J Street's Lose-Lose Situation

By not supporting Palestine's bid for statehood, the group comes under fire

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The liberal pro-Israel group J Street has become the center of attention in the foreign policy world this week, as it opposes moves by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (pictured above) to seek statehood for Palestine. On Thursday, the Obama administration announced for the first time publicly that it would veto a Palestinian bid for statehood at the United Nations. But a number of J Street's liberal supporters have criticized its decision to oppose Abbas, revealing the difficult tightrope walk the group must make. As Tablet's Marc Tracy explains:

Support the move, and it risks being seen to be confirming everything its critics say about it—that it is really a pro-Palestinian outfit clothed in “pro-Israel, pro-peace” garb. This would also risk upending its own stated values: J Street is composed of what might be called peace process-niks, and the U.N. move totally violates the spirit of the peace process, which is that a two-state solution will be reached by direct talks and mutual concessions between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (which is actually distinct from a U.N.-recognized Palestine). But oppose the move, and it risks upsetting its base, which consists of liberal American Jews who, while in the main Zionist, are finding it harder and harder to reconcile that Zionism with a system in which the Palestinians are stateless, in no small part due to Israeli intransigence.

As such, the move has divided a number of deft foreign policy thinkers. Here's where they're coming down on the issue.

It's a terrible decision, writes Noam Sheizaf at +972:

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.

Here's what J Street should've done, writes Wired writer Spencer Ackerman on his personal blog:

So what's a liberal pro-peace pro-Israel pro-Palestine American to do? Demand Obama pressure Netanyahu, for one thing. Suggest that Obama flirt with not vetoing the U.N. statehood resolution, for another, to see if that captures Netanyahu's attention. What you shouldn't do is exactly what J Street is doing: denouncing the statehood maneuver. All of a sudden, J Street is essentially telling Palestinians that it's not fair of them to use the only option they've got left, and draws dangerously close to siding against statehood. I know it doesn't mean to do that, but this is the constellation of political forces as they are.

J Street's opposition is wise, writes Dahlia Scheindlin at +972:

I’m impressed that J Street has a strategy – which is not synonymous with lack of integrity. The group’s statement laid down clear criteria for judging policy (advancing peace, improving conditions on the ground, and enhance security). It set a clear human rights red line by stating that the Administration must not cut off aid to Palestinians, showing that the Palestinians ought not to be punished for failed international diplomacy as Noam implies. The statement fully legitimized non-violent, diplomatic efforts of the Palestinians, effectively endorsing the legitimacy of other non-violent campaigns.

J Street was right, overall, the Palestinian statehood bid would be damaging, writes Marc Tracy at Tablet:

It will most likely provoke: a sharp curtailment of U.S. aid; a renewed civil war with Hamas; the sudden anger of a (even more) disenfranchised Palestinian diaspora outside the territories; a weakening of relations with Jordan; a hardening of Israeli stubbornness; and a bunch of other things that not only are bad for average Palestinians but that are in fact worse for average Palestinians than the miserable status quo.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.