J-Street urges trial period for Palestinian coalition

Founder Ben-Ami calls off action on new government until policy toward Israel becomes clearer, hits back at "Yisrael Hayom."

May 5, 2011 21:19
3 minute read.
J Street founder Jeremy Ben Ami

J Street founder Jeremy Ben Ami 311. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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The policies of the PA’s prospective Fatah-Hamas government towards Israel should be tested before it is condemned, J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami said on Thursday in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.

Adopting a strategy that would avoid any “precipitous” policies could turn out to be beneficial for the peace process, he said.

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“Jumping out to say either this is a terrible thing or good thing is in our opinion not the wisest move, and the real question is, what this new alignment really going to stand for and what is it going to do, and that we don’t know,” he said.

“There are lot more questions than answers even today after the signing [in Cairo]. Even the parties have more questions than answers: Who is going to be prime minister? What role does [current Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad play? Who really controls the security forces? Are they going to cooperate with the Israel Defense Forces?” In light of comments such as Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh this week calling al- Qaida’s Osama bin Laden a “holy warrior” and condemning his killing by the US, the Post asked Ben-Ami why he thought Hamas might be willing to change its tune towards Israel anytime soon.

“I condemn unequally Haniyeh and his remarks,” he answered. “No question this was a horrible way to react and it shows a real serious flaw in one’s worldview and personality, but the bottom line remains, if Israel wants peace and security it must reach a resolution of the conflict with its enemies.”

Last month, Ben-Ami attended a stormy session of a Knesset committee which was entirely devoted to J Street. During the discussion, lawmakers criticized the organization. MK Danny Danon of the Likud called J Street the “Neturei Karta of the radical left,” referring to a zealous Haredi group known for burning Israeli flags and participating in Holocaustdenial conferences in Iran.

Asked if he was offended by such statement, Ben-Ami said he’s gotten used to criticism. Politics is a “blood sport,” he said.

One recent attack in the media, however, plainly did rankle with him.

Last week, Yisrael Hayom, the newspaper owned by US billionaire Sheldon Adelson, published a story that alleged that he had scheduled a meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Ben-Ami lashed out at the right-leaning newspaper saying the date was briefly considered months in advance but that the minute he realized it fell on Holocaust Remembrance Day it was changed. In any case, Ben-Ami said, no such meeting in Ramallah was ever set up, a point he had said he had told Yisrael Hayom when it called to ask. The newspaper called up, he said, “we say it’s not true, and [they] don’t even report what we said,” he fumed.

Looking forward towards the next six months, Ben-Ami, like most other observers, believes the scheduled elections in the PA and Egypt, and talk of recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations in the fall will be a critical period for Israel and the region. He urged Jerusalem to get out ahead of events by introducing its own peace initiative.

“The most important thing I would say as a friend of Israel and as family of Israel is that it’s time to wake up,” he said. “It seems life is going on with no sense in the general public of how critical the next six months are. It’s a moment that all Jews everywhere, here and abroad, should be engaged and really understand what the moment is, what the paths of choice are. We can stay with the status quo and clutch at security in a certain way, or take risks accepting potential dangers as well. It’s a difficult choice.”

Yisrael Hayom spokesman Dror Shavit, in response to Ben-Ami’s accusations, said “The report of the planned meeting between [J Street’s] representatives and Abbas on Holocaust Remembrance Day was based on the schedule of the organization itself and was published prior to Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s good to hear they came to their senses and didn’t meet Abbas on Holocaust Remembrance Day.”

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