WASHINGTON — While Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu no longer endorses full statehood for the Palestinians, and the Trump administration has grudgingly said it would support a two-state solution if the two sides agreed to it, the head of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC on Sunday launched an impassioned plea for Palestinian statehood and for holding on to belief in the possibility of peace.
In remarks liable to anger hawkish Israeli politicians and their American supporters, including portions of the AIPAC membership, the lobby’s Executive Director Howard Kohr issued an explicit call for “two states for two peoples” and said it was “tragic” that this scenario currently seems so distant.
He blamed the Palestinian leadership for avoiding direct talks, and also said Israel needed peace with all of its neighbors.
Addressing 18,000 attendees at AIPAC’s annual police conference in Washington, the lobby’s veteran leader highlighted what he said were warming relations between Israel and various Arab countries, and said those emerging relationships were “a force for moderation” and constituted “a message to the Palestinian leadership that a bright future is possible when you finally put aside generations of hatred and choose to live side by side in peace with the Jewish state of Israel.”
Speaking on the eve of scheduled talks Monday between Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump, and ahead of Netanyahu’s own address to AIPAC on Tuesday, Kohr then stressed the peacemaking imperative for Israel and its supporters: “We must all work toward that future: two states for two peoples. One Jewish with secure and defensible borders, and one Palestinian with its own flag and its own future.”
“Today that dream seems remote,” Kohr acknowledged. “This is tragic.
“The absence of a constructive peace process is nothing to celebrate,” he cautioned. “Israel’s security cannot be fully assured and her promise cannot be fully realized until she is at peace with all her neighbors.”
Kohr went on to declare that “peace begins by talking” and lamented that “it has been nearly eight years since [Palestinian Authority] President Abbas has had direct talks with an Israeli prime minister.” Plainly, he said, there was “no Palestinian willingness to talk face to face.”
Directing this passage of his remarks to Abbas, Kohr declared that “there is no substitute for direct negotiations” and “there are no short cuts to peace. You can’t do it through the United Nations, not through the European Union, and not through Moscow.”
He promised that AIPAC “will stand with the administration, our friends in Congress and anyone in the international community who supports peace through direct negotiations.
“Preparing for conflict may require forever vigilance,” Kohn then said, “but working for peace demands forever faith — a faith that there is a future beyond bloodshed and war. We share that faith and we are ready for that day,” he said.
Almost all Knesset members from Netanyahu’s governing Likud party say they oppose Palestinian statehood. The prime minister himself indicated ahead of the last elections in 2015 that there was no foreseeable prospect of Palestinian statehood, and last year told his ministers he was prepared to give the Palestinians a “state minus.”
Three months ago, meeting with EU leaders in Brussels, he was asked point blank whether he still backed a two-state solution and ducked the question, telling reporters later that he had responded by asking the European ministers whether such a state would be “Costa Rica or Yemen.”