Very few Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza or even in the US knew about J Street ‘s second annual conference that took place in Washington, DC last week. Most Arabs don’t know a thing about J Street. For a long time, Palestinians have only been aware of one Jewish Zionist lobby, known by the name AIPAC. J Street claims to be a new voice for the Jewish community, which is an important development and has found listening ears very quickly among thousands of Jews across the US.
However, Palestinians are not concerned with the existence of new Jewish voices in America calling for a two-state solution. Although many in the Palestinian Authority see J Street as a positive change, most Palestinians are concerned with the reality in the region. The past two years have been full of disappointments. The failure to achieve a final settlement eighteen years after the Oslo Accords resulted in Palestinians questioning the possibility of peace and even the two-state solution. They might believe it is the best solution, but they are losing hope that it is achievable.
J Street’s birth coincided with the Lieberman-Netanyahu coalition in Israel and the stalemate in negotiations. The US’ inability to mediate successfully between the sides made J Street’s mission all the more vital and all the more necessary. Even though it has had some successes, such as getting some house members to abandon support for AIPAC and join them, the current reality does not allow them to boast victories.
At the conference, J Street stressed the same messages conveyed in its first conference: a strong emphasis of Zionist values and hardcore dedication to the two-state solution. J Street issued a warning of the consequences possible if the two-state solution fails to become a reality. However, they must realize that it has an expiration date and unfortunately is not too far off. J Street could end up like many old Zionist left organizations stuck to an ideal that has perished. They should speak more about ending the occupation, which is the biggest threat to a two-state solution – and remain open to other creative solutions, whether confederacy or a one-state.
Palestinians will not sit quietly waiting until Israel generously decides to give them a state, and PA President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad cannot sell promises to the Palestinian people forever either. When September comes around, Palestinian leaders will have to deliver on the state they promised or address some seriously frustrated constituents.
For me, Mona Eltahawy was the inspiration of the conference. She warned that if the occupation continues, the Arab revolutions will arise in Palestine as well. She also drew a comparison between the Hosni Mubarak speeches, which seemed to always come just 10 days too late and Israel, which is taking too long to allow Palestinians their freedom and dignity. Eltahaway went on to ask Israelis and American Jews the same question that I would pose: Do you want be 10 days too late?