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Netanyahu's world Jewry dilemma

Statements by Israeli officials against the two-state solution confront members of world Jewry with their latest dilemma: supporting Israel even when it endangers their interests in their countries of residence.
A woman looks at a billboard calling on Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in Tel Aviv February 2, 2014. Breaking the Impasse, a group formed by Israeli businessmen, put a triumphant-looking Netanyahu at the centre of the billboard posters and newspaper ads calling on him to end the decades-old conflict with the Palestinians. "Only you can do it Bibi!" say the ads, using Netanyahu's nickname. Picture taken February 2, 2014. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (ISRAEL - Tags:

My heart goes out to Mark Halperin of New York, Brigitte Cohen of Marseilles and Frank Lipschitz of Berlin (all the names are fictional). The three, like other activists in their Jewish communities, are enthusiastic Israel supporters. All three believe that the two-state solution is the sole key to ensuring the Jewish and democratic nature of the State of Israel. What are they telling their congressman, the students in their class or the neighbor across the way when asked these days where Israel’s government is heading?

Can they promise that the Israeli leadership is, in fact, willing to give back territories for peace and isn’t just playing for time? How can they know who is telling the truth regarding Israel’s intentions: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose representatives are conducting negotiations with the Palestinians on a permanent arrangement? Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who called mediator US Secretary of State John Kerry “messianic”? Or is perhaps Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon right when he says that King Bibi (Netanyahu) is politically naked?

On March 4, Netanyahu is expected to deliver a speech at the annual Washington conference of the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, with the same positive message he keeps expounding regarding the diplomatic process. It will likely be similar to his address before the heads of the Conference of Presidents in Jerusalem on Feb. 17, where he said: "[The second thing that] we’re discussing every day is how to achieve a secure and enduring peace with the Palestinians. … And we have to achieve a durable and stable peace with our Palestinian neighbors.”

Could it actually be any way else? In its basic guidelines, the government pledges to “advance the political process and act to promote peace with all our neighbors, while preserving the security, historic and national interests of Israel.”

On the other hand, two days after that speech, on Feb. 19, at a closed-door event in memory of Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov in Jerusalem, Ya’alon presented a totally different perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “There are those who mislead the people or part of the people when they say that peace can be achieved,” Ya’alon said, and explained at length why “this conflict cannot be resolved.” He also said that “there are problems that cannot be solved and shouldn’t be solved,” arguing that “until the Palestinians give up their narrative, there will be no peace here.” Since the Palestinian people are unlikely to give up their narrative, Ya’alon suggests we shake off ''the illusion of conflict resolution'' and make do with managing the conflict. “We don’t have a time problem,” concluded the senior minister. “Time works in favor of those who know how to put it to good use.”

If Ya’alon exposed the government’s true face, Netanyahu could soon be expected to suggest to Kerry that he file away his framework agreement in the archives of the peace memoranda. What will Halperin of New York, Cohen of Marseilles and Lipschitz of Berlin tell their friends then? Whose side will they take? The side of Israel’s elected leaders or the side of their elected leaders?

Unlike Ya’alon, who contends that saying “peace is possible” is a lie, US President Barack Obama, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel insist that peace is essential. They believe that an end to the Middle East conflict is in their countries’ strategic interests. On the other side, last week Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely of the Likud Party told US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro that “an attempt to force on us diplomatic plans contrary to the will of the voter will constitute a blow to Israeli democracy.” Is it really true that there is no majority in Israel for the two-state solution? Didn't Hotovely hear about the two-state solution Knesset lobby, comprised of 40 Knesset members, not counting the members of the Arab parties or the six ministers of Yesh Atid and Hatnua parties, and other Knesset members who are not listed yet in the lobby? And even the chairwoman of the Meretz Party, Knesset member Zehava Galon, on March 3 counted 77 Knesset members.

How does Hotovely expect her brothers in the Jewish communities across the sea to act, when the position of the Israeli voting public is in clear contradiction to the position of the elected officials in their countries?

One possible answer to this question can be found in proposed legislation regarding sanctions on Iran. At the early stages of this initiative, AIPAC worked energetically to enlist majority support for the proposal to impose additional sanctions on Iran, or at least not to ease the sanctions before a permanent agreement is signed on the nuclear issue. In doing so, the lobby faithfully represented Israel’s militant position, which runs counter to the conciliatory policy of the US administration. But just as was the case with the appointment of Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense, Israel sent AIPAC out on a lost cause and a damaging mission. This time, perhaps as a lesson from that failure, when Obama made clear that he would veto the proposed bill, the organization heads withdrew from the battle over the sanctions initiative. They explained to the Republican senators, who had stood by them, that this was not the right time to pass the legislation.

Sen. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke about this with the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Ron Dermer, telling The Daily Beast afterward, “AIPAC and Israel are in different places on this issue.” And, in fact, in his speech to the Conference of Presidents, Netanyahu made no secret of his disappointment that the bill was stuck. He complained about the easing of sanctions on Iran, saying it had given nothing in return, and noted that for negotiations with Iran to conclude successfully, “You need more, not less pressure.”

The findings of a study published in the January 2013 issue of Strategic Assessment by the Institute of National Security Studies, under the headline, “Support for Israel in a Changing America,” show that the failure of the sanctions initiative and the attempt to derail Hagel’s appointment, are not by way of random mishaps. Researchers Owen Alterman and Cameron Brown point to the erosion of the pro-Israel lobby’s influence due to the social divide, the demographic movement away from Protestantism and the rapid growth of Americans without religious affiliation (about one-fourth of Democrats). The two recommend that Israeli decision-makers consider the attendant strategic implications inter alia by changing Israeli policy toward its neighbors and its attitude toward the United States. Pro-Israel activists in Europe point to similar and even stronger trends and more vitriolic protest against the occupation.

There are few things that world Jewry despises more than the dilemma of loyalty to two homelands. Behind the thousands of enthusiastic activists who greet Israeli leaders at Jewish conferences hides a growing Jewish majority that prefers to stay home. When Israel’s interests contradict the essential interests of their countries of residence, and don’t fit in with their values, it gets harder and harder for Halperin, Cohen and Lipschitz to act according to the principle that has for years guided world Jewry: Right or wrong, we are always on Israel’s side.