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Abbas’ Vile Speech. Trump’s Disastrous Policies.

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on January 16, 2018

Over the weekend, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave a provocative and incendiary speech, confirming that prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace have reached their lowest point in decades.

The hateful rhetoric that has been reported is beyond the pale — replete with conspiracy theories about Jews and Zionism, a refusal to recognize the Jewish connection to the land of Israel and questioning whether the PLO should continue to recognize the state of Israel.

No amount of frustration with either Israeli government actions or Trump administration diplomatic malpractice can explain or excuse some of the appalling remarks that have been reported. Nor was this the first time we’ve heard and condemned this type of rhetoric from Abbas and Palestinian leaders.

The low point we have reached today results from failure of leadership on all fronts – American, Israeli and Palestinian.

Sadly and predictably, some on the political right here and in Israel have gleefully seized on the speech as a long hoped-for death knell for the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution. They have raced to pin blame squarely on the Palestinians.

Those of us who care about Israel’s future as a secure, democratic home for the Jewish people know that such celebration is dangerous and misguided.

Without two states, an already violent situation will continue to deteriorate, the injustices of occupation will persist and international outrage against Israel will only grow.

It wasn’t inevitable that we would reach this low a point.

President Trump came into office speaking enthusiastically about reaching “the ultimate deal” to resolve the conflict, and President Abbas and some Palestinian leaders reacted with cautious optimism.

Since then, at every turn, the president and those around him have sabotaged their own vision — making a series of disastrous decisions that have inflamed the conflict, backed the Palestinians into a corner and shattered American credibility as a mediator.

Since the very first day of the administration, the president has refused to endorse the two-state solution — breaking with decades of bipartisan consensus. And, as the Israeli government stepped up settlement expansion and continued to pursue creeping annexation of the West Bank, the administration failed to condemn or stop it.

The president’s choice to be ambassador to Israel, David Friedman — himself a long-time advocate for the settlement movement — has provided American cover to the occupation and tried repeatedly to turn the talking points of the Israeli right into US policy.

We are not likely to persuade this administration or Congressional leadership to chart a different course. We will need to change the country’s leadership if we hope to change direction.

At the United Nations, Ambassador Nikki Haley has looked to build her right-wing foreign policy credentials with pointless attacks on respected Palestinian officials like Salam Fayyad and now threats to cut aid to Palestinian refugees.

Most significantly, Trump upended US policy on Jerusalem and alienated almost the entire world — in a move that can only be seen as a ploy to score points with his political base.

The low point we have reached today results from failure of leadership on all fronts – American, Israeli and Palestinian.

How Israelis and Palestinians address the failures of their leadership is up to them. But it is on us to address the failure of American leadership.

We are not likely to persuade this administration or Congressional leadership to chart a different course. We will need to change the country’s leadership if we hope to change direction.

For J Street, that’s why our political work will be the central focus of the year ahead. And thanks to the infrastructure and experience you’ve helped us build over the past 10 years, I believe we are ready to meet the challenge of the moment.

Our work starts with electing a Congress in 2018 that will constrain President Trump’s most dangerous impulses — and help restore faith in American leadership.

From there, it’s on to 2020 and the necessity of electing a President of the United States who will restore American leadership not only in this arena, but around the world.

Our task is not easy. But it is absolutely essential.

It’s only been one painful year under this administration, but that’s been long enough to see that when the United States abandons its role as a world leader, people all over the world — including Israelis and Palestinians — suffer.

I look forward to working with you in the coming year to change the course we are on. Thank you for all that you do,

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