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The Two-State Center Isn't Holding

The Task Force on Palestine struggles. "People are losing faith," al-Omari says.

Posted on December 17, 2012, at 6:55 p.m. ET

Ammar Awad / Reuters

A section of Israel's barrier runs in front of the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Two years ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton agreed to headline a fundraiser for the American Task Force on Palestine. It was a fulsome gesture of official support for what she called an “important organization,” the Washington voice of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his technocratic vision of a functional Palestinian state.

“You have helped us see past the false choices of this conflict,” Clinton said, to applause, in the Ritz Carlton ballroom. “Being pro-Palestinian does not mean you must reject Israel’s right to exist. And being pro-Israel does not mean you must deny the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people.”

Two years later, those choices look realer than ever. The loudest pro-Israel voices are increasingly maximalists who anticipate indefinite Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The energy in the Palestinian movement, too, is increasingly on the side of those who favor a “one-state solution.” Fayyad is now viewed, as The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier wrote recently, as a “tragic figure.”

The center is not holding. And the American Task Force on Palestine, and the American hopes for which it stands, are struggling.

“People are losing faith,” said Ghaith al-Omari, a former official within the Palestinian Authority and the executive director of the Task Force, which was founded by a Palestinian physician. “The committed core of donors are people that understand what the deal is. But it is becoming a bit more difficult in terms of convincing the public at large.”

In particular, he acknowledged, the Task Force — just two years after its glamorous vote of support from Clinton — isn't as robust as it used to be. In 2010, the last year for which numbers are publicly available, the organization raised and spent nearly $1 million.

“You see the general public in a sense moving away from donating to two-state solution organizations,” al-Omari said.

That sense of despair at an American project has become a broad feature of what used to be called the “peace process” debate.

“I no longer believe that peace between Israelis and Palestinians will occur in my lifetime,” Wieseltier wrote in his much-discussed essay. “I have not changed my views; I have merely lost my hopes.”

That mood has been shaping an American debate increasingly dominated by more confrontational voices on each sides, as the energy bleeds to the edges and once-taboo ideas about one state, under either flag, begin to be heard.

“There’s a shift going on,” said the Jerusalem Fund’s Executive Director Yousef Munayyer, who makes the case for a single binational state. “That’s a shift that’s moving away from a two-state outcome.”

Munayyer’s views have begun to get mainstream media play. He appeared on Andrea Mitchell’s MSNBC show the day that the U.N. voted to upgrade the Palestinians’ status to non-member observer state, for instance, and has been a guest on the network’s “Up With Chris Hayes.”

“So many people’s careers have been tied up in a two state outcome,” Munayyer argued. “From a personal perspective it’s impossible for them to think about a one state outcome.”

The media landscape has also shifted online. Phil Weiss’s MondoWeiss, a liberal blog that backs a one-state solution, has gained traction in a new, left-of center online political space.

“I think the thing that has changed the situation to some extent is the media landscape, and now the Internet makes things to some extent more democratic and those voices are harder to ignore,” said Ali Abunimah, a Chicago-based one-state backer whose blog Electronic Intifida was long a lone American voice promoting the one state cause.

On the pro-Israel side, meanwhile, Americans are also hearing from foes of a two-state solution. The most important Republican political donor of the cycle, Sheldon Adelson, is equally active in Israeli politics (he owns a newspaper there) and has been outspoken in his opposition to the traditional plan for a negotiated peace.

“The two-state solution is a stepping stone for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people,” he told the Jewish Week.

The Israeli settler movement has long been premised on the notion of a Greater Israel stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan, and has always drawn strength from some American supporters — but those figures have increasingly found allies in Republicans like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who is closely allied with settler leaders and has visited Israeli towns in the West Bank.

These new maximalist voices also include Caroline Glick, a Chicago native and former Israeli Defense Forces soldier who now writes at the Jerusalem Post and posited in May that “there is no chance whatsoever that the two state paradigm can work.”

Other Washington figures closer to the organized Republican Party, in particular, have little time for the old peace process narrative.

"Why is there such urgency to do something about the conflict when right now it's not amenable to a solution?”said Noah Pollak, the director of the Emergency Committee for Israel, who accused the Palestinians of “refusing to negotiate for three years.”

“Everyone's been trying to force this thing at least since 1991, and as we've seen, sometimes you make things worse the harder you push,” Pollak said.

The remaining hope for two-staters is that, despite the new energy on the edges, the alternative remains unclear.

“There’s no credible constituency on either side of divide that is promoting a one state solution,” former U.S. peace negotiator Aaron David Miller told BuzzFeed.

But “what enables the despairers on both sides is reality,” he said. “The fact is that the two state solution right now is under assault in the region by leaders who are unwilling and uninterested in promoting it.”

Despair has immediate consequences in Washington for the American Task Force on Palestine and other organizations formed to push a quick two-state deal. The Task Force, for instance, was badly weakened when its board split over the question of whether or not to support Palestinian attempts to seek recognition at the United Nations, and away from the negotiating table; the group did not ultimately support the move, infuriating some Palestinian-American activists.

“What do groups like [the liberal pro-Israel group] J Street do when it’s becoming clear that there’s no avenue for diplomacy?” asked Zvika Krieger, a senior Vice President at the Center for Middle East Peace. “What do they do when there’s no feasible pathway for resolving it?”

“I think that we’re in the kind of holding pattern twilight zone that we’ve been in for a long time for the presidential campaign, and that’s about to end,” said Alan Elsner, J Street’s vice president for communications.

The Task Force’s al-Omari said he’s worried that the next stop for the spreading apathy is U.S. policy-makers.

“I’m afraid that because of the complexity and challenges what we will see is even the policy world giving up,” he said. “When you have this kind of energized conversation about alternatives, those who want a two solution, it becomes harder for us.”