Confusion at J Street Over Leader’s Two-State Comments

The head of the dovish lobbying group J Street said Tuesday that it was not necessary for President Donald Trump or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to endorse the two-state solution at their Wednesday press conference, only for his organization to criticize the two leaders after the conference concluded for failing to do so.

J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami told the Times of Israel on Tuesday that saying the words “two-state solution” or “Palestinian state” at the press conference was not necessary because “these words are not magical.” Rather, Ben-Ami said, “the end result that J Street favors is that the State of Israel should have borders and that those borders should be recognized by its neighbors and by the world.”

“We do believe that there should be a Palestinian state and relations between the State of Israel and all the states around it, but it is not absolutely necessary for Trump and Netanyahu to pledge allegiance to a two-state solution,” he added.

At the press conference, Trump announced a shift in U.S. policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, indicating that he didn’t necessarily favor the two-state solution. “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he said.

Netanyahu insisted that his views on peace are the same as what he expressed in 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, when he first announced support for the idea of a Palestinian state. “There are two prerequisites for peace that I laid out several years ago and they haven’t changed,” he said.

First, the Palestinians must recognize the Jewish state.They have to stop calling for Israel’s destruction, they have to stop educating their people for Israel’s destruction. Second, in any peace agreement, Israel must retain the overriding security control over the entire area west of the Jordan River because if we don’t, we know what will happen. Because otherwise, we’ll get another radical Islamic terrorist state in the Palestinian areas exploding the peace, exploding the Middle East.

Despite Ben-Ami’s comment the previous day that it was “not absolutely necessary for Trump and Netanyahu to pledge allegiance to a two-state solution,” which he has not appeared to walk back, J Street released a statement after the press conference criticizing the two leaders for “studiously avoided endorsing a two-state solution.” The statement also called Trump’s openness to a one-state solution “tremendously disturbing.”

The J Street statement also noted that George W. Bush was the first American president to explicitly call for a two-state solution. As Bush said at the time, “My vision is two states, living side by side in peace and security. There is simply no way to achieve that peace until all parties fight terror.” The J Street statement criticized both Trump and Netanyahu, but did not contain criticism for the Palestinian leadership, which incentivizes terrorism by paying millions to terrorists and their families every year.

Veteran American diplomat Dennis Ross, who spent decades working on Middle East peace for U.S. presidents from both political parties, noted in an op-ed for U.S. News and World Report on Thursday that Trump and Netanyahu’s perceived ambivalence on the subject of the two-state solution did not mean that they were abandoning it. He also observed that if moderate Arab states were to be involved in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, as Trump and Netanyahu suggested, it would almost certainly “ensure that there must be a two-state outcome if the effort is to lead anywhere.”

[Photo: J Street / flickr ]