‘J Street’ leader hints that 2013 is make-or-break for two-state solution

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J Street, the liberal Zionist group, asserts that Obama will be reviving the two-state solution on his trip to Israel and Palestine in March, and the theme of its Fall 2013 conference is that it’s now J Street’s time to lead the American Jewish community– i.e., not AIPAC. The group’s latest messaging balances an acknowledgment of Palestinian “anger” and “frustration” under occupation with affirmation of the need for a Jewish state: in March, J Street Miami is screening the Gatekeepers, the Oscar-nominated documentary in which former heads of the Shin Bet call for an end to the occupation, though as my tipster points out, it’s not screening “5 Broken Cameras,” the film about occupation told from a Palestinian point of view, which is far more descriptive of actual oppression.

Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, just got back from a trip to Israel and Palestine with four congresspeople and sent out an email in which he speaks of Palestinian anger and frustration, notes that Israeli two-staters don’t seem to hold out much hope for the Obama trip, and describes Gaza, which he did not visit, as “Hamas-controlled Gaza.”

I’d point out that Ben-Ami’s elected companions were all liberal Democrats, two of them African-American. So J Street is operating on the left of the mainstream discourse. Some of Ben-Ami’s email:

The J Street delegation met with Knesset Members from four different factions – and consistently heard that the election results represented widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo on social and economic issues and left the Prime Minister scrambling. However, we heard equally clearly that the election did not constitute a referendum on the Palestinian question. While the number of strong advocates for a two-state solution increased in the new Knesset, there continues to be little public discussion of or attention to the conflict or the urgency of achieving a two-state solution overall.

Obama’s trip: We spoke a lot about the Obama trip – what he should say and do while he is here. Some Israelis have already written the trip off saying that he’s not going to do anything related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and they are taking the White House’s clear statements that he won’t be bringing a plan as a sign that the trip is not serious….

Our group urged those we met with not to misread the signs around the trip and to recognize just how serious the President and Secretary of State Kerry are about addressing the conflict. We urged them to pay careful attention to the style and tone of the trip and to keep a close eye on the follow-up actions in the coming months. Progress toward an end of the conflict won’t happen as the result of one trip, but the President’s commitment to a serious and sustained effort is what we should be seeking

Urgency: Finally, we came back with a strong sense of the urgency that is being felt on the Palestinian side. Tension is high and those who have supported the institution-building program of Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad are very worried that the program is on the verge of collapse in the absence of sustained commitments of funding and a lack of political progress.

We heard very clearly the rising anger and frustration from Palestinians. While we were there, prisoners were on hunger strike again, large-scale protests were building, and it seems there is very little recognition of the rising frustration among Palestinians on the Israeli side of the green line. 

We ended the trip convinced that 2013 is an important year for diplomatic efforts. If the President does not take concrete steps now to advance a two-state resolution, it may be quite a while before opportunities present themselves again.

It seems to me that Ben-Ami is hinting at a deadline there, of 2013. If there is no progress this year on the holy grail of the two-state solution, much as he may be willing to wait for further “opportunities,” Ben-Ami knows that many liberal Zionists will begin to choose liberalism over Zionism….

I see that one of them, Bradley Burston, writing in Haaretz, shares my view that the occupation is as bad as the pre-Civil War south: 

I realize now that I am an abolitionist and that occupation is slavery….I realize how many, many people I know, people in that unnamed, largely unorganized group I belong to, are abolitionists as well, people for whom the central, the crucial, the overriding issue facing Israel and Israelis – and Jews the world over – is how to bring the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to an end.

Burston seems to think that ending the occupation will end the problem. But if you call yourself an abolitionist in 2013, you recognize the historical sweep of the anti-slavery movement in the U.S.: you look back over 160 years and acknowledge that in the 1850s, many ab0litionists opposed freedoms that we take for granted today (intermarriage, women and blacks voting)– so even those noble activists did not anticipate the full ramifications of an equality movement. From our vantage, we can say that abolitionism didn’t reach its fulfillment till a black-led civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s overturned legalized discrimination. Isn’t maintaining a Jewish state with 20 percent non-Jews, a state whose governing coalitions exclude non-Jewish parties, analogous to the Jim Crow south?

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