Conference of Presidents: Time to all get along


The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has issued its statement on U.S.-Israel tensions.

In order to understand the significance, it’s important to keep in mind what the conference is and what it aspires to do: It is an umbrella organization bringing together more than 50 organizations from across the political and religious spectrum in an attempt to present a consensus position on Israel and other Middle East-related issues.

We’ll be looking into this more, but it seems fair to say that this statement appears aimed primarily at getting the White House and the Israelis back on the same page. It’s far less critical of the White House in terms of tone and wordage than some Jewish organizations have been, focusing mostly on listing things that the Palestinians should be doing.

In theory, this could signal lukewarm support for the Israelis in this confrontation. But that was last week’s story, when few Jewish organizations came to bat for Israel after it received a spanking from Vice President Joe Biden. At that point, the feeling in many circles was that the Israelis miscalculated or messed up in embarassing the vice president, and that he was entitled to take a swipe. It didn’t hurt that Biden went through with plans to deliver a speech stressing the importance of the U.S.-Israeli relationship and accepted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s apology.

But once the Obama team kept up the criticisms after Biden’s departure, then Jewish groups began striking back at the administration. So, this attempt to calm things down with a relatively light rebuke of the administration, should probably be taken as a sign of just how alarmed many Jewish organizations are about the escalating tensions. Even if many of these groups think that the Obama administration is to blame for the current situation, their agenda is not to make the White House look bad or to head off Israeli concessions, but to make sure all is well with the U.S.-Israel relationship.

Just to be clear, this is just my intitial take. Ron will be looking into it, so we’ll see what the real story behind the story is.

OK, enough talk. Here’s the statement:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming visit to the United States, coming shortly after Vice President Biden’s visit to Israel, provides an important opportunity for long time allies to reassert their shared interests, including the fight against extremism, the necessity of stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability and the importance of moving forward expeditiously on a viable peace process. During his time in Israel, the Vice President forcefully affirmed that the bond between the United States and Israel was unbreakable, and that progress in the Middle East peace process can only be made when there is no daylight between Israel and the United States when it comes to the security of Israel.
The controversy which has arisen regarding Israel’s planning process for future development in its capital city in the form of the construction of 1600 new housing units within the declared municipal boundaries of Jerusalem was addressed during Vice President Biden’s trip by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s apology and Vice President Biden’s statement of understanding and recognition of the importance of a continuing close relationship. The unusually harsh comments made since then by members of the Administration have resulted in increased tensions. The interests of all concerned would best be served by a prompt commencement of the proximity talks that had been previously agreed to by all parties, and all parties should act in a manner that does not undercut such talks. We urge the United States and Israel to resolve the controversy with the use of language reflecting their historic friendship.
Israel has consistently stated that it is prepared to return to direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority without preconditions, and recently has agreed to enter into proximity talks that would lead to face-to-face discussions. The Palestinians also had agreed to such proximity talks. Notwithstanding that apparent sign of progress, the Palestinians and their supporters in the Arab League have repeatedly looked for ways to avoid discussions that might lead to a peace agreement and have imposed conditions never demanded of previous Israeli governments. Despite this, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his government have declared an unprecedented settlement freeze in the West Bank and have taken important steps to remove roadblocks and to otherwise promote conditions to improve life in the Palestinian territories. This conduct by Israel, supported by the United States, together with action undertaken by the Palestinian Authority, has resulted in tangible improvement for those living under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The United States of America should capitalize on these improved conditions and insist that the Palestinians operate in good faith and live up to their commitment to begin new talks.
The recent disclosure by Israel of its intention to build additional housing units in eastern Jerusalem at a future date does not contradict its announced commitment to freeze settlement building for a limited period, and a cessation to building in Jerusalem was never a condition of the proximity talks. Israel has always claimed a right to build in its capital city. The apparent refusal by the Palestinian Authority to avoid discussions now until the plans regarding the 1600 future units are withdrawn is yet another instance of the Palestinians missing an opportunity to move toward a resolution of the conflict. The true test of peaceful intentions is the willingness to engage in negotiations.
Israel’s commitment to participate in proximity talks is in sharp distinction to the continued incitement by the Palestinian Authority and its public relations organs which have consistently acted in violation of its agreements with Israel. Only last week, coincident with the visit of Vice President Biden to the region, the Palestinians went ahead with the dedication of  a public square in honor of  Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist who was responsible for the massacre of 37 Israelis and American photographer Gail Rubin in 1978. It is such conduct which merits the attention and condemnation of those who seek to achieve peace.

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