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Democratic attitudes to Israel are shifting

Senator Bernie Sanders at the J Street National Conference

October 29, 2019 - 9:11am

Democratic attitudes to Israel are shifting. A two day conference held this week in Washington DC and organised by J Street – an influential organisation that describes itself as “pro-Israel and pro-peace” – attracted a wide range of influential Democrats, including five Presidential hopefuls. Bernie Sanders spoke personally of his pride in being Jewish, of his time spent in a kibbutz in Israel, and how “[I] look forward to being the first Jewish President.”

Nancy Pelosi gave the keynote address at the gala dinner. Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke and Elizabeth Warren all sent supportive video messages. On Monday night, Pelosi encouraged Congress to go on record support a resolution formally supporting a two state solution. Sanders went even further:

At a time where we spend $3.8 billion on military aid to Israel, we have a right to say to the Israeli government that the US taxpayers believe in human rights and democracy and will not accept authoritarianism and racism.
- Bernie Sanders

Listening from Israel, is was hard not to be aware of the gap that exists between all this and the sorts of conversations being had amongst politicians over here. As negotiations continue about how to form the next government following another inconclusive election, it is striking how little the idea of a two state solution is even being discussed. The widespread contention is that, following years of settlement development, the establishment of a Palestinian state is no longer practically possible.

“It is no longer possible to divide the Land of Israel into two separate sovereign states” wrote the novelist A B Yehoshua last year, himself one of the godfathers of the Israeli peace movement. Many others have concurred. Things have gone too far.

Those who criticise continued talk of a two state solution often claim that it is an alibi used by Zionists like myself who want to cling on to what they see as a fantasy – a way of justifying the existence of Israel against those who see the whole project as intrinsically authoritarian and racist.

But J Street and their Democratic friends see things differently: all is not lost. Sanders is right that US foreign policy, and the huge subsidies it pays to Israel, has the muscle – post-Trump – to exert huge influence over what happens here. Even the Chinese, whose economic power is increasingly evident in Israel, maintain that “The two-state solution remains the only correct way out of the Palestinian-Israeli question.”

The two state solution isn’t dead. It’s just on pause. For over a decade now, the demise of the two state solution has been widely anticipated. And yet, for all this, it refuses to give up the ghost. Rumours of its death have been exaggerated.

Why? Very simple: there is no alternative.

Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.


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