Settler leader to AIPAC: Your support for two-states has ‘no basis in fact’
As AIPAC chief calls for Palestinian state

Settler leader to AIPAC: Your support for two-states has ‘no basis in fact’

Samaria Regional Council's Yossi Dagan claims pro-Israel lobby misrepresenting views of Washington and Jerusalem by asserting both support establishment of Palestinian state

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan speaks during a protest against the planned eviction of the outpost of Amona, in front of the Knesset on January 30, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan speaks during a protest against the planned eviction of the outpost of Amona, in front of the Knesset on January 30, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

In a combative letter to the leadership of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sent in the midst of its policy conference in Washington, a top settler leader blasted Monday the positions of the US’ most powerful Israel lobby as having “no basis in fact.”

Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan took particular issue with AIPAC’s support for the two-state solution, asserting that the group was inaccurately claiming it to be the end-game to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that it had support from both Washington and Jerusalem.

“This assumption has no basis in fact,” Dagan wrote in his letter addressed to AIPAC top brass, including president Lillian Pinkus and executive director Howard Kohr.

“The official government of Israel guidelines… contain not one word or even hint of support for the ‘two-state solution,'” he said of the coalition agreements signed after the 2015 elections that for the first time omitted any reference to the peace process.

The settler leader said that while the US National Security Strategy under former president Barack Obama had expressed support for two states, the platform published by the Trump administration in December made no mention of the proposal.

AIPAC actiivists hear about Israeli efforts to combat “terror tunnels” from the Gaza Strip into Israel on March 4 2018. (Ron Kampeas)

While the pro-Israel lobby does not explicitly refer to the two-state solution as the official policy preference of the either the US of Israeli governments, the section of AIPAC’s 2017 briefing book on the topic begins by stating, “Israel is committed to a two-state solution—a Jewish state living side-by-side in peace with a demilitarized Palestinian state. The United States must send a clear message that this goal can be achieved only through direct negotiations between the parties.”

No other solution to the conflict earns message in the five-page chapter.

Moreover, during his Sunday address on the first day of the conference, the group’s executive director launched an impassioned plea for Palestinian statehood and for holding on to the belief in the possibility of peace.

AIPAC’s Executive Director Howard Kohr addresses the lobby’s policy conference, March 4, 2018 (AIPAC screenshot)

In remarks liable to anger hawkish Israeli politicians and their American supporters, including portions of the AIPAC membership, Howard Kohr issued an explicit call for “two states for two peoples” and said it was “tragic” that the scenario currently seems so distant.

“I am astounded as to why such a great, meaningful organization as AIPAC… would represent the positions of the state of Israel (and of the United States) so inaccurately before senior government officials, senators and congressmen, and the general pro-Israel public,” Dagan wrote.

“The position that AIPAC is representing as that of the state of Israel… not only fails to represent Israel properly, but is detrimental to the efforts to achieve dialogue in the Middle East,” he continued.

Netanyahu has expressed support for the two-state solution in the past, namely in the address he gave at Bar Ilan University in 2009, but the prime minister has recently downplayed his support for the proposal, has substantially increased settlement building in the past year, and, in August vowed not evacuate a single settlement in any peace deal.

For its part, the US has also long backed the idea of “two states for two peoples” with successive administrations voicing their stark support for the proposal.

Donald Trump speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) 2016 Policy Conference at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, March 21, 2016. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images via JTA)

President Donald Trump, however, has so-far refused to endorse any particular solution to the conflict.

During his visit to Israel last month, Vice President Mike Pence told Israeli lawmakers that the US would support a two-state solution “if both sides agree.”

Monday’s letter, which began with the settler leader praising AIPAC for its efforts to promote the US-Israel relationship using the Hebrew accolade “kol hakavod,” concluded with Dagan calling on the group to update its mission statement and talking points.

In December 2016, AIPAC came under fire when its website removed mention of the two-state solution from its “peace process” page.

An official for the organization told The Times of Israel Sunday that the lobby’s “support of the two state solution has never changed,” explaining that the policy was “dropped temporarily from a section of the site inadvertently when there was a modification of the site.”

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (c) meets with settler leaders in his office on February 25, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

While AIPAC does not take an official position on Israeli settlements — deemed by much of the international community as illegal and by the current US administration as “unhelpful” for peace — one West Bank council chairman who requested anonymity said that the lobby prevents members of Congress from visiting the settlements on its tours of Israel.

An AIPAC spokesman declined to comment on Dagan’s criticism, which comes after several years in which the Yesha settlement umbrella council has worked to quietly establish a relationship with the group.

On Monday afternoon, the Yesha council will hold an event in Washington across the street from the AIPAC conference for policy conference attendees on “combating the de-legitimization of Israel through the embrace of Judea and Samaria.”

Joining senior Yesha and US officials at the session will be ministers Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Tzachi Hanegbi and Yuval Steinitz in addition to Likud MK Sharren Haskel and Israel consul general in New York Dani Dayan. The event is being held in cooperation with Israel’s Strategic Affairs Ministry.

While the umbrella council is meant to serve as the representative body of all Jewish communities across the Green Line, many analysts see Dagan as the de-facto settler premier given the Samaria chairman’s close ties to many prominent Likud lawmakers as well as his recent successful campaigns against the right-wing government to advance the legalization of the Havat Gilad outpost and the transfer of millions of dollars for the purpose of West Bank infrastructure improvement.

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