Israeli Elections Demand New Era in U.S. Policy

The news out of Israel last week devastated many who yearn for
peace. In elections for the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party won, securing a large enough
plurality to lead the next governing coalition. The center-left, left and Arab
parties will sit in the opposition, despite their most serious bid for power in
15 years.

To add insult to injury, Netanyahu warned right-wing voters that Arab voters were “heading to the polls
in droves” in a video released on election day. This racist fear-mongering was disgusting. It told Israel’s Arab
citizens that their presence is menacing, and it went against the core of
Israeli democracy.

Netanyahu’s victory means that settlement expansion in East
Jerusalem and the West Bank will continue unabated, displacing Palestinian
families and driving the region further from a two-state solution.

As a Jew, I believe in the two-state solution. The establishment
of a Palestinian state alongside the State of Israel is imperative for three
reasons. First, if Israel does not end its occupation of the Palestinian
territories, it will lose either its Jewish or its democratic character.
Second, a two-state solution is essential for the realization of full human and
civil rights for Palestinians. And finally, a jump to a single binational
state, after decades of conflict, could easily plunge the region into civil
war. Only a two-state solution can give Israelis and Palestinians long-term
peace and security.

That’s why this year, I got involved with the 5C chapter of J
Street, an organization of pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans dedicated to a
two-state solution.

But by the time I went to bed last Tuesday, I wanted to give up.
I realized that there is absolutely zero chance of a two-state solution for
four years, or as long as Netanyahu’s government lasts. As someone who places a
high value on results, I doubted a movement that would not bear fruit for so
long.

This past weekend, I attended the J Street National
Conference in Washington, D.C., which gave me a renewed sense of purpose and
hope.

In the end, buy-in from both Palestinian and Israeli leadership
is necessary for any just and lasting peace. Netanyahu’s reelection takes that
off the table for now. However, the left wing is still quite sizable and
growing. The centrist and left-wing Zionist parties, combined with the Arab
parties, will hold 53 seats (out of a total of 120) in the next Knesset. A
victory for the center left is not out of reach. Their long campaign for the
voters’ hearts and minds begins now.

If victory is possible for the center-left parties, what impact
does the United States play on their chances? Political analyst Daniel Levy said that Netanyahu won because his defiance of the world was successful; if the
world challenged his defiance, his political brand would become unappealing.

The most obvious place for the U.S. to challenge Netanyahu’s
defiance would be at the United Nations Security Council. In the past, the U.S. has vetoed resolutions recognizing a Palestinian state, reasoning that such
resolutions discouraged direct negotiations between the two parties. But one
day before the election, Netanyahu declared that there will be no Palestinian
state on his watch. This forces the U.S. to acknowledge that direct
negotiations will not happen anytime soon.

The U.S. could withhold its vetoes or, even better, write its
own resolution that puts forth parameters for a final agreement—ideas to which the Obama administration appears open.

Netanyahu, with his disrespectful appearance in the U.S. House
of Representatives before the election and his dog-whistle campaigning the day
of, seems to have squandered any remaining political goodwill from President Barack Obama. At the J Street conference, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough
reiterated that the White House is reevaluating its approach to the peace
process.

Still, the President would face considerable pushback from the
right if he changed U.N. strategy. For the government to take a stand on this issue, it will need
the demonstrated support of its constituents. 

That’s where we come in. If you
value a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there are important,
meaningful ways to get involved. And when our next president will likely be more
hawkish than Barack Obama, now is a crucial time to do so.

In the coming months and
years, J Street will be pursuing ambitious and winnable campaigns to push U.S. institutions to support a two-state solution. We’ll also hold more
events on campus to discuss these issues. We welcome all perspectives at our
events, and invite you to consider joining our strategic work.

Aaron Sege PO ’18 is on the board of J Street U
Claremont.

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