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Ask Dr. Cobb

December 2009 Question

Is the current effort of the U.S. administration to press for a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine hopeless?

Dr. Cobb's Response

A few months ago I wrote a despairing piece about the possibility of realizing the vision of a Jewish state in Palestine. A Jewish state of a sort that is tolerable to the international conscience requires that there also be a Palestinian state in which a decent life is possible. The policies of the state of Israel over the decades had made it seem impossible for such a state to come into existence. One kept hoping that the United States would pressure Israel to take the necessary, and necessarily radical, steps required for the two-state solution. That was not happening. Every year the facts on the ground had made the emergence of a Palestinian state more difficult.

There was a moment of hope when Obama called for an end of building new Israeli settlements on the West Bank. That might have set the stage for real negotiations. But Netanyahu dismissed Obama’s initiative, and it seemed that Obama backed down. The power of AIPAC was such that Congress gave no support to Obama. The two-state solution seemed unattainable. The ideal of that solution seemed to prevent serious discussion of the possibility of a single secular state. If both the two-state and the one-state solution fail, then the only alternative would be an Israel/Palestine in which half of the population uses its military, political, and economic power to keep the other half in poverty and misery.

Coming from Georgia, I knew what such a society was like. In pain and deep disappointment I wrote that it was time to talk about the secular state solution. After all, elsewhere in the world, multi-ethnic states have adopted the secular norm. Where Jews are in the minority they strongly advocate secular governments. The single secular state solution should be on the table as far preferable to the prospect of continuing down the road on which Israel has been going.

Part of my distress has come from my awareness that many thoughtful and progressive American Gentiles have grown angry with Israel. I have felt such anger myself. Of course, there are other governments around the world whose policies and practices are equally unjust or more so. But none of them have had such unqualified support from this country or exercised such control of policies of the United States government. The United States is supplying much of the funding and military support for policies that many of us view as profoundly wrong. AIPAC and other highly visible expressions of American Judaism are the most visible face of Jews in the United States; and these threaten to destroy those who protest Israel’s actions, by depicting them as anti-Jewish. More disturbing still, being treated in this way by what has appeared to be the collective Jewish community has threatened to generate or revive real anti-Jewish feeling.

I am myself not tempted to become anti-Jewish, because I identify the deepest reality of Judaism with the prophetic tradition. Process theology stands in this tradition. I see both in Israel and in the United States wonderful expressions by Jews of that tradition in which I hope also to participate. It has always been a minority voice in both Judaism and Christianity, but it is the truest form of Judaism, and its greatest gift to the world.

I have more reason to be anti-Christian than to be anti-Jewish, because so many Christians over the centuries have acted collectively in ways diametrically opposite to that for which the prophetic tradition calls. This continues even today. Over the centuries Jews have not acted in comparably vicious ways. Sadly, it seems that Jews, too, are subject to corruption by power.

Today, I passionately oppose many policies of the United States and also of Israel. I would consider it a betrayal of the prophetic tradition I have derived from Judaism simply to acquiesce in the policies of my government or those of Israel. Sadly there are many other Americans who view both Christianity and Judaism in terms of their most public face rather than their deepest identities. This generates among people of conscience a great deal of anti-Christian feeling. And because the claim of Israel to be Jewish is more emphatic than any identification of the government of the United States as Christian, the danger of the opposition to Israeli policies becoming a widespread and profoundly dangerous anti-Judaism must not be discounted.

Nevertheless, I rejoice to say that the despair about the two-state solution, which I expressed in my previous piece, may have been premature. Moderate Jews who genuinely support Israel but recognize that such support requires the negotiation of peace have finally made themselves visible in J Street. Gradually the public is becoming aware that this is truly the majority view in the Jewish community in the United States. The disastrous power of AIPAC over American political life, once challenged, may crumble quickly. Obama sent his national security advisor, General Jim Jones, to speak as an important representative of the administration to keynote the inaugural J Street conference, which was boycotted by Israeli ambassador.

With this act of independence from the Israeli government by Obama, J Street is assured that it will not be easily crushed by AIPAC. American Gentiles will no longer suppose that they are not allowed by the Jewish community as a whole to criticize the actions of Israel. Reasonable discussions that cut across the Jewish/Christian divide may become possible. Honesty and openness may be restored to Jewish/Christian relations as American Jews and Christians work together toward a genuine solution of the Israeli/Palestinian problem. The majority of Israelis may demand that their government work with the leadership of the United States to develop a negotiated settlement with Palestinians. The two-state solution may yet be realized!  Obama may succeed where others have failed or not seriously tried. If he does, the danger of virulent anti-Jewish feeling in this country and elsewhere will fade. As long as there is a chance, we should give Obama and the two-state solution our full support.

Regrettably, I am not optimistic. Netanyahu continues to thumb his nose at Obama’s initiatives. Congress ignores J-Street, and it follows AIPAC’s wishes in refusing even to consider the international report on atrocities in Gaza. When the possibility of the Palestinians declaring themselves a state, as the Jews did long ago, is put forward, Obama, instead of seizing on this as a way to push his agenda forward, speaks out, as Netanyahu wishes, against the idea.

Even if Obama leads with a still invisible vigor, failure is all too likely. Too many settlers may have established roots in West Bank land for even an Israeli government that wants to remove them to be able to do so without a civil war it will not act to provoke. Dismantling the wall, which could never be accepted as the boundary between the two states, may prove too disruptive of the status quo to be accepted by Israelis who feel threatened. Genuinely sharing Jerusalem may be intolerable to too many Israelis. It may prove impossible to come to a compromise on the right of return. The genuine need of Israel for security and the genuine need of a Palestinian state for self-determination may prove incompatible. The problems are enormous, far greater than they were twenty years ago, or even ten. Netanyahu adds to them by the day, and AIPAC continues to dominate the relevant policies of our nation. We can still hope that behind the scenes Obama is preparing for a major initiative, and as long as this is a possibility, we must support him. But it is not at all clear that the Obama for whom we hoped is the president we got.

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