WASHINGTON – US President Donald Trump has to choose between creeping annexation or a final status agreement that leads to a Palestinian state, J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami told Israeli journalists in Washington on Tuesday morning.
“The Trump administration faces this fundamental choice. Is it going to be an administration that is a partner and facilitator of the creeping annexation of the West Bank in the version of a one-state reality?” Ben-Ami said. “Or is it an administration that is in line with the traditional bi-partisan desire to resolve this conflict [through the creation] of a Palestinian state?”
He spoke in advance of both Wednesday’s much touted meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump as well as Thursday's hearing by the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the appointment of David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel.
Netanyahu is under pressure from right-wing Israeli politicians to seek support from Trump in that meeting to annex some, if not all, of Area C of the West Bank, which is under Israeli military and civilian control.
Both events are expected to clarify a series of conflicting messages from the Trump administration with regard to US policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict expressed by the diametrically opposite views of US Secretary of State James Mattis, who opposes settlement activity, and Friedman, who supports it.
“Trump has to make a choice. Is he going to listen to the voices whispering in his ear, from the David Friedman world or is he going to listen to the voices whispering in his ear from the James Mattis’ world,” Ben-Ami said.
J Street is in the midst of a campaign to block the nomination of Friedman, whose views in support of the settlements are diametrically opposite to those of J Street, which favors a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Friedman in the past has also referred to J Street as kapos, in reference to the Jews in concentration camps who helped the Germans.
“We would urge the president and the senate to use [Friedman’s confirmation hearing] as a moment to clarify what voice is the president planning to listen to,” Ben- Ami said.
In addition, he said, Friedman’s temperament is suited to a post “where diplomacy is required and not flame throwing.”
It remains a possibility, he said, that Trump could be serious about wanting to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and would therefore not support the settlement enterprise as right-wing Israelis hoped he would.
It could be “a very surprising moment when folks who have been expecting him to be the green light for settlements and annexation see that he was serious when he said he wants to explore making a deal,” Ben-Ami said.
On the issue on relocating the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Ben-Ami said that such a move should wait until the establishment of a two-state solution in which Jerusalem would be the capitol for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Moving it prematurely could lead to an outbreak of violence and kill any chance of renewing a peace process, he warned.
He also spoke of his concern that the growing rift between Israeli and American Jews presents a strategic problem for Israel, particularly now that Trump is president.
“I think it is very important for Israelis to understand that 75% of Jewish Americans did not support Donald Trump and they actually disapprove of the job he is doing as president,” Ben-Ami said.
Since Trump’s January 20th inauguration, he said, J Street has expanded its policy agenda to also include opposition to Trump’s anti-immigration policies.
“The treatment of the refugees from Muslim countries resonates with Jewish Americans because nearly every Jewish American has a refugee ancestor,” Ben-Ami said.
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