This is a guest post by Evan Stern, author, advocate and consultant with deep Twin Cities roots. Evan chairs communications for J Street Minnesota and serves on the University of Minnesota Hillel Foundation Board of Directors. He is a lifelong member of Temple Israel and is active in the Minneapolis Jewish Federation. Follow him on twitter:@Jewinspace.
For months people have asked about J Street’s position regarding the upcoming United Nations activity surrounding Palestinian statehood. In anticipation of the UN action, J Street has undergone a thorough internal deliberative process to determine how best to respond. I personally attended two recent teleconferences with J Street members at every level of the organization. These conferences served to incorporate the concerns and feedback from the entirety of J Street in this important decision.
This week J Street released its formal position paper on the anticipated United Nations Action on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the American response. Along with the position paper, J Street also issued an open letter to the American Jewish community. In its executive summary, the position reads:
J Street does not support the Palestinian effort to become a member of the United Nations at this time because we do not believe that, in the current context, it will advance peace, enhance security and improve conditions on the ground. J Street therefore supports the U.S. intention to veto such an effort in the Security Council. We urge an assertive American and international diplomatic initiative that could lead the Palestinians to defer their approach to the UN by jumpstarting efforts to reach a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
While supportive of a Security Council veto by the United States, J Street is critical of proposed punitive efforts to reduce or eliminate American aid to the Palestinian Authority:
Though we do not support a Palestinian application for full UN membership in September, we view their approach to the UN as a legal and non-violent effort to achieve self-determination, and we oppose Congressional efforts to cut aid either to the Palestinian Authority or to the United Nations in retaliation.
Our position on Congressional action regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict reflects the same concerns articulated throughout this paper: does the action promote peace, enhance security, and improve conditions on the ground. We believe cutting off aid would threaten Israel’s security by undermining Palestinian security training and civil society and economic development programs, while potentially bolstering extremists.
We need a whole new approach – one in which the U.S. and the international community take stronger leadership and action and put a fair proposal on the table, pressing both sides fully to negotiate on that basis and with outside help.
We are looking to mobilize the American Jewish community in a different direction: to speak out for the two-state solution, to make our views clear to American politicians and to our cousins and friends in Israel.
We’d love to see a historic, game-changing move by the Israeli government – a Sadat-to-Jerusalem moment – offering immediate talks on two-states based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps and with a minimal 2-3 month suspension of settlement construction as a goodwill gesture. This would require an equal moment of historic leadership from President Abbas – to say yes – and to come to the table as well.
The American Jewish community must remain open enough to consider all efforts to resolve the conflict on a case-by-case basis, including those from the UN. Each initiative should be considered on the merits of whether it advances peace, enhances security and improves conditions on the ground.
J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami put it best: “We can’t just sit back and wait for political leaders – on either side or here in America – to seize this vital moment with history-turning moves. It is up to us to seize this moment. It is up to us to generate political will. It is up to us to fight for what we believe and hold dear.”
Read the full text of J Street’s position paper here and the open letter to the American Jewish community here.