Friday, September 27, 2013

Obama’s Shift from AIPAC to J Street

by Joseph Puder


J Street, the self-described pro-Israel and pro-peace organization, has announced on its website that U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will be its keynote speaker at its annual conference scheduled to commence on September 28, 2013. Hitherto, President Obama has been unwilling to authorize his high-ranking officials to participate in the J Street conferences. However, Valerie Jarrett, a Chicago buddy of Barack Obama, who now serves as Senior Advisor to Obama and as Assistant to the president for Public Engagement and Intergovernmental Affairs, was a major presenter at J Street’s 2012 conference. The significance of Biden’s acceptance of the invitation is that it may signal an Obama administration shift from supporting the traditional Jewish mainstream positions of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on Israel to that of the left-leaning, and openly Democratic Party stalwart J Street.

Clearly, Barack Obama no longer needs AIPAC to help him win a presidential election.  He does, however, want and need Jewish Democrat participation in the 2014 Congressional elections in order to take away the House of Representatives from the Republicans. He would like to reward Nancy Pelosi with the House Speakership. The preservation of ObamaCare is particularly important for Obama’s personal legacy.

In the realm of foreign policy, Obama seeks the coveted legacy of being the peace-maker between Israel and the Palestinians.  He is cognizant that his recent predecessors have all failed in their quest to bring accommodation, if not peace. Bill Clinton’s Oslo Accords are in a shambles and Arafat’s September, 2000 intifada saw to that. Israelis rejected the Oslo Accords twice by electing Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister. The Palestinians, as well, did not get what they were promised by Arafat: a collapsed Israel that will give way to an Arab Islamic Palestine from the River to the Sea. George W. Bush’s Road Map has had torturous twists and has led to nowhere. Obama has decided that his approach, which is the same as J Street, would make the difference.

The J Street blog (September 24, 2013) points with pride to President Obama’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly, suggesting that Obama adopted J Street’s vision of peace between Israel and the Palestinians (which Palestinians,  Hamas or Fatah?) based on the two-state solution. J Street stated that it “welcomes that call and urges other American Jewish organizations to do the same.” The blog quoted Obama saying, “Friends of Israel, including the United States, must recognize that Israel’s security as a Jewish and democratic state depends on the realization of a Palestinian state. And we should say so clearly.”  The President stressed that “Israel’s future as a democracy and a Jewish homeland depended on reaching peace with the Palestinians. There’s a growing recognition within Israel that the occupation of the West Bank is tearing at the democratic fabric of the Jewish state.”

J Street also welcomed Obama’s pledge to test the “diplomatic path in an effort to solve the nuclear crisis with Iran peacefully.”

The premise of a Palestinian State J Street shares with President Obama is naïve, if not erroneous. A Palestinian State at this stage in history will be an unstable and terrorism-prone state.  Israel’s Jewish character and its vibrant democracy have been sustained now for 46 years without a Palestinian state. And the demographic boogieman that J Street and the Israeli-left warned about is far from a reality. Recent decades, moreover, have witnessed a surge in Jewish demographic growth and a decline in Arab-Palestinian growth, as the latter become wealthier, more educated and urbanized.

The U.S. and the West have been testing the “diplomatic path” with Iran since 2009, and the only result is that it has allowed the radical Islamic regime to come closer to developing a nuclear bomb.

In its policy positions, J Street declares, “In the 21st century, we have reached a moment in history where supporting a Palestinian state is the only way to ensure Israel’s survival as a democracy and a national home for the Jewish people. Being pro-peace is, indeed, being pro-Israel.”

J Street believes that Israel must return to the June 4, 1967 boundaries, with a few modifications, such as land swaps. In the modern age of terrorism and missiles, that would be akin to what Abba Eban, Israel’s legendary Foreign Minister called “Auschwitz borders.” But, J Street endorsed President Obama’s May 19, 2011 statement. “We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”

J Street supports the division of the holy city, Jerusalem. “Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem would fall under Israeli sovereignty and the Arab neighborhoods would be under Palestinian sovereignty.” This would mean that historical and religious Jewish sites will come under Palestinian control. The Prospects of Jewish access to holy places such as the Kotel would be fraught with danger from Palestinian shooters. Moreover, the Cave of the Machpela in Hebron, (burial place of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) just like Joseph’s tomb in Nablus, would be forbidden to Jews.

J Street, like Israel’s Peace Now movement, takes the view that the settlements are an “obstacle to peace.”  When Israel agreed to the “Road Map” in 2003, it agreed to freeze settlement construction on the condition that the Palestinians would renounce their terrorist tactics and end the deadly incitement against Jews and Israelis as well as recognize Israel as a Jewish State.  Israelis, therefore, continued to expand existing settlements as needed to accommodate the “natural growth” of the inhabitants. There are no legal prohibitions on Israeli Jews living anywhere in Judea and Samaria. Arabs, after all, live in Israel, and it would be hypocritical to deny the same rights to Jews, unless of course you are Saudi Arabia or Jordan, which are legally “judenrein.”
According to J Street:
Continued settlement growth undermines the prospects for peace by making Palestinians doubt Israeli motives and commitment, and by complicating the territorial compromises that will be necessary in final status talks. The arrangements that have been made for the benefit of settlers and for security – checkpoints, settler-only roads, and the route of the security barrier – have all made daily life more difficult for Palestinians, deepening hostility and increasing the odds of violence and conflict.
Suffice it to say that under the Oslo Accords, Area C, where virtually all Jewish settlements are located, was designated to be under both Israeli military and civilian control. Areas A and B are under Palestinian control. Once the border issues are negotiated, it is more than likely that significant portions of area C would become part of Israel.

It is understandable why Obama supports J Street. The latter group fully supports his vision of an Israeli-Palestinian peace. What is hard to understand is Biden’s move to please J Street. Biden has been the most hawkish pro-Israel member of Obama’s team, and a frequent guest of AIPAC. The Louis Susman factor is one reason. Susman, one of Obama’s chief campaign-contribution bundlers, has also been a close friend of Biden. J Street recruited Susman to be a member of their board and used his influence to bring Biden to the J Street conference. In considering a run for the U.S. Presidency, Biden needs people like Susman. But, it could also signal the Obama administration open shift from supporting the traditional Jewish mainstream positions of AIPAC on Israel to that of J Street.

Joseph Puder


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