More on the crisis of the liberal Zionists. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, writes in the Los Angeles Times that the latest Israeli “land grab” “should be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in Washington.”
But what does breaking the camel’s back mean? Sanctioning Israel? Cutting off aid? No: The U.S. should shift its language from saying settlements are “unhelpful” to saying they’re “illegal.” And “It’s time for the United States to make its words mean something.” Huh, what does that mean?
if the United States were merely to state that it was undertaking a thorough, top-to-bottom review of its policy toward Israeli settlements, a review involving all relevant departments of the federal government, that would certainly cause Israel to take notice.
Do we really need another “thorough review” to know that these colonies are illegal? Ben-Ami says if the Obama administration declared the Israeli colonies “illegal,” under the Fourth Geneva Convention, “ordinary Israelis would understand that their government’s determination to push on with settlements was causing real, serious damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship.”
And this would make a difference to Israel?
clear terminology would empower opponents of these settlement decisions within the Israeli Cabinet, including Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have to explain to voters how he justifies his settlement policy in the context of the harm it would be doing to the U.S.-Israel alliance, as well as the wider diplomatic discredit Israel is facing around the world.
Then Ben-Ami equivocates. After all, he’s trying to get his organization into the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations; and you don’t get into the club by calling for cutting off aid to Israel.
It may be true that the land, which is being expropriated from five Palestinian villages, lies within one of the settlement blocs likely to be retained by Israel in any prospective peace deal. But until there is such an agreement, this kind of land grab can only be seen as a blatant unilateral move to create new facts on the ground.
But the occupation has gone on for nearly 50 years with this kind of handwringing from liberal Zionists doing nothing to impede it. This is why the group IfNotNow has formed out of J Street’s own rank and file. They seem to want more than reviews and lip service (though what concrete action they favor is up in the air). I can’t wait for the next J Street conference. With this kind of one-the-one-had/on-the-other messaging, I wonder who will show up.