By Ami Ayalon, Gilead Sher, and Orni Petruschka

July 20, 2022 – Opinion – Haaretz

[Note: Despite the expansion of the settlement enterprise in Israel’s occupied West Bank, these three leading Israelis continue to affirm the position that the United States must lead the way in bringing Israel and the Palestinians to the negotiating table to lay plans for an eventual two-states for two peoples resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. See their biographies at the conclusion of this op-ed.]

During a press conference in Ramallah on July 16, U.S. President Joe Biden reiterated that “as president of the United States, my commitment to [the] goal of a two-state solution has not changed in all these years.”

He then added that “even if the ground is not ripe at this moment to restart negotiations, the United States and my administration will not give up on trying to bring the Palestinians and Israelis and both sides closer together.”

Biden then flew to Saudi Arabia, where Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir clarified Riyadh’s position on CNN: “Once we have committed to a two-state settlement with a Palestinian state in the occupied territories with East Jerusalem as its capital, that’s our requirement for peace.”

Biden’s visit presented a multi-focal opportunity for the Israeli government: first, to restore a non-partisan, intimate strategic relationship with the United States; second, to fine-tune a coordinated policy to counter a nuclear-threshold Iran; third, to further reinforce the regional normalization spring-boarded by the 2020 Abraham Accords; and fourth, and most importantly, to clarify that Israel does not support either the three-state solution (which would return the West Bank to Jordan and the Gaza Strip to Egypt) or the slide toward a disastrous one-state reality.

Unfortunately, it failed to do the last of these.

The visit was potentially a golden opportunity for Israel to convey that it seeks to promote a process of gradual, responsible, continuous, and purposeful separation from the Palestinians, thereby ensuring its future as a Jewish and democratic, secure, and egalitarian state, all while respecting the Palestinian right to self-determination. All this requires courage, leadership, and national responsibility.

And the Biden administration should be hands-on in terms of both the process and the ultimate vision of a two-state reality, which is indispensable. It is attainable through a series of transitional phases, interim agreements, and independent steps, all compliant with a continuous regional, multilateral, and bilateral negotiation process.

It is clearer now that there are no shortcuts to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, contrary to what Trump and Netanyahu would have liked us to believe with the festivities over the Abraham Accords.

For us and those like us, Israelis who do not shy away from both love of our country and concern about its future as the democratic and secure nation-state of the Jewish people, the spirit of the Declaration of Independence is a lodestar.

Whenever liberal Zionist patriots like us, who served the country without batting an eye, do not deal with the occupation and its consequences, we abandon the arena and allow the continuation of the creeping annexation process. And every day that passes without advancing toward disengaging from the Palestinians and ending the occupation, the creeping annexation distances us from the possibility of changing reality.

The terminology of “shrinking the conflict” that the outgoing government has championed is linguistic whitewashing aimed at continuing the tacit annexation.

While turning a blind eye to the settlement outposts in Evyatar and Homesh and showing laxity in the face of the despicable phenomena of seriously, unruly settler violence, and most importantly categorically dismissing any dialogue with the Palestinians, Israel is blindly walking down the road of a one-state reality.

Its indifference to the ramifications of the so-called status quo is a mirror image of the Arab world’s “three nos” at the Khartoum Conference of 1967: this time, it’s no to peace, no to recognition of a Palestinian state, and no to negotiations with representatives of the Palestinian people.

There is currently no political feasibility for a two-state solution. Nevertheless, the moderate camp, with its political, civil, and public branches led by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and his colleagues, should rally around a plan and message that will promote the creation of a two-state reality and preserve the chances and conditions for future Israeli-Palestinian disengagement and creation two distinct nation-states with a border between them; call for a freeze on settlement outside the major blocs; and promote mechanisms that will enable the evacuation of settlements located east of the separation barrier.

Any other course means that the center-left is joining a policy of annexation that will lead to the loss of Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state, which would bury the Zionist enterprise and be a disaster for both us and the Palestinians.

The right-wing parties in Israel boastfully say are part of “the national camp.” In practice, they are no more than the binational camp, willfully leading us to a disastrous binational state instead of the necessary partition.

Prime Minister Lapid and the moderate camp around him should express a willingness to promote a plan aimed more ambitiously at providing a better future to generations of the some 15 million Israelis and Palestinians living in this battered land. Let us hope a second “government of change” is established after the November election, one that will adopt a step-by-step policy of advancement toward a better regional reality.

Ami Ayalon is a former commander of the Israeli Navy and head of the Israeli domestic security agency.

Gilead Sher is an Israeli attorney who served as Chief of Staff and Policy Coordinator to Israel’s former Prime Minister and Minister of Defense, Ehud Barak.

Orni Petruschka is a high-tech entrepreneur in Israel and co-founder of the Israeli independent, non-partisan organization, Blue White Future.