but fail to acknowledge Palestinian responsibilities; and advancing charges at the International Criminal Court; international mechanisms such as boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

To be sure, we will not all agree on all these points or on what are the best policies. We have a right to express our views, including disagreements with particular policies of Israel’s government. Nevertheless, civil advocacy that is pursued with respect for Israel’s democratic process and its legitimate security concerns is essential.

Strengthening U.S.-Israel relations, advancing the goal of two states for two peoples and ensuring Israel’s long-term security are vital U.S. national interests that have long been supported by Democrats and Republicans alike. They are consensus positions of the American Jewish community. Maintaining bipartisan support for them and attaining Israeli-Palestinian peace must remain top priorities of our community. They should unite us, not divide us.

Peter A. Joseph is board chair and David A. Halperin is executive director of Israel Policy Forum, a non-partisan U.S. organization that has advocated on behalf of lasting, negotiated Israeli-Palestinian peace since its founding in 1993