Jeremy Ben-Ami, Founder an dCEO of J-Street
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Ron Pundak, director of Peres Centre for Peace
photo by Rhonda Spivak

J-Street lobbyists go to Capital Hill, Washington D.C.
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Pundak of Peres Centre favours Obama initiative to impose a solution, rather than organize protests in Israel to try to bring down Netanyahu’s government

[This is the second in a series of special reports from the Editor of the Winnipeg Jewish Review covering the J Street Convention in Washington] First piece can be found at:

In a session to train the approximately 500-700 J-Street activists who stormed Capital Hill today that was closed to the press, the activists were given a copy of a letter to lobby their member of congress to sign, which calls on Obama to not reduce foreign aid to Israel and also to encourage consistent aid to the Palestinians [emphasis add]. The complete text of the letter to Obama is set out at the end of this article. In a companion letter dated February 24, 2011 Members of Congress Jan Schakowsky and Anna Eshoo invitied their colleagues to join them in sending this “J-Street letter” to the President.

One J-Street delegate said he was told in the private training meeting that “the Obama administration was set to increase aid to the Palestinian Authority for the upcoming year from its current level “because it needs the extra for state building.” Already, the United States has given over half a billion dollars in aid to the Palestinians in fiscal year 2010.

However, at the same time that J-Street activists were lobbying Congress to increase aid to the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad, PA Prime Minister was calling for national reconciliation between the PA that rules the West Bank and Hamas which rules Gaza. In the event that such a reconciliation took place, it is questionable whether legally the U.S would be able to continue to provide funding (or other services like training PA security forces) to a Palestinian government that would include Hamas, a designated terrorist organization. It is hard to see how the Republucan House of Representatives would support this funding, and arguably this issue would become a political hot potatoe.

On March 6, Ha ‘aretz reported that Hamas’s Khaled Meshal said that Fatah should reconcile on the basis of “jihad” against Israel.

According to a J Street activist the lobby group gave its activists “a series of talking points” to raise when they were on Capital Hill which included “pushing the administration” to be pro-active in laying out a new initiative for a two state solution without delay.

The activist said that the “if there is no two state solution, the Obama administration and others, such as Canada will potentially have to send peace keeping forces in the West Bank if a PA state is not established to prevent chaos.”

He expressed the view that “It’s better to spend the foreign aid now to ensure there is a stable PA state than have to send in more later on to clean up the chaos.”

Another activist going to lobby his congress member said that Hamas would agree to accepting a PA state based on the 1967 border, because he believes that “If the PA makes a deal, Hamas will agree to allow a referendum on the point and if there is an overwhelming majority they’ll have to agree.” As of now however Hamas has made no has such commitment, has not formally recognized Israel’s right to exist and also hasn’t abandoned armed struggle.

Another female activist indicated that in a national election Abbas would win as President “as who else would there be.” When this reporter said Hamas may win, she said “Oh.”

Other J Street female activists having breakfast at their hotel were saying to each other that they can’t understand what Israel could possibly be thinking in not already agreeing to implement a Palestinian state based on the 67 lines. “It is a siege mentality,” one said. “It is fear and paranoia” another said. “Yes, it is paranoia, I’m glad you are a psychologist so you know what paranoia is.”

In a session at the conference, Ron Pundak, director of the Peres Centre for Peace, a participating organization in the J-Street conference criticized “the person in the White house” for “doing nothing” to make a two state solution to become reality. He also said that Obama should take action in the very near future.

When asked why he was calling on Obama to essentially impose a solution on the parties, rather than getting out on the streets and working to convince Israelis of his position and cause his government to fall, Pundak replied: “ But, how do we do it?,

He added, ‘This is also an international interest not only our interest. We don’t have a government which is willing to move forward so we need to compose [impose?] something.”

When asked why he doesn’t organize demonstrations that get hundreds of thousands of people protesting demanding a two state solution, so that maybe he’d bring his government down, Pundak replied:

“..Hopefully through democratic processes we’ll bring them down. But elections are in a year or two-maximum two- let’s hope it happens.”

When asked if it wasn’t the case that if there were hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the streets calling for a change in government it might quicken it’s downfall, Pundak responded “I can wait until elections.”

This reporter replied; “But you haven’t said that. You’ve said the contrary?.[that a Palestinian state is needed immediately and you can’t wait]

He replied, “Bye. Bye.’

Afterward a J-Street delegate who overheard our exchange came up to me to say that the reason the Left in Israel isn’t out demonstrating is that they would be lucky if they could get a few thousand, maybe 10,000 Jewish leftists at the most to demonstrate for Netanyahu signing a deal now with Abbas.

This reporter suggested to him that the reason for that is that Israelis don’t think Abbas can deliver-he hasn’t prepared his people for the compromises it would take to get to a deal in the West Bank. And moreover, even if for the sake of argument, Abbas signed a deal, most Israelis suspect a deal would be worthless when a month or two later after his regime could be overthrown and Hamas would take over with an agenda to eliminate Israel.


Dear Mr. President,

We write in the wake of historic events in the Middle East over the past month, recognizing that these are critical times for the people of the Arab world, for us as Americans, and for our ally Israel.

We support your effort to shape American policy in the region in ways that promote democracy, more open societies, strong economies and lasting security-all of which are essential to the long term interests of the United States, Israel and the people of the Middle East. The United States as the global champion of democracy and freedom, must stand with people across the region who are advocating peacefully for their rights and freedoms and to improve their lives.

In this context, we support your administration’s efforts to prevent reductions in foreign aid that advance U.S. interests in the Middle East and to forestall efforts to separate aid to Israel from other assistance. We are committed to working in Congress toward continuing this important aid and appreciate your support of these efforts. We also write to express our support for your administration’s active promotion of a stable and secure future for the region, in part by continuing to work with the parties and other regional actors toward a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

We also strongly support your budget request providing $3.075 billion in assistance to Israel as agreed upon in the 2007 Memorandum of Understanding between Israel and the United states. Israel faces very real challenges to its security, and reducing or otherwise endangering aid to Israel by removing it form the broader foreign aid package would be unproductive. At the exact moment Israel is being asked to take significant steps for peace, Israelis should know that the United States remains fully committed to their security.

We also encourage consistent aid to the Palestinian Authority. Your request for continued strong funding to strengthen institution and state building efforts in the West Bank, to grow the economy, meet basic needs, and reduce the risk of terror aimed at Israel will greatly benefit the peace process. Moreover, a viable and stable PA is essential to achieving a negotiated, peaceful solution with Israel.

This moment in the Middle East represents an opportunity to reaffirm the United States’ leadership, vital to achieving a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that establishes two states for two people living side by side in peace and security. We offer our support for your efforts to make a better future in the Middle East a reality.