Soon after the former Palestinian “entity” was upgraded to non-member observer state status in the recent United Nations General Assembly vote, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration announced an Israeli plan to build 3,000 new homes in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, setting down a marker, according to Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.
However, it is the area northeast of Jerusalem labeled E1 that has received widespread international condemnation. A call for U.S. Jews to oppose the building plan comes from the American Jewish organization J Street, a growing voice in the American Jewish peace movement.
J Street’s Northern California and Pacific Northwest regional director, Gordon Gladstone visited Seattle in early December to host a series of private meetings with Ophir Pines-Paz, who spent 14 years in the Knesset and served as general secretary of the Labor Party in Israel from 2001–2003.
In 2010, Pines-Paz shook up the political landscape in Israel when he quit the Knesset over the defection of Labor head Ehud Barak to Netanyahu’s coalition .
Pines-Paz is currently the director of the Institute for Local Governance at Tel Aviv University’s Social Science School. He is also a member of the Israel board of J Street.
Gladstone and Pines-Paz sat down with JTNews to discuss this issue and other recent events in the region.
Gladstone said that J Street agreed with the detractors of the E1 plan, believing it would split the West Bank in two and derail any Palestinian hope of sharing Jerusalem as part of a future two-state solution.
“We’re not taking a position on the resolution at the UN. J Street does not have a plan on the table, and that’s not our role,” said Gladstone. “It was a perfectly legal, nonviolent move on their part. But we are focused on what substantially changes the situation on the ground: Improve security for both sides, and lead to a two-state resolution to this conflict. That is not going to happen in the UN.”
Israel’s cabinet voted unanimously to reject and denounce the UN vote while furthering its plans for the new construction it had mapped out years ago. Israel also contends that any obstruction to future Palestinian access can be easily mitigated by the addition of a clover leaf or a tunnel.
Oren, Israel’s ambassador, told Fox News Sunday that the Palestinians violated their agreements with Israel and the U.S. by going unilaterally to the UN.
“All of our agreements say there is no alternative to direct talks,” Oren said.
The 138–9 vote in the UN, with 41 abstentions, followed a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas after thousands of rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza and Israel undertook targeted incursions into the area to destroy rocket-launching sites.
Pines-Paz said the UN vote was only the most recent power play between Hamas, which controls Gaza, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen, the leader of the Fatah organization in the West Bank, as they vie for supremacy and dominance among the Palestinians. According to Pines-Paz, Hamas tried to capture the headlines by initiating a skirmish with Israel, but Abbas resurrected his own sagging image by spearheading the UN vote.
“In the last round, we had nothing to do with it,” said Pines-Paz. “Hamas wanted to prevent Abu Mazen from going to the UN because they were against the whole move. They can’t shoot at Abu Mazen so they shoot at us [Israel] in order to try and get international attention. They don’t want him to be the Palestinian leader. I think it is their way to prove that they are stronger, more dominant, and better representing the Palestinian interests.”
With Israeli elections in January currently showing Netanyahu to be the overwhelming frontrunner, Pines-Paz said Israelis are ready to go “forward” with Pres. Obama and the peace process despite their disappointment over the unraveling of Obama’s initial peace overtures.
“I think he should come to Jerusalem, he should come to Tel Aviv, and he should come to Ramallah, and try to regain the trust of the Palestinians and the Israelis because he’s lost his credibility in both camps,” Pines-Paz said.
Gladstone expressed a more guarded optimism .
“This is the time,” he said. “The situation is increasingly worrisome. For 20 years we’ve all spoken about a window that’s closing. We tried it twice unilaterally, in Lebanon and Gaza. In both cases, it went badly. In the places where we’ve had international involvement and leadership, in Egypt and Jordan, it’s gone well.”