J Street director opens conference without saying “occupation”

At last night’s opening plenary of the second annual J Street Conference, there was one motif that expectedly prevailed: The two-state solution and its critical importance to the future of Israel.

This is not surprising, but the importance of the two-state solution was expressed over and over again by Jeremy Ben-Ami through the statement that a (viable) Palestinian state must be established alongside Israel.

We believe that the Palestinians too must have a national home of their own, living side by side with Israel in peace and security. This is in Israel’s interests. It is in America’s interests. It is right and it is just.

Twenty-thirty years ago, you would not have heard Palestinian and independent state so openly expressed in the same sentence at an American Jewish conference, so sure, it is nice to see that it has become common jargon. But in a way, the importance of the establishment of a Palestinian state, regardless of what exactly it will look like, has gone from being taboo to being overtly emphasized, to the point that it is fetishized, by J Street in its rhetoric.

As we see it, the cause of the Palestinian people – the creation of an independent state of their own – is essential to our cause as well.

From nearly never being declared, it is being declared all too often, and it is being declared as something that is in Israel’s and America’s interests. Ok, geopolitical real politik must be taken into account, but fundamentally, the establishment of a state ought to happen because of a people’s self-determination, and not because it is in a rival countries’ interest. Or more correctly, while this may be true, it should not be stated over and over again by American Jews. It sounds patronizing, and makes a Palestinian state seem willed more by Israel and American Jews than by Palestinians themselves.

Can J Street’s mission and purpose really hinge on if, when and how a Palestinian state is established? Is that really the key to a secure and democratic Israel, or is it in fact a change in Israeli practice and policies, here and now, that can make it that way? What if no Palestinian state is established for a long time, for a variety of reasons? Does this mean Israel cannot be liberal and democratic, unless a Palestinian state is created, according to J Street’s vision? Must Israel wait for this to happen to correct its ways?

Although “Palestinian state” was mentioned a gratuitous amount of times in Ben-Ami’s speech, the word Occupation was not mentioned even once by him. Despite speaking about the importance of telling the truth, how truthful can you really be at a conference on Israel and peace without stating that word loud and clear?

There is something fundamentally flawed about J Street’s constant invocation of the need for the establishment of a Palestinian state, when its focus should really be about the responsibility of representatives in their communities and in their government for continuing to directly and indirectly support the discrimination and occupation of another people.