J Street chief Jeremy Ben-Ami.
(photo credit: COURTESY J STREET)
WASHINGTON – A lobby that seeks to pressure Israel over its policies toward Palestinians has found itself between a rock and a hard place as it works to elect a Democratic presidential successor less willing to use its tactics.
J Street, a group that primarily advocates for a twostate solution to the conflict, has largely aligned itself with US President Barack Obama’s Democratic Party – which has repeatedly entered into an open feud with the Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over its continued settlement activity in the West Bank.
But in a Frontlines report published on page 13, top aides to Clinton, the Democratic nominee for president, said, if elected, she plans to shift the administration’s tone with Israel – away from public fighting in favor of private disagreements – to reestablish trust with the Israeli people.
J Street has frequently lauded Obama’s approach. “I don’t think it matters to J Street whether the conversations are private or public. What matters is that it’s very clear the lines the United States is drawing on what has to stop, from both parties,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, said in an interview.
Ben-Ami said he expects a smooth transition should Clinton win on November 8.
“They are in line, so that handoff of the baton is going to be very smooth because the goal line is the same for both of them,” he said.
But, when asked whether he endorsed Clinton’s plan for reconstituting a “conducive environment” – an implicit criticism of the Obama administration – Ben-Ami squarely pointed at the Netanyahu government, not the White House, as the primary agitator over the last eight years.
“The issue for the incoming administration will be how do you make clear that the United States is really serious that the government of Israel and the Palestinian Authority both need to stop actions that are moving us in the wrong direction,” Ben- Ami continued. “Right now isn’t the time to restart negotiations between two parties that are really so fundamentally far apart that [they] would most likely not succeed .”
The peace process is frozen not because the Obama administration has a lack of will or the wrong approach, Ben-Ami explained, but because the situation on the ground in Israel and the West Bank does not allow for meaningful negotiations.
That status quo is unlikely to change at the outset of a Clinton administration, he added.
But Ben-Ami seems prepared for a shift toward what he referred to as “fresh thought and fresh perspective.”
“We’ve had eight years of an approach the president has taken,” he added. “Obviously, here we are 24 years later after three two-term presidencies, and we’re no closer to a two state solution.”
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