(photo credit: Courtesy J Street)
WASHINGTON – The progressive lobby J Street opened its third annual conference
Saturday night with its leadership trying to console and rally an activist base
whose central action item – the Israeli-Palestinian peace process – has ground
to a halt.
J Street executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami urged the 2,500
activists who turned up to the organization’s opening session Saturday night not
to become despondent.
“There is much cause for despair. There is no
viable peace process,” he said, and then pointed to what he saw as obstacles,
including the current leadership in Israel and continued settlement
“I understand and I sympathize that all this is enough to
make some give up and stay home,” he told the audience.
“But we know that
the present we’re living in is not the future that we want, and history doesn’t
record the inaction of those who stay home. History belongs to those who stand
up and do.”
In addition to the lack of progress in the peace process,
Ben-Ami pointed to the additional challenge of world attention being focused
overwhelmingly on the threat of Iran.
“While the potential of a
nuclear-armed Iran presents a grave threat, Israel does not have the luxury of
choosing which existential crises to address or not at any given time,” Ben-Ami
said ahead of the opening of the conference.
“Moreover, preventing Iran
from acquiring nuclear weapons and achieving a two-state solution are not
As part of the effort to draw attention and urgency
back to the peace process, J Street activists will ask members of Congress to
sign a letter reaffirming support for a two-state solution when they lobby their
representatives on Tuesday.
“Israel cannot afford an absence of
diminution of US leadership in the urgent quest for peace,” states the letter,
which will be sent by signers to US President Barack Obama.
was cosponsored only by Democrats – Steve Cohen of Tennessee, John Yarmuth of
Kentucky and Gerry Connolly of Virginia – and includes an oblique swipe at
“Broad American political support for the two-state
resolution is under serious attack in the increasingly polarized political
environment,” the letter states.
“In recent months, some of the national
political stage have argued that the United States should not play a lead role
in the peace process, even denying the existence of the Palestinian people,”
said the letter in a reference to a statement made by Newt Gingrich, the former
speaker of the US House of Representatives and Republican presidential
candidate, who recently described the Palestinians as an “invented”
Though the letter speaks to the pressing need to achieve a peace
agreement, many conference organizers and participants acknowledge they face an
During one panel called “Two States When?” on Sunday
morning, moderator James Traub baldly asked, “Do you see any reason to be
hopeful for progress on a two-state solution?” Panelist Labor MK Ghaleb Majadle
answered negatively, saying, “There’s no possibility to begin
He blamed the Netanyahu government for that situation
despite assessing that majorities among both Israelis and Palestinians back the
idea of carving out two states.
Fellow panelist Leila Hilal, the
co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation, also
said that “the conditions aren’t ripe for peace.
You can’t force a
government or a people to accept [steps] if there isn’t a context in which to do
Still, several of the panelists affirmed the importance of the
two-state concept as the only viable solution to the conflict and the seeking
out of creative options for moving toward that vision.
stressed the importance of staying hopeful in a later plenary session featuring
MKs from the Labor and Meretz parties.
“We must not be
We must win the battle against those who are hopeless and
those who seek war,” he said.
MK Zehava Gal-On, the leader of Meretz,
admitted that “it’s very hard not to be in the consensus.”
But, she said,
“I don’t think we have the luxury to be depressed. So I’m optimistic.”