President Shimon Peres gives greetings to J-Street Conference notwithstanding J Street Stance on UN Resolution on Settlements Vetoed By Obama.
photo by Rhonda Spivak

March 1, 2010

Pundak of Peres Centre says Abbas and Fayyad are “dream ticket”:Peres and Livni send greetings to J-street conference

MK Nachman Shai “hesitated” about coming after J-Street stance in favour of UN resolution on settlements vetoed by Obama but came anyway

Washington- Dr. Ron Pundak, director of the Peres Centre for Peace addressed the J-Street Conference, referring to PA President Mahmoud Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as a “dream ticket,” saying that Israel “will not find better leaders working for peace.”

Pundak indicated that he believed that Israel should arrive at an agreement with this “dream ticket,” – without delay – but that “unfortunately we do not have on our side a similar dream team”.

He praised Abbas and Fayyad for being “pragmatic” and said that by September 2011 there will be a crisis as the PA will be ready for statehood, and an American “move” is needed to push for an agreement between Israel and the PA. “Some say that the PA will collapse” if there is not an American move to push for Palestinian statehood. “Some say that is good. Some think its not.”, said Pundak who believes that the latter is the case.

Pundak’s endorsement of the current PA leadership was echoed by Member of Knesset Nachman Shai of Kadima who told the J-Street conference that “ Israel should get immediately into negotiations,” saying that it is in Israel’s interest to see a Palestinian state “next to us.”

Shai added, “This is the opportunity. I don’t see a better leadership in the future than Abbas and Fayyad.” and future Palestinian leadership “can only be worse.”

At the J-Street Conference President Shimon Peres dispatched a letter of greeting, dated February 26, 2011, which was distributed in the package of material each delegate received podium, saying that “It is with distinct pleasure that I greet the participants of the Second National J-Street conference and wish you a fruitful event.”

What makes the date of the Peres presidential letter most newsworthy was that it was written after J-Street called on the US to support the PLO resolution at the UN Security Council calling for the halt of settlement construction, including east Jerusalem which the Obama administration vetoed after all other permanent members were in favor.

On the very day that the PA is calling for “national reconciliation” with Hamas which does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, Peres wrote that, “This is a tumultuous time, but it is also a time of opportunity. An opportunity to rekindle the peace negotiations with the Palestinians leading to two states for two peoples-democratic states based on science and technology-that live side by side.”

Peres, wrote in his letter to J Street that “quiet diplomacy overcomes the prejudices and polarization is replaced by compromises. And combined with the art of policy making it secure the support of the respective publics, peace becomes tangible, for the remaining gaps are small and can be bridged.” [emphasis added]

In an statement to this reporter after his speech at the J Street conference, Pundak expressed satisfaction that even though the Israeli government chose not to send Ambassador Michael Oren or any representative from the government to the J-Streeet conference, Peres as President saw fit to send formal greetings to the conference.

“Peres believes in [ going in] one direction and the [Israeli] government believes in another. Peres is a man who believes in pursuing peace in any way, in any option and the [Israeli government under Netanyahu] is the opposite,” said Pundak. He noted that the current Israeli government was doing all it could to thwart a peace agreement.

“So there’s a conflict between two lines” [that of Peres and the Israeli government], Pundak added.

Pundak added that “The Peres center very much supports the activities of J-Street”, confirming that the Peres centre is one of the “participating organizations” at the conference.

When asked if the Peres Center was funding the conference, Pundak said “no, we didn’t fund it.” He added that the Peres Centre itself is “looking for money” and is itself short of funds.

He said that initially the Peres Centre had received a lot of funding when it was set up, but that it is now shy of funds.

Amy Spitalnick, spokesperson for J-Street indicated that “We don’t have sponsors” of the conference.

“We have participating organizations.They are involved in recruiting for the conference. They have their representation at the conference. We give out their information. There are 30 participating organizations as opposed to 20 last year.”

Spitalnick also noted with pride that J-Streeet conference had many more paid staff at this years conference compared to last year’s, showing the group is not shy of funds. “We have 50 paid staff” for this years conference [50 staff for 2000 delegates is a 1:400 ratio] as opposed to 16 staff last year. Last year the conference had 1500 delegates.

In a letter dated February 15, Tzipi Livni, Leader of the Opposition, Head of the Kadima Party also dispatched greeting to the conference, saying that “realizing the vision of Two states for Two Peoples, livng side by side in peace and security is a core interest of the State of Israel and is needed in order to secure Israel’s values as a Jewish and democratic state.”

She added that “Peace between Israel and the Palestinians is possible. Recent momentous events in the region serve to highlight the unsustainable nature of the status quo and the need for initiative and courage in Israel’s pursuit of peace and security with the Palestinians and across the Middle East.”

Livni conferred legitimacy on the J Street conference by writing “The discussion within the pro-Israel community about how best to advance this goal should be based on respecting differing opinions that are motivated by love and commitment to Israel’s security and its future. While we may sometimes disagree, what unites us as a people must always be greater than the viewpoints that separate us.”

In an interview Shai said that he had “hesitated” in coming to the J-Street conference after the lobby group had called on the American government to support the Palestinian resolution at the United Nations Security Council calling for a halt to construction over the green line, but that in the end he decided “that attending the conference was too important.”

He said he disagreed with J-Street’s position regarding the resolution, but also criticized the Israeli Foreign ministry for not sending a representative like they did the previous year not to address the conference, but at least “to be present and talk to delegates.”

Shai emphasized that there were “500 young people” who attended the conference and that Israel could not afford to not reach out to them.

He said he had never been to a conference which focused only on the Israeli -Palestinian conflict and not on other issues such as aliya, immigration and economic development.

Yoel Hassan, Member of Knesset and party whip for Kadima and head of the Two State Lobby in the Knesset told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that J-Street’s stance regarding the Palestinian resolution to the United Nations Security Council was a “mistake” [Ta-oot] but that J-Street is definitely a “legitimate” organization.

Hassan, is currently the second youngest member of the Knesset and was an advisor and member of staff of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

MK Orit Zuaretz of Kadima said that someone wanted to stop the appearance of the Kadima MK’s badly enough that they paid for “80,000” members of Kadima to receive phone calls to try to stop them from coming.

The attendance of 500 students at the conference in addition to many other younger delegates under the age of 40 gave the conference a very youthful look. Students were able to receive travel subsidy to attend.

One conference delegate said J-Street has invested heavily in young people. “If I know Jeremy Ben-Ami, it’s not an accident. He wants to show that this generation of American Jews is coming to J-Street not to AIPAC.”

It was clear that there was internal division within J-Street delegates regarding J-Street’s stance calling on President Obama to support rather than veto the resolution on settlements. This was voiced by Rabbi David Saperstein whose address made it clear that J-Street had alienated some supporters, including Democratic Congressman Ackerman and other conservative Rabbis who were deeply and understandably uncomfortable with it when there was little chance of having its position being adopted by the American administration. Rabbi Saperstein, who heads the Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement and has been described as the Rabbi who is closest to President Obama, issued a public warning to J Street that they risked their credibility with mainstream public opinion by asking Obama to join the anti Israel forces at the UN.

“You lose your political and media clout if you lose your mainstream wing,” said Saperstein. “Successful strategy and tactics need to consider not only the theoretical decisions you take but the practical impact of those you choose.”

He noted that so many Jews, on the Left as well as the Right, so distrust the UN on Israel that supporting a resolution is seen as supporting the UN’s stance on the Jewish state.

“You know that the vast majority of the members of Congress that you support and support you while criticizing Israel’s settlement policy cannot support UN condemnation, and you will put them all in a very difficult position, driving some to feel they have to choose between remaining with J Street,” Saperstein said.

However, MK Shai, a respected figure in the Jewish Diaspora, former Israel director of the UJC and former IDF spokesman and a member of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense committee, who attended the J Street conference after “hesitation”, did not use the opportunity before the J-street plenum, including the 500 young people to criticize J-Street for its stance regarding the UN problematic stance that J-Street had taken. A public rebuke before the J Street plenum, following the example of Rabbi Saperstein, would have been seen around the entire Jewish world and would no doubt have put heat on Jeremy Ben-Ami and decision makers at J-Street to hesitate to take such a position again, without being accountable to their constituency. Shai could have spoken out clearly but did not do so.