WASHINGTON – Amid buzz ahead of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech at
the UN and his meeting with US President Barack Obama, top Israeli officials
appeared at the annual conference for J Street, an activist organization founded
to lobby for a two-state agreement between Israel and the
The start of this year’s conference in the US capital came
after major speeches from Obama and PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United
Nations highlighted the need for a final-status agreement.
President Jeremy Ben-Ami told The Jerusalem Post that he hopes Netanyahu, in his
speech to the UN General Assembly, shows that “his government and he is indeed
serious” about forging peace.
“I don’t believe in the concept of ‘last
chance,’” Ben-Ami said, after Abbas ended his speech last week on the notion
that the current talks could be the last round. However, “I think it’s the last
chance before we plunge over this particular cliff.”
“If there isn’t an
agreement now, I worry that the PA can’t sustain... and that other elements
might take control,” Ben-Ami added, warning of another intifada and further
bloodshed in the absence of a peace accord.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni,
chief negotiator for Israel in the current round of peace talks, opened the
conference Saturday night, pressing J Street to fight to codify Israel’s
security in a negotiated settlement.
“In your quest for peace, don’t
abandon Israel’s security needs,” Livni said. “We live in a tough neighborhood,
and even after a peace agreement is reached, it will be and remain a tough
But Livni said that peace with the Palestinians “can
change the situation in the entire region,” creating new alliances against
“extreme fundamentalist Islam” that Arab governments, too, fear as a
In a passionate portion of the speech, Livni told
the organization, which has a reputation of liberalism, that “part of being
Jewish” is disagreeing.
“But I believe that there is one thing we should
be united behind: the IDF,” Livni said.
“There is a process of
delegitimization against Israel that focuses on our soldiers in order to
undermine our ability to defend ourselves.”
“I don’t ask the world to
turn a blind eye on our military actions. I ask them to judge us exactly
according to their values,” Livni added. “I would not accept any comparison
between terrorists who are killing children in school and Israeli soldiers, and
you should not accept this kind of comparison.”
Shelly Yacimovich, leader
of the Labor Party, told the J Street Conference audience of roughly 3,000 on
Sunday that peace was an imperative of the Netanyahu government, and warned the
Israeli leader to be neither “naïve nor paranoid” over the Iranian
She said that “President Obama deserves our full support for his
efforts on Iran, as well as for his determination to try and achieve a peace
agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.”
“To Prime Minister
Netanyahu, who is now on his way to Washington, I say, move ahead... for the
sake of Israel’s future,” Yacimovich said, calling the moment a “unique
“Making peace is in Israel’s best interest. It’s
in our strategic interest, our economic interest, and our moral interest,”
“The chaos across the Middle East is not a good
reason to give up on making peace with the Palestinians.”
Asked about a
new push from J Street to get Congress to pass a resolution supporting the peace
process, Ben-Ami noted that, in the midst of chaos surrounding a government
shutdown, a resolution hit the floor of the House of Representatives on Friday
matching a similar draft in the Senate.
“The general idea of both is to
demonstrate that there is congressional support for the president’s vision and
for John Kerry’s efforts, and specifically to say that Congress will do whatever
it can to help these efforts to achieve a two-state solution,” Ben-Ami
The resolution was brought forth by US Reps. Jan Schakowsky,
Jerrold Nadler and Henry Waxman.