Jared Kushner just left & I’m on my way.

Jeremy Ben-Ami Image
Jeremy Ben-Ami
on June 26, 2017

As you receive this, I’m flying to Israel where, later this week, J Street will begin our largest-ever congressional and leadership mission to Israel and the West Bank to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials, experts and activists.

By the trip’s end, I hope to be able to share with you a better sense of what’s happening on the ground and what the prospects are for meaningful progress toward a regional peace agreement and a two-state solution.

Since the start of the Trump administration, we have been outspoken about our opposition to the president’s agenda, policies and posture on the international stage. At the same time — much to the surprise of observers all over the political spectrum — the Trump administration has made a concerted effort to open communications with various parties in Washington and abroad, in pursuit of furthering what the president calls “the ultimate deal” — an Israeli-Arab and an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

From what we can tell, Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt and his team are taking their charge seriously, meeting with past US peace negotiators and studying detailed security plans for a two-state solution created by a team led by General John Allen during the Obama administration.

This past week, Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner joined Greenblatt for a brief visit to the region, including meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem and President Abbas in Ramallah. As former ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro has said, the president’s current diplomatic leverage is high — and the Kushner visit was largely designed to signal that he’s serious about the pursuit of his vision of a regional peace agreement.

J Street strongly supports the kind of regional and comprehensive approach to resolving the conflict that appears to be under consideration — and now there’s evidence that a large majority of Israelis back such an approach as well. A new survey, commissioned by the Israeli Regional Initiative, found that 84 percent of Israelis — including many who support right-of-center parties — would accept an agreement that brought a two-state solution along with normalization of ties between Israel and the Arab states.

Unfortunately, while Israelis may overwhelmingly be ready to grasp the historic opportunity for change in the region, the current Israeli government’s actions and policies in the West Bank continue to loom as a massive obstacle to a real breakthrough.

One has to wonder how it is possible that, just as the prime minister prepared to welcome Kushner, he also proudly announced that ground had been broken on the construction of an entirely new West Bank settlement. This is the first new settlement to be built in over two decades and it is located outside the major settlement blocs.

It’s also deeply disturbing to read in the Financial Times that the US has faced “strong resistance” as it encourages Israel to ease controls on Palestinian construction and economic development in the West Bank. A plan to allow major Palestinian home building in the city of Qalqilya has been put on hold, and may be scrapped altogether, after a major pressure campaign led by the settlement movement and government ministers.

While the prime minister has only kind words for President Trump and his administration publicly, it couldn’t be clearer that his government’s number one priority is keeping the settlement movement happy — and the settlers are ready to use their full power to prevent any agreement that leads to an independent Palestinian state.

So far the Trump administration has said and done far too little — and far less than previous Democratic and Republican administrations — to object to ongoing settlement expansion and entrenchment of the occupation.

If this administration is truly serious about seizing the opportunity to transform the Middle East, they will have to insist on serious compromises and choices from both sides. That includes making clear to Israeli leaders that settlement expansion cannot continue unabated.

Let’s be realistic: The odds are long that there will be meaningful diplomatic progress in the coming weeks or months.

But that doesn’t change the fact that real strategic opportunities exist to address and even end the conflict — perhaps the greatest opportunities in the history of the state of Israel. There are paths forward and there are alternatives to never-ending conflict and deepening despair.

At J Street, we’ll be focusing our work on understanding and promoting these solutions, big and small. Join us in the coming weeks and months for our Solutions@70 briefings to learn more.

With your help, we’ll continue demanding leadership from all sides that seizes these opportunities and pushes back on those who stand in the way.

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