Israelis living in the West Bank have a message to politicians and world Jewry: The two-state solution is no solution.
Members of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization that represents the Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and, up until the 2005 Israeli disengagement, Gaza, have ramped up outreach in an effort to open up dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I would say we’re less trying to advocate a particular solution to the conflict other than to suggest the two-state solution, as its been understood for last 20 years, is not workable and has been proven unsuccessful and has only made peace more elusive and further away,” said Elie Pieprz, director of external affairs for the council.
While statements such as Pieprz’s are rarely heard from American politicians and not generally accepted in the organized Jewish community, the Yesha Council is hoping to engage those who don’t share similar views with op-ed pieces, public forums, stories from the settlements and mission trips to the settlements.
“We neglected the outside world, including the Jewish community in America and Europe,” Dani Dayan, the council’s chief foreign envoy, said of the settlement movement’s previous outreach strategy. “We are talking to engage both in the political arena, the media arena and the Jewish arena.”
Both Pieprz and Dayan attended the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in National Harbor, Md., last month, where Vice President Joe Biden was among the speakers advocating for the two-state solution.
“We do not have an illusion that we will come and convince everyone, but we are in the business of shifting perceptions and dispelling stereotypes of the so-called settlements,” said Dayan. “Slowly and surely and we hope steadily to change the course of the political discourse also in the Jewish community.”
Around the same time of the GA, Raphaella Segal, assistant mayor of Kedumim in Samaria, was speaking to Jewish communities in Pittsburgh and New York. The 61-year-old, who is one of the founders of Kedumim, speaks about what the communities of the West Bank are like — such as the industrial factories where Jews and Palestinians work side-by-side — and explains how important the communities are to the strength and future of Israel.
“I think the majority of the politicians, they are against us. It’s very unpleasant,” she said. “In Israel there’s a kind of awareness and awakening to understanding this [two-state solution] is not going to work. On the other hand, the pressure is greater after the Gaza war.”
In addition to networking with diplomats and international media, the Yesha Council takes elected officials on tours of the region. U.S. Rep. Andy Harris, whose congressional district includes Maryland’s Eastern Shore and parts of Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties, went on one such trip this past May. He told the Tazpit News Agency that the trip was eye-opening.
“We met with Israeli residents who just want to live their lives, to coexist with their neighbors,” Harris told Tazpit. “They want to leave politics out of it. It was impressive to see how these communities actually function and how well they get along with their surroundings.”
Among the places Harris’ group saw on its trip was Ariel University, an Israeli university located in the West Bank that has Jewish and Arab students and faculty members.
“So many of their expectations are just shattered,” Pieprz said of the trip.
He believes that if alternatives to the two-state solution were considered and that if political leaders accepted the conflict might not be solved in the immediate future, there could be discussion about improving living conditions of Palestinians and rebuilding trust between the Israelis and their neighbors.
Although the Yesha Council isn’t advocating for a particular solution, Pieprz points to security checkpoints when discussing what could improve. He mentions looking at the security barrier around Tel Aviv and discussing what checkpoints could be taken down.
“Even some other things like making sure that when we have checkpoints, it’s done in a way that’s respectful to the Palestinians,” he added. “Avoid having young people in their 20s in a position of authority to those in their 50s and 60s. There’s things like that Israel could be doing that could make things a little better.”
He also mentioned renovating refugee camps, since there is an assumption that Palestinians in those camps would be losing their political refugee claims if they returned home, and therefore probably won’t, he said.
“Let’s go see what we can do in the interim without anyone giving up any political bargaining chips,” he said. “I think that Israel can do some very positive tangible things on the ground in the short-term, which might lead to an environment where we see a positive resolution to the conflict.”