Oren urges Jewish leaders to support peace moves

Rightist ZOA head: If PM talks about giving away parts of J'lem, or if freeze partially continues, we and other groups will speak out.

By HILARY LEILA KRIEGER
September 8, 2010 06:02
4 minute read.
Israeli ambassador to the US Michael Oren.

mihael oren flag 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)

 
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WASHINGTON – Israeli officials are indicating that they anticipate a backlash from the American Jewish Right over the government’s overtures to the Palestinians, and are appealing for support from US Jewry.

“The moratorium was very unpopular with the American Jewish Right,” Israel’s ambassador to the US Michael Oren told reporters from the Jewish press after the first round of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks started last week, referring to the 10- month freeze on new construction in the settlements that Israel imposed in November to bring the Palestinians to the table.

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“I anticipate further, if we move down this road toward an agreement with the Palestinians, that’s just going to [be the] begin[ning],” he added.

On Tuesday, in a conference call with Orthodox rabbis and lay leaders, Oren told them, “We need you and the Jewish community when we’re asked to take risks for peace.”

Oren made a similar appeal during a conference call with members of US Jewish federations and community relations councils on Friday, urging them to communicate backing for Israel’s peace-making efforts to US political leaders.

“Let your feelings be known to your representatives in Congress that you support this process and you support the decisions of the Israeli government within the process,” he said.

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In the past, Israeli leaders have often faced lukewarm support and even outright opposition in some quarters of the American Jewish community for engaging in peace negotiations, relinquishing territory and taking other steps seen as concessions to the Palestinians.

Netanyahu, who as a long-time leader of the right-wing Likud party has often capitalized on American Jewish support by being critical of other politicians’ moves toward the Palestinians, could find himself receiving the same treatment as he negotiates with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“If Netanyahu seriously and credibly pursues a two-state solution, he is bound to face opposition from the American Jewish right,” said Ori Nir, a spokesman for the dovish Americans for Peace Now.

But he added that Netanyahu would likely face a less intense fight than many of those who proceeded him.

“His opposition is likely to be narrower and more subdued than the opposition that past Israeli prime ministers faced when negotiating or making territorial concessions to the Palestinians,” according to Nir.

“Netanyahu enjoys a hawkish-securitist credibility among right-wing American Jews, he is negotiating at a time when Palestinian statehood has become official policy of both the US and Israel, and is supported by a broad consensus in Israel,” he assessed. “His coalition partners are mostly right-of-center and his negotiating partner is Mahmoud Abbas rather than Yasser Arafat.”

“Obviously people on the Right are going to give Netanyahu more slack than they would give a leader on the Left,” said Nathan Diament, head of the Orthodox Union’s Washington office. “But it’s going to come down to substance. [Former prime minister] Ariel Sharon had as much credibility on the Right as Netanyahu does, and the right was very upset he decided to evacuate Gaza.”

Mort Klein, who heads the Zionist Organization of America, one of the US groups most opposed to the Gaza disengagement, said despite Netanyahu’s rhetoric at peace talks last week, he wasn’t ruffled by what he heard – yet.

“It’s understandable that since Netanyahu is under substantial pressure to make an agreement with the Palestinians, he understands the importance of speaking in a very forthcoming way to reduce the likelihood that Israel will be blamed for any collapse of these talks,” Klein said.

During speeches at the White House and State Department, Netanyahu spoke of accommodating Palestinian sovereignty with Israeli security, of Palestinian claims to the land and used the term “West Bank” to refer to Judea and Samaria.

“I believe Netanyahu will be much more careful about Israel’s security in any agreement.

I would be much more uncomfortable if [Labor leader] Ehud Barak were saying similar things,” Klein noted. “If Barak had made these statements, I would assume he’s ready to make unilateral concessions that endanger Israel.”

Still, Klein warned, “If he [Netanyahu] starts taking about giving away parts of Jerusalem, or if he continues the freeze even in part, we and other groups will start speaking out.”

One leader of a major mainstream Jewish organization described the overtures Oren was making as a “strategic” move.

“They want to ensure the opinion of the silent majority who are in favor of a peace process isn’t drowned out by the loud shrieks of the very vocal minority on the Right,” he said. “The government is looking to shore up what it feels will be a tough road ahead.”

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