Will American Jewish Leaders Embrace the Netanyahu-Lieberman Regime?

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ISRAEL'S NEWEST government has turned away from the peace process and the goal of a two-state solution enunciated by Republican and Democratic U.S. administrations alike.

Late in April, Israel declared that it would not move ahead on the core issues of peace talks with the Palestinians until it sees progress in U.S. efforts to stop Iran's suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon. "It's a crucial condition if we want to move forward," said Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon, a former ambassador to the U.S. "If we want to have a real political process with the Palestinians, then you can't have the Iranians undermining and sabotaging."

This flies in the face of the Obama administration's hopes to do precisely the opposite-to use progress in the Israeli-Palestinian political talks to curb Iranian influence.

In what The New York Times called "a blunt and belligerent speech on his first day as Israel's new foreign minister," Avigdor Lieberman declared that "those who wish for peace should prepare for war." He also maintained that Israel was not obligated by understandings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reached at the Annapolis peace summit in late 2007. Lieberman said the Israeli government will suspend negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on so-called "final status" issues-borders, settlements, refugees, and the status of the city of Jerusalem-until the Palestinians take verifiable steps to end attacks against Israelis.

With this statement, the new Israeli government reversed the policies of its predecessor, led by Ehud Olmert, which had been quietly attempting to negotiate a final settlement of the conflict with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Editorialized The Washington Post on March 31, 2009, "Though he has promised to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Netanyahu has never endorsed the creation of a Palestinian state-and he has said that he will support the 'natural growth' of Jewish settlements in the West Bank."

How will the U.S. government-and the leaders of established American Jewish organizations-respond to Mr. Netanyahu's failure to accept Palestinian statehood, which in the past decade has been the anchor of U.S. policy in the region, and which most American Jewish groups have supported? The answer, of course, remains to be seen. What we do know is that more and more prominent American Jewish voices are being heard in opposition to the Netanyahu government's stance.

"A two-state solution is not an option that will always be available."

"It took an unconscionably long time for the Palestine Liberation Organization to accept the idea of a two-state solution," wrote columnist Leonard Fein in the April 24 issue of The Forward. "Yet today, its most ardent advocate is Mahmoud Abbas, still president of the Palestinian Authority. And the Saudis are not far behind. In the meantime, Israel has a prime minister who is steadfast in his distaste for the two-state idea. The world has turned upside down. Fortunately, President Obama is apparently quite serious in his commitment to the two-state solution, even if that means provoking a real divide between Jerusalem and Washington...So we approach a moment of truth for pro-Israel American Jews: Accept the sterile Netanyahu perspective, all foam and no beer, or stand firm, with Obama, against the status quo and for a two-state solution, which is to say, for a Jewish state."

Fein, a respected observer who is the former editor of Moment magazine and a long-time leader in Reform Judaism, puts the question this way: "Let there be no mistake: a one-state solution with Jews in control and the Palestinian majority offered less than full rights of citizenship is morally and politically bankrupt. It is an invitation to continuing violence. A one-state solution with the Palestinian majority in control means an end to the Zionist enterprise, to the Jewish state. But: A two-state solution is not an option that will always be available. …