Worst move ever? J Street opposes Palestinian statehood

J Street, the pro-peace Jewish lobbying group, has decided to join the US Administration in opposing the Palestinian’s bid for statehood at the UN. JTA reports:

“We believe that everything J Street stands for and what we do needs to promote the two-state solution and not just two states,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, the director of the dovish pro-Israel group, told JTA on Wednesday.

Palestinian statehood should come about through negotiations with Israel and not unilaterally, he said.

Ben-Ami said the group backs Obama administration plans to veto any U.N. Security Council resolution that would establish such a state and has urged Palestinian leaders to defer plans to introduce such a resolution later this month.

This is probably the worst move J Street has ever made. While past errors were political ones that could be expected from a young organization that has taken upon itself a tremendous task, this mistake is a moral one. It might bring short term gains – I am not sure, but I’m no expert on Washington politics – but in the long run, it’s likely to do more harm than good.

To be sure, I am not a huge fan of the UN bid. My greatest fear is that a Palestinian victory at the U.N. might actually backfire: Israel could simply recognize the Authority’s “independence”, thus getting the diplomatic pressure of its back and keeping the Palestinians locked up in their Bantustans. This might end up in a violent disaster.

Yet at the same time, opposing a move by the Palestinian leadership and not providing a real alternative that would end the occupation is wrong on every level. It’s wrong on tactical level, because it removes the leverage anyone could have had on Netanyahu and his extreme government; it’s morally wrong, because it makes the Palestinians pay for political mistakes done in Washington; and its even bad politics, because it won’t win J Street any new supporters but it would make people respect the organization less.

Having failed to get Netanyahu to seriously move to end the occupation or even simply stop the construction projects for Jews inside the territory of the future Palestinian state, the administration is now blocking the only diplomatic alternative the Palestinians have. Moving the debate to the U.N. is the route a Palestinian leadership has taken in its quest to gain freedom for its people. This is a non-violent effort, which turns to the international community through its most respected organization. How can progressive forces deny it? How can they keep on declaring that they wish to end the occupation, when they form a line with the neo-cons and the Israeli right against Palestinian leadership? These very questions led twenty Israeli intellectuals–representing a group of several hundreds–to meet with Abu Mazen this week and declare their support for his diplomatic effort.

Dictating the Palestinian path to independence as a pre-condition to dealing with them is the mistake the Israeli left has done again and again, usually with the help of the United States. The administration is repeating it now, and J Street follows. With both, it seems that it’s not the understanding of the current moment in the geo-political conversation which dictates policy, but rather short-term political considerations and the fear of a rightwing backlash. It’s partly understandable for the administration (especially near elections), less so for an organization which was all about opening up the debate.

Instead of expanding the conversation on Israel, J Street is reaching out to the consensus. This is the kind of political thinking that got Israel and its supporters in the United States to the impasse in which they are today. For the first time, I get the feeling that J Street has lost the desire to take a leading role in finding the way out of it.

UPDATE: J Street has released a position paper on its decision. Read it here.