Monday, March 28, 2011

J Street. Pro-Who? Pro-What?

Hadar Sela

The recent ‘Palestine papers’ leaks have ensured that even if the current caretaker Palestinian government does not collapse as a result of their revelations, it will now be exceedingly difficult to resume the much-needed peace negotiations.

From the media commentary surrounding the leaks, it is also perfectly obvious that such a situation is far from undesirable for some, and in particular Hamas, which rejected and did its best to sabotage the latest round of discussions. The rejectionist stance, as taken by Hamas, was expressed by its representative Osama Hamdan in a recent op-ed in the Guardian The Palestinian negotiators named and quoted in these documents have betrayed their people and the Palestinian cause. We are in no doubt that, as a result of these revelations, they have lost their credibility for good. It is unthinkable that the Palestinian people will ever approve any deal concluded with the Israelis by this team of negotiators, for they will always be suspected of selling out and of betraying the cause. The Palestinian people can never believe that what these individuals pledge in public reflects how they bargain or deal in private.”

However, the following quote dated September 2010 - four months prior to the ‘Palestine papers’ revelations and close to the commencement of the recent talks - does not come from a Hamas website.

Many commentators expect the direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians to fail. But there is a much worse scenario: What if they “succeed?”

These are the words of a California-based think tank known as Al Shabaka or the Palestinian Policy Network, or alternatively the Middle East Policy Network, which was established in April 2010 and engages in writing ‘policy briefs’ with the aim of ‘strategy development’ which in some cases is clearly designed to circumvent the Palestinian National Authority.

“ Instead, next year is likely to see a grand ceremony where Palestinian leaders will sign away the right of return and other Palestinian rights in an agreement that would change little on the ground. The plan of the PA’s appointed prime minister, Salam Fayyad, to declare a Palestinian state in 2011 could unwittingly contribute to this outcome by providing the appearance of an “end of conflict” while the reality remains unchanged. If the rest of the world sees that the government of “Palestine” is satisfied with international recognition and a U.N. seat, they will be happy to move on to other problems leaving the Palestinians at Israel’s mercy.”

Al Shabaka boasts within its ranks many Palestinian academics and activists (a considerable number of whom are based abroad) including the leader of the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ movement Omar Barghouti, ‘electronic Intifada’ founder and member of Al Awda Ali Abunimah, Anis Kassim who helped present the Palestinian side in the 2004 ICJ ruling on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence, and Ameer Makhoul who was recently sentenced to nine years in prison for spying for Hizbollah.

Currently, Al Shabaka members are engaged in two main fields of action. One is trying to discredit the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the ‘Palestinian papers’ leaks and their op-eds have appeared in a variety of media outlets. Co-director Nadia Hijab recently wrote that

“The leaks have let the sunshine in. They confirm what most Palestinians already feared, that a major sell-out of their rights, including the right to return and Jerusalem, was planned.”

The other focus is engagement in lobbying the US government to give up its veto in the UN Security Council on the subject of the pending resolution to pronounce Israeli towns and villages beyond the ‘Green Line’ illegal. This is part of a wider strategy to replace face to face negotiations with UN centered ‘lawfare’, as laid out in an article by Al Shabaka member Mouin Rabbani, formerly of Al Haq.

“Here, going to the Security Council to reconfirm the illegality of settlement in and annexation of occupied territory could prove pivotal. It would be extremely difficult for the U.S. to veto, and virtually impossible for European governments to ignore. Such a resolution could help generate a new wave of demands for action in European parliaments, particularly if paired with a Palestinian campaign of mass protests and diplomatic activity to translate the resolution, the ICJ opinion on the West Bank Wall and Goldstone Report into practical consequences.”

At what would logically appear to be the other end of the spectrum, another lobbying organisation is also campaigning for the US to abandon its right of veto at the UNSC. J Street, which describes itself as ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ and yet recently stated:

While we hope never to see the state of Israel publicly taken to task by the United Nations, we cannot support a U.S. veto of a Resolution that closely tracks long-standing American policy and that appropriately condemns Israeli settlement policy.

The adoption of an identical stance on the subject of the US veto, in a move designed to by-pass direct negotiations, by such apparently different actors as a ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ organisation and a Palestinian think-tank which adopts positions similar to those of Hamas on the peace process certainly appears strange. However, certain facts appear to suggest that the assumption that this is mere coincidence may be a little far-fetched.

One of Al Shabaka’s policy advisors is Amjad Atallah. One of J Street’s founders and a current policy consultant is Daniel Levy. Together, Atallah and Levy run the New America Foundation’s ‘Middle East Initiative’.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the New America Foundation is also engaged in trying to persuade the US administration not to use its veto at the UNSC; its members Steve Clemons, Peter Beinart (also a member of J Street) and Amjad Atallah being public supporters of the initiative.

The New America Foundation ( which has been funded by Jonathan Soros) has sponsored trips to the Middle East for both journalists and members of Congress, during which the visitors met with representatives of some of the more politically extreme NGOs operating in the region such as ‘Breaking the Silence’, ‘Peace Now’, ‘Gisha’, ‘B’Tselem’, ‘Yesh Din’, ‘ACRI’ and ‘Bimkom’. Some of these organisations use the consultancy services of Ben-Or Consulting which was established by another J Street founder, Jeremy Ben Ami. In fact, Ben Or Consulting established ‘Yesh Din’ and its employee Didi Remez, who is a political activist associated with far Left groups in Israel, appears to have been instrumental in organising the journalists’ trip. The delegation from Congress met with Oriela Ben-Or of Ben Or Consulting and was addressed by Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah.

The New America Foundation has also worked with the Conflicts Forum, the head of which, Alastair Crooke, was named by the PA as one of the possible sources of the leaked ‘Palestine papers’. The Conflicts Forum promotes dialogue with Hamas and Hizbollah and its board of advisors includes former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, Ismail Patel and Azzam Tamimi who is renowned for his support of suicide bombings in Israel. The NAF’s Middle East Task Force blog has published an article by the former director and co-founder of Conflicts Forum Mark Perry which is ripe with insinuations of ‘Jewish power’ controlling and extorting America which could clearly be defined as anti-Semitic according to the EUMC Working Definition.

In May 2010 Steve Clemons, Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah travelled to a conference organized by Al Jazeera in Qatar at which Osama Hamdan of Hamas and members of Hizbollah and the Taliban were present. In September 2010, Amjad Atallah co-authored a document entitled “Preparing for the End Game: United Nations Membership for Palestine”. Despite the fact that renewed negotiations between the PA and Israel were only in their infancy at that point, Atallah was already pronouncing their failure and proposing alternative strategy.

“The scenario could play out as follows. First, the PLO and Israel engage in direct negotiations with US facilitation. If after a few months it became apparent that these talks could not produce an agreement because of the difference between the positions of the two sides, the UN Security Council (at Palestinian and European urging) would take hold of the file.”

Whether or not the leaked ‘Palestine papers’ were the work of a purely malicious party acting alone or not, they certainly appear to have very conveniently served the interests of several actors who had everything to gain from the collapse of negotiations between Israel and the PA and much reason to celebrate an inability on the part of the PA to resume them. These are parties who wish to side-step negotiations and impose a ‘solution’ on both Israelis and Palestinians. Some claim to represent the ‘true resistance’ such as Hamas. Others claim to represent the ‘true interests’ of the Palestinians such as Al Shabaka.

With this in mind, it is all the more disturbing that an organization which claims to be ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ is taking an identical stance on the subject of the US veto at the UNSC as such actors. A sustainable peace agreement can only come about through face to face negotiation, and those who endeavor to sabotage such negotiations cannot legitimately describe themselves as ‘pro-peace’.

At a time when the Obama administration is sending clear and disturbing messages to all in the Middle East, the subject of the lobbying of that administration by actors opposed to or disillusioned with the peace process becomes even more critical than ever.

Hadar Sela is a Contributing Writer for The Propagandist
Comment: At the very least interesting, no?

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