The organized liberal Jewish community has a new vision: that President Obama will use the lame duck period of his presidency to make a major initiative on the Israel/Palestine conflict and introduce resolutions at the United Nations Security Council to condemn settlements and/or set out the parameters of a two-state solution.
Thus Obama will establish a more assertive U.S. policy in favor of Palestinian human rights and self-determination that the next president will live by.
Hillary Clinton won’t let him go forward with such a resolution now because it would capsize her campaign. But when he does it in November or December– after she is elected president, according to the scenario– then she will say, There is only one US president at a time, and Obama’s policy is my inherited policy.
The dream was alive at J Street’s gala dinner the other night. Both Joe Biden and John Kerry were coming: that was a huge score for the liberal Zionist organization. President Obama invited members of J Street’s youth chapter into the White House last Friday. Morton Halperin the chairman of the J Street board (and the father of political talking head Mark Halperin) said that the torch had been passed; J Street speaks for a majority of Jews, and has endorsed most of the Democratic Congress, which will have the president’s back:
We have not given up our hopes that this administration will before it ends, lay out the parameters for a two state solution and lay out its opposition to settlements that is more meaningful and specific.
Then Biden and Kerry spoke, and the wealthy elderly legion at J Street (fyi, I’m 60) derived hope from the following statements. Biden:
Despite our overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government, we have an obligation to push them as hard as we can… at the same time being a guarantor, an absolute guarantor of their security.
I can tell you that for these next nine months we will not stop working to find a way…
[N]o matter how many times we hear people tell us the goal is unattainable, they can’t do it, they’re not ready, I remember the words of Mandela: “Nothing is impossible until it is done.”
The J Street people believe that Obama owes it to them because they helped him get the Iran deal. The theme of the evening was: Obama wouldn’t have gotten the Iran deal if we had not taken on AIPAC inside the official Jewish community. J Street took on AIPAC and cracked the monolith and signaled to politicians around the country, they could support the deal and still get Jewish backing and not get their heads handed to them in the next election. J Street is justly proud of this. And by the way, Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council and Joe Cirincione of Ploughshares were in the hall that night; they also delivered the Iran deal. As did Jewish Voice for Peace, Code Pink and a lot of grassroots groups.
Do I actually believe that Obama will come up with a November surprise? Why not? He should do something. But will it mean anything or have any effect; that is the real question. Kerry gave the same Mandela mantra three years ago, and it’s done nothing. The despairing mood of the J Street dinner was that Netanyahu and the Israeli government are too far gone to be saved. We have been trying to tell them this for years. J Street is always too late to grasp the reality. Max Blumenthal tried to give them the news three years ago and was censored. J Street wants the United States to save Israel from itself with outside pressure, but it is unwilling to sign on to the most significant pressure campaign so far, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, because it wants nothing to do with anti-Zionists. At J Street, they still dream of a “democratic Jewish state.” Stav Shaffir, the young redheaded Labor member of Knesset, repeatedly called Israel and Zionism “miracle”s, then talked about Palestinian terrorists and how much they threaten Israelis; now please tell me, how do you get 20 percent of your population that is subjugated by Zionism to subscribe to Zionism? Labor didn’t dare say a word about peace in the last election; the train left the station on the two-state paradigm a while ago.
But let us stay with J Street’s political dream for a moment. It would be a good thing if the U.S. condemned settlements (finally) and a good thing if the U.S. opposed Israeli expansion. Such a move could change the dynamic of the global politics of the issue. It would lessen American power, and thus Israeli power; it would give Europe greater clout. It would be a sign that some day the U.S. will sanction Israel. When Joe Biden talked about how much money the U.S. is going to throw at Israel with the new memorandum of understanding, people in the hall were quiet. A lot of these J Streeters in their wirerimmed glasses understand that Israel is committing human rights abuses with that money. Some of them have kids who are in JVP or IfNotNow, or who don’t care about Zionism. Some of them understand why Palestinians resist. (Some of them know that the American revolution began when the British massacred five people in Boston in 1770 to quiet the mob, and Israel massacred 500 children in Gaza two summers ago out of the same tyrannical principle.)
Kerry and Biden’s speeches at J Street were both lackluster. Kerry hugged his former campaign finance director Louis Susman on the stage and told some funny stories about his presidential dream, but he seemed to phone in the policy bits. Biden leaned over the podium like he was with buddies at his dinner table. That’s when the unscripted bit about “overwhelming frustration with the Israeli government” slipped out.
The real fear at J Street is that Obama doesn’t really care about Israel any more. The Obama administration got its Iran deal and Israel has ceased to be a threat to world peace, and it’s slipping into rogue state status. Back in 2010 and 2011 it felt like Israel was going to start World War III with Jeffrey Goldberg riding shotgun. Now that is done with. The realists have won. Israel and Palestine is just another pot of human rights violations bubbling on the back burner. Obama will do a November surprise, but it will be lip service.