In a setback for progressive peace forces, J Street—the liberal Jewish alternative to AIPAC—has decided to oppose United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state this month. J Street is also urging President Obama to veto the statehood bid if it comes to the UN Security Council.
The normally rational and liberal New York Times takes the same position, making an inflated claim that the UN vote would somehow be “ruinous.” With Israeli-Palestinian talks chronically stalemated, however, it is difficult to understand what would be ruined by bringing the Palestinians further into the global diplomatic process. The Times and J Street describe the tensions as alarming, but offer no evidence that continued negotiations will be productive. If the UN vote proceeds, the Israelis and many in the US Congress are warning that hundreds of millions in funding for the Palestinian Authority will be terminated. The default position of the liberals at the Times and J Street is their belief that the funding cutoff would be counterproductive.
The progressive Jewish American community is crucial to providing support for evenhanded or pro-Palestinian initiatives by the White House or Congress. Therefore the J Street position, reinforced by the New York Times, effectively shuts down any American maneuverability as the UN decision nears. As a result, the United States is likely to be sidelined and isolated at the UN session. US opposition to any UN recognition will further unite the Arab world in its suspicion of Washington as a possible ally. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and Turki al-Faisal, the former director of Saudi intelligence services, are the latest powerful leaders to weigh in. The Saudis are threatening to refuse recognition of the US-backed Maliki regime in Iraq and “might part ways with Washington in Afghanistan and Yemen as well.”
J Street’s decision means there is virtually no dissent in the mainstream American Jewish community from the intransigent positions of AIPAC and the right-wing Netanyahu government. Congressional support for any alternatives is effectively muzzled.
The Obama administration has had to retreat in the face of the so-called Israel Lobby. Initially, the administration had nominated an independent critic of the Israelis, Chas Freeman, to a high intelligence assessment post, and the widely respected George Mitchell as a special representative for the Israel-Palestine talks. Both are gone. Obama’s initial conflict with Netanyahu over settlements has receded as the 2012 elections approach. The neocons, the Christian right and AIPAC may be taking brinksmanship over the cliff.
The Obama administration is frantically trying to prevent the Palestinians from exercising their UN option. There may be a last-moment development in the whirlwind of talks. But it appears that the era when the Israelis could dominate Washington, and Washington could dominate world politics, is over. Ironically, it may be only a UN recognition that will force a meaningful reassessment of policies gone stale. As former Israeli defense minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said, “If I were Bibi Netanyahu, I would recognize a Palestinian state. We would then negotiate borders and security. Instead, nothing is happening. We are left with one ally, America, and that relationship is strained too.” The same message was expressed by twenty Israeli intellectuals, artists and writers at a recent meeting with the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.