New UN Settlements Fight Rages; J Street Rapped

As dovish groups urge no U.S. veto, Rep. Ackerman severs ties with J Street.

01/25/11
Washington Correspondent
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A United Nations resolution condemning Israeli settlement building in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem as illegal is putting the Obama administration in an awkward squeeze — and thrusting two major pro-peace process groups into the tumultuous epicenter of the Middle East debate.

The Obama administration, which is expected to veto the resolution, nevertheless is caught between its own longstanding stance on settlements and political realities at home.

Both J Street and Americans for Peace Now, arguing that the resolution essentially mirrors longstanding U.S. policy on settlements, are calling for Washington not to veto the resolution. The move, apparently an unprecedented action for both groups, is justified by the dangerous deadlock in the region, accelerating settlement activity and the Obama administration’s indecision about what comes next, they say.

“We take this position with great pain,” said Hadar Susskind, political director for J Street. “We share the belief that the UN is not where this issue should play out. The problem is, if Israel is not engaging with the Palestinians in a constructive process and if the U.S. is not leading the way forward, the only option that is left is the international diplomatic option. It’s not what we would like to see happen.”

But J Street’s pain didn’t keep one of the group’s early supporters from breaking with it over the issue.

In a statement, Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Queens, L.I.) lashed out at J Street’s position, saying it “would effectively and unjustly place the whole responsibility for the current impasse in the peace process on Israel, and — critically — would give fresh and powerful impetus to the effort to internationally isolate and delegitimize Israel...

“I’ve come to the conclusion that J Street is not an organization with which I wish to be associated,” Ackerman said.

(In a statement, J Street leaders said Ackerman’s comment reflects “a misunderstanding of J Street’s position.”)

Major pro-Israel groups argue that anything other than a veto would complicate U.S. peace efforts in the region and send a dangerous message to the Palestinians that the region’s problems can be solved by an international body with a reputation for hostility to Israel, not by direct negotiations.

And some analysts warn that the resolution is meant to serve as a precursor to UN action recognizing a Palestinian state not created through direct negotiations with Israel.

“This is only the appetizer, getting ready for the main course,” said Aaron David Miller, a longtime State Department official who advised administrations on Middle East peace efforts for more than two decades. “It’s part of a strategy to see if [the Palestinians] can get sanction for a much more ambitious resolution. Something on the parameters of Palestinian statehood will be next.”

The tussle over UN action is taking place against the backdrop of startling, if not conclusive, revelations in the Palestine Papers — a mountain of leaked documents dealing with some of the internal communications of the Palestinian delegation in talks with Israel at the end of the Ehud Olmert government.

Those documents seem to point to a Palestinian side that was more open to direct bargaining on most of the major issues separating the two sides and more willing to offer compromise solutions than Israel — or the Palestinian Authority — has admitted. But they also point to a vast chasm between what Palestinian negotiators say privately to their Israeli counterparts and the maximalist positions they take in public.

It also comes as analysts dissect last week’s release by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) of proposed maps for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement on borders. The maps suggests several possible scenarios that would allow Israel to keep the maximum number of settlers in major settlement blocks while giving the Palestinians — with land swaps — the equivalent of 100 percent of the West Bank.

The proposal by WINEP’s David Makovsky breaks little new ground, but is remarkable because of its provenance; the group has strong ties to the pro-Israel lobby, and Makovsky enjoys the confidence of a broad spectrum of Israeli leaders, as well as top Palestinian officials and U.S. policymakers.

The UN resolution, promoted by the PA and the Arab League, is explicit in stating that “all Israeli settlement activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and constitute a major obstacle to the achievement of peace on the basis of the two-state solution.”

It goes on to condemn settlement activities “aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the territory.”

None of that is outside the longstanding parameters of U.S. policy, said Ori Nir, spokesman for APN.

“Our understanding is that its drafters made a strong effort to keep the language of the resolution within the boundaries of what is known to be U.S. policy,” he said. “So for the U.S. to veto it would be to veto its own policy, in a way.”

Groups like APN insist that with Israel accelerating settlement construction since the failure of U.S.-led efforts to extend last year’s settlement moratorium and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s toughened line on Jerusalem, the Palestinians were left with little choice but to appeal to the international body.

And they say the shock of a U.S. decision not to veto the resolution might be enough to convince the Netanyahu government to curb settlement activity even if it doesn’t agree to a formal freeze.

But other leading activists say not vetoing any final resolution would be a big mistake that would just harden the positions of Netanyahu.

Former peace negotiator Aaron David Miller said claims that a non-veto would press Israel to limit settlements and come back to the negotiating table are “bad arguments. While I’m no fan of settlement activity, there’s nothing here of value for the Obama administration. They have to remain steadfast against Palestinian efforts in New York.”

A decision not to veto, he said, would send a dangerous message to the Palestinians that they can expect “shortcuts or imposed solutions through a UN mandate.”

And after the recent departure of Labor from Netanyahu’s coalition, a decision by the Obama administration not to veto a settlements resolution could just stiffen Netanyahu’s resistance and undercut pro-peace process forces in Israeli politics.

The UN resolution comes as the Palestinians ratchet up efforts to win diplomatic recognition, or at least enhanced diplomatic status — an effort that has produced strong results in Latin America and hints of more in Europe; this week Ireland became the first nation to upgrade the Palestinian diplomatic mission to the status of an embassy.

Miller warned that the pending resolution is likely a precursor to efforts to win more extensive UN action on the parameters of Palestinian statehood.

And then there’s partisan politics.

With Republicans ascendant in Congress and eager to depict the administration as hostile to Israel, “there’s absolutely no way the administration will regard picking another fight with Israel on settlements — particularly using the UN — as a smart political move,” said a longtime pro-Israel lobbyist who asked that his name not be used. “I understand there have been discussions about whether or not to use the veto within the administration, but I’m certain political factors will convince them to do what we’ve always done and veto a one-sided resolution.”

Last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to signal that the administration was leaning in that direction, saying, “We don’t see action in the United Nations or any other forum as being helpful in bringing about that desired outcome. Our position on settlements remains as it has been.”

Even some of those arguing that a decision not to veto could promote the peace process say their effort is mostly symbolic and unlikely to succeed.

“I expect a straight veto, and the administration will justify it by saying this is a problem the parties themselves have to work out and that the international community can’t do it,” said Edward Walker, a former U.S. ambassador in Tel Aviv. Last week Walker signed a letter orchestrated by the New America Foundation’s Steve Clemons, along with controversial figures such as John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. “But it’s healthy to raise the issue and discuss it.”

Last Update:

01/31/2011 - 12:16

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To remain the vibrant democracy that it is and the beacon of morality and hope that it is supposed to represent, not only for Jews but for America and ideally for the world, Israel has to do the right thing. Period. Settlements are wrong. Period. It is nothing simpler nor more complicated than that. I'm tired of people suggesting that criticizing Israel equates to supporting terrorists. I'm sick of Jews especially falling into this narrow-minded way of thinking. I want to be proud of my country of birth and it's not easy when it misbehaves with immoral and counterproductive policies. And for those of you who want to equate pro-peace views with supporting fascism or dictatorships, I just want to remind you that Hitler himself defended his atrocities on the basis of Jews and other countries having bad intentions toward Germany. "They're out to get us" is not a legitimate reason to do evil ourselves. Shame on all you right-wing fascists, Jewish, Arab, Christian, or otherwise! So happy we have anti-extremists in this world, whether organizations like J Street or media figures like Jon Stewart.
Hi Mark, I was quite astonished that you think of me as a prolific blogger. What I have written so far about the unending Israel-Palestine conflict is negligible. I am not in competition with either Mr. Richard Silverstein or Phil Weiss. I am not in their league. What they write in their websites – Tikun Olam and Mondoweise – reaches millions of readers worldwide. They have a huge following. Their writings orbit in the stratosphere, where as I am firmly grounded at sea level, and known to very few people. But I feel quite flattered, however, and overwhelmed too, that you have tried to put me in their company. I do not know them, but I would love to meet them. They are fantastic writers. And they also have tremendous advantage when they write about the Middle East conflict because both of them are Jews, and so the fanatic supporters of Israel can not accuse them of being anti-semites without sounding rather silly. As for me, I am a follower of the great Mahatma Gandhi, the much revered apostle of peace. He has written extensively about the plight of the Palestinians, and what ever I have written on the topic conforms to not only what he has said about the Palestinians, but to what Nobel Peace Laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu has said about the plight of the Palestinians also. You have accused me of being anti-Israel. You have erred. I am not anti Israel; I am against the policy of Israeli government regarding the Palestinians. There is a difference between the two, you know. It pains me to see Israeli soldiers treating Palestinians at the check points as if they were cattle; even cattle are often treated more humanely, at least until the time of slaughter. I empathize with the Palestinians because I know how it feels like to live under occupation. India was occupied by the British for decades. But at least the British cared about what the world thought of them; the Israelis simply do not. The Israelis care about neither the world opinion, nor International Laws and UN Resolutions. Someone commented recently that I write passionately about the sufferings of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. I agree with that description of my writing. I just write passionately, without being prolific. Thank you for your comment, and regards. Yesh Prabhu, Bushkill, Pennsylvania
Whether he jumped or was pushed, Ackerman's statement is another indication J Street's attempt to become a mainstream Jewish organization has failed.
At some point J Street and far left Jews will have to be dealt with by normal Jews. Treason is treason, and I find J Street GUILTY. I await the day when punishment will be handed down.
everyone assumes the settlements are the problem- yet between 1948-1967, there was no occupation, no settlements--and still no peace. the problem is highlighted by the wikileaks- the palestinian govt tells its people one thing, and another to the israeli negotiators. when the pa has the balls to educate its people about the reality of the situation- no right of return, no jerusalem as the capital, no 100% of the west bank, then there is a chance for peace.
I applaud Congressman Ackerman.
I don't see how the United States can simply veto a resolution that so closely tracks its consistent position for the past 40 years. It may be, however, that the U.S. will be able to negotiate some changes in the resolution so that it will not appear to pre-judge the final borders of Israel and Palestine. Or, better yet, maybe Israel will agree to a settlement freeze to jump-start the negotiations and keep this resolution off the UNSC's agenda.
It is unfortunate and tragic that in the US there are a large number of senators and congressmen such as Queens Rep. Ackerman, who subscribe to the idea that “Israel’s interest should come first, and then America’s interest”. And they are urging President Obama to veto the UN Resolution regarding the illegal Israeli settlements, even though voting for the resolution is in the long term interests of the USA. First of all, the resolution is in conformity of International Laws and UN resolutions, and America’s longstanding positions of the past four US presidents, and also the “Road Map for Peace”, which both Israel and the Palestinians have signed. To ask Obama to veto the resolution is to ask him to repudiate what the US has always stood for. Also, it will be a great injustice to the much abused, oppressed, humiliated, and terrorized Palestinians, and will amount to standing with the arrogant bully of the Middle East. All our allies from the EU have declared their support for the resolution. If President Obama vetoes the resolution, the US will lose its credibility, and he will greatly tarnish his image also. Yesh Prabhu, Bushkill, Pennsylvania
Yesh Prabhu Are you in competition with Richard Silverstein and Phil Weiss for most anti Israel blogger.You should have served some time in the U.S.Military maybe you're head would be screwed on straight.I notice all these leftist Jews are so Pro American when it comes to bashing Israel.As far as being worried about U.S. Interests coming first you should have helped by Joining the Peace Corp if you're afraid of serving in the military. As far as Obama's Image being tarnished i wouldn't worry about that.From bowing to Saudi King to China's leader he's already done that
J Street - One of many organizations funded by George Soros, the billionaire hedge fund manager who pulls the strings of O'Bama in many areas - from the economy to anti-Israel positions. This explains why the man found it so easy to turn on his fellow Jews in Hungary as a teenager while the Nazis shipped them off to concentration camps in Poland. What a disgusting human being he was - and still is!
Wonder if the full page Open Letter to Congressman Ackerman from pro-Israel constituents that appeared in the Jewish Week (and elsewhere) calling him out on his J Street connection had anything to do with his reversal.
From 1947 to 1967 their were no Settlers in Judea and Samaria( the west bank)! There were also no Peace talks! When talks came about in later years, there was no talk about Settlers in the area that would stop them from talking! The middle east has only one Democracy and that is Israel! The other countries are all Dictatorships. The only way that peace will come about is through a peaceful compromise between the people living in the area! I applaud Rep. Gary Ackerman on his severing ties with j street. He should not have had them in the first place!
I think it is incredibly shameful, stupid and one-sided, that ALL of the pressure is on Israel to negotiate, give back territory, and "make nice" with the Palestinians. Where is one iota of pressure on the Palestinians to stop the incessant terrorism (especially the on-going firing of kassam rockets from Gaza at Sederot and elsewhere)? I guess its much easier ...and safer...to incessantly criticize Israel. You condemn the Palestinians...and they'll kill you. Literally. G-d save us from J-street.

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