Jones to J Street: I’ll be back


The Obama administration launched J Street’s first major conference this week with a "we have your back" message, and that’s pretty much how it ended.

The closing message from the White House to the J Street conference was one of inevitability: Of peace, of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship — and of J Street.

"You can be sure this administration will be represented at all future conferences," James Jones, the White House national security adviser, said during his keynoter on Tuesday.

Jones’ message was otherwise boilerplate — Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states need to do more to achieve peace, President Obama is committed to a two state solution, Iran must stop enriching uranium — although he added a new wrinkle to the Iran equation, making it clear that the United States expects Iran to give up all, not just some, of its low-enriched uranium for further enrichment as part of the major power’s latest offer. (Some elements in Iran want to scrap the whole deal, others are suggesting relinquishing a portion of the LEU.)

And whereas the Bush administration fought among itself over whether "the road to Baghdad was through Jerusalem" or the reverse, Jones made it clear that this White House sees Israeli-Palestinian peace as a kind of end-all.

Here’s the brief:

WASHINGTON (JTA) — Advancing Israel-Palestinian peace is the "epicenter" of U.S. foreign policy, the White House national security adviser said.

"If there was one problem I could recommend to the president if he could solve one problem, this would be it," James Jones said Tuesday during an address to the first conference of J Street, the dovish, pro-Israel lobby. Bringing about an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement would create "ripples" around the world, Jones said. "The reverse is not true. This is the epicenter."

Jones also said that "Israeli security and peace in the Middle East are inseparable," an implied rebuke to Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who wants to suspend peace talks.

Jones also addressed negotiations with Iran to suspend its suspected nuclear weapons program, saying that the United States expected Iran to export its low-enriched uranium to Russia and then France for enrichment to medical research levels; Iran tentatively agreed to such a deal last month, but now appears to be reconsidering. Failure to comply with the demands of major powers will lead to "increased pressure," Jones said.

"We will see in a short amount of time" if Iran is cooperating, he said. "Nothing is off the table," he added, using the usual allusion to the threat of force and also saying that the United States had consulted closely with Israel on how to contain Iran.

Jones also outlined U.S. reasons for opposing the Goldstone report commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council, which charges Israel and Hamas with war crimes during last winter’s Gaza war. Among these, he said, were its "overly broad recommendations," its failure to address the "asymmetric nature of the conflict," and "its sweeping conclusions of law." He called on Israel to investigate the claims in the report.

Jones’ "I’ll be back" assurance meant a lot to an organization that has scrambled to attract mainstream and right-wing speakers, amid a behind the scenes an assault from some other pro-Israel groups and the right wing warning establishment figures away from the dovish pro-Israel lobby. It earned an extended round of applause.

It was echoed by U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), who introduced Jones. Wexler was — until his recent announcement that he is quitting Congress to head a Middle East peace think tank — about as mainstream as it gets in Congress’ unofficial Jewish caucus. He was very strongly pro-Israel and his wife works for the American Jewish Committee.

But Wexler, who was Candidate Obama’s lead Jewish outreach, remains loyal to Obama’s insistence on broadening the dialogue. "As Americans, we are among the most fortunate people in the world," he told the crowd. "I applaud your political energy, we need more of it."

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